German club Hoffenheim, the surprise of the 2008-09 Bundesliga season, has pulled a coup, landing Joseph-Claude Gyau and midfielder Charles Renken in the highest-profile signings of U.S. U-17 players since German club Bayer Leverkusen signed Landon Donovan a decade ago.
There's a twist to the deal: Gyau and Renken will first spend time at the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program.
Agent Dan Segal told ESPNsoccernet that Gyau, 16, and Renken, 15, will go to school in Vancouver and then join Hoffenheim full-time in 2010. FIFA rules prohibit the transfer of players under 18.
A former U.S. U-17 resident Axel Levry, like Gyau and Renken with African heritage, has taken a similar route. He joined the residency program and was last week loaned to German club Energie Cottbus' under-23 team.
Hoffenheim earned promotion in 2008 and led the Bundesliga at last season's winter break. It was led by St. Louis product Vedad Ibisevic, who scored 18 goals in the first half of the season before going down with a knee injury. Ibisevic was born in Bosnia, lived briefly in Switzerland and then moved to St. Louis. He attended Saint Louis University for one season.
According to ESPNsoccernet's Justin Rodriguez, Gyau and Renken will not return to residency.
Gyau, whose father, Phillip, played for the U.S. national team and whose grandfather, Nana, played for Ghana and later in the NASL, represented the U.S. in qualifying for the Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria later this year but has not played with the U-17s in recent months.
Renken has been sidelined with a knee injury. He and two brothers moved from Zambia to Edwardsville, Ill., to live with their brother's adopted family in 2003.
Many players, notably Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore, have turned professional after finishing U-17 residency, but they signed with MLS teams.
The only U.S. national team player who has gone from the Bradenton residency program directly to Europe and achieved success is Jonathan Spector, who joined Manchester United and now plays for West Ham in England. Neven Subotic, a former U.S. U-17 player residing in Bradenton and discovered playing in a local park, plays for Borussia Dortmund in Germany and now represents Serbia.
On paper, the 2009 U-17 residency program has one of the deepest classes ever.
Sebastian Lletget, who took over for Renken and Gyau in the U.S. midfield, has joined West Ham's residency program, though he only briefly trained in Bradenton.
Midfielder Luis Gil, 15, has reportedly been courted by Arsenal, while Jack McInerney, the U.S.' leading scorer in qualifying, recently spent two weeks at Dutch club Vitesse.