The Bundesliga's return over the weekend meant the long-awaited return to competitive play for a number of Americans abroad. The German top flight has long been and continues to be a regular club destination for U.S. internationals, and the young talent nucleus that makes its home in the Bundesliga is cause for U.S. soccer fans to tune in with an added layer of interest.
Here's a rundown of the key takeaways from the Bundesliga's return, as it relates to the U.S. men's national team and U.S.-eligible players:
Reyna hurt, mixed bag for McKennie in Dortmund's rout of Schalke
As the Bundesliga returned on Saturday, it was shaping up to be a big day for U.S. internationals.
Weston McKennie found himself in the Schalke starting lineup at Dortmund, where the hosts were slated to give 17-year-old American Giovanni Reyna his first Bundesliga start. What was already an exciting time–a Revierderby among the first matches of top-flight, top-tier European action since the shutdown? Yes, please–was going to have an added element of intrigue.
And then pregame warmups happened.
Reyna suffered an unspecified injury and had to be yanked from the lineup, replaced by Thorgan Hazard.
"I hope Reyna has nothing," Dortmund manager Lucien Favre succinctly said after his side's 4-0 win.
Opportunities being taken from Reyna have been a recent theme. His first senior national team call-up was going to happen in late March, only for the USA's friendlies vs. the Netherlands and Wales to be canceled. Then, he was going to start in a derby–no matter the atmosphere–in a match that Dortmund wound up controlling, only to miss out entirely and watch his replacement tally a goal and an assist. On the flip-side, Reyna, at a young age, has put himself in position to earn these experiences, and more will surely follow. It's just unfortunate that he wasn't able to capitalize on a golden opportunity to re-start the season on the front foot, and it remains to be seen how limiting the mysterious injury winds up being.
If it's minor, and he's able to play in Dortmund's next match, then another potential U.S.-on-U.S. showdown awaits: vs. John Brooks and Wolfsburg.
As for McKennie, his day at the office was far from ideal. Schalke, as a whole, was overrun, and that doesn't lend itself to good individual performances. He'll absorb some of the blame for the slow-reacting midfield and defense, and rightly so. His day wasn't devoid of some positive aspects, though. He had a team-high in tackles (four), interceptions (five) and clearances (three), passed at an 82% clip and played the entire 90 minutes. With some better goalkeeping, perhaps the scoreline would've been less lopsided. For Schalke–and McKennie–there's work to be done, but after a two-month layoff and considering some of the struggles the club was having prior to the shutdown, perhaps that was to be expected.
Adams starts in Leipzig's draw
Tyler Adams, whose season prior to the coronavirus shutdown was beset by injuries and subsequent setbacks, started for RB Leipzig vs. Freiburg, and while it wasn't a remarkable performance one way or the other, it's important for Adams to enjoy a run of games without setbacks, period. So that he went 69 injury-free minutes as a wingback can be seen in a positive light, and that Leipzig equalized minutes after he went off certainly doesn't mean he was the problem.
The 1-1 draw is a setback overall, though, for his club, which dropped two precious points in the title chase and has now done so in three straight matches dating back to before the shutdown. In that time, Bayern Munich has earned the maximum amount of points, and Leipzig, which led the league earlier in the winter and had the look of a title challenger, is now seven points off the pace and sits in fourth place, just like that.
Brooks starts, Llanez spectates for Wolfsburg
Brooks assumed his regular place in Wolfsburg's starting lineup–he's started in each of his 17 league appearances this season and hasn't been subbed off once–and manned his post at center back for the club's dramatic 2-1 win over Augsburg.
The stoppage-time goal that won it for Wolfsburg let Brooks off the hook. It was his wayward header off a free kick that nearly resulted in an own goal, bouncing off the underside of the crossbar and down before Tin Jedvaj got the last touch to claim the 54th-minute goal and keep Brooks's name off the wrong side of the scoresheet.
It was far from all doom-and-gloom for Brooks on the day, though, as he passed at an impressive 92% clip out of the back, including connecting on a number of long balls, which are elements that should make U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter happy.
Another American on Wolfsburg is Ulysses Llanez, and the 19-year-old attacker who scored in the USA's winter friendly vs. Costa Rica, had recently been promoted to the first team. Wolfsburg won't be rushing his ascension to the field, though.
"We shouldn’t get carried away. He’s doing things very well and you can see what a big talent he is," manager Oliver Glasner said prior to the match. "But of course in training he has noticed things are different. The fact is he still hasn’t had a game in adult football. We’re doing the lad no favors if we immediately throw him into cold water."
Llanez's first-team experience, then, figures to be limited to training sessions for the time being before he's deemed ready to join the fray.
Steffen sits out in relegation battle
Zack Steffen is nursing a knee ligament injury, so the U.S. goalkeeper played no part in Fortuna Dusseldorf's 0-0 draw vs. Paderborn, a battle between clubs on the bottom of the table. The draw suited his 16th-placed side better–other results near the cellar over the weekend helped, too–though its future fortunes might not pertain to him, given that he's on loan from Manchester City and could be in the mix for Pep Guardiola next season (whenever that is) with backup Claudio Bravo said to be on the outs. Reports from Germany do suggest that if Dusseldorf stays up, it would be interested in extending his loan stay, but all transfer prognostication at this point is even more speculative than usual, for myriad reasons.
Alfredo Morales, the 30-year-old U.S. midfield veteran with 17 international caps to his name, came off the bench in the draw, having an unremarkable 22 minutes.
Versatile veterans play little to no part in Gladbach's rout of Frankfurt
Timmy Chandler watched from the bench as Eintracht Frankfurt's defense was picked apart by Borussia Monchengladbach. The visitors scored twice in the opening seven minutes and raced to a 3-1 win, with Chandler coming on after the third Monchengladbach goal and helping his side see out the defeat.
From a U.S. perspective for the victors, there wasn't much to celebrate for Fabian Johnson, who was left out of the matchday squad altogether with another reported injury and could be headed for the exit given how sparingly he's played this season and given that his contract is due to expire at the end of it.
Sargent subs on in Werder Bremen's loss
Josh Sargent began Monday on the bench and watched as Bayer Leverkusen raced out to a 3-1 lead thanks to three goals on headers. He came on in the 71st minute, but it got worse for Werder Bremen, which conceded a fourth to add to its league-worst goal differential (-31).
As it stands, Bremen has a game in hand on Dusseldorf–which sits in the relegation playoff place–but must make up a five-point gap to escape the automatic drop. If Monday's effort was any indication, then that's going to be a lot to ask, especially for a team with just two wins in its last 21 league games and just four on the season.