Things are looking up for the U.S. men's national team. There was the Concacaf Nations League final win over Mexico. There was the Concacaf Gold Cup final win over Mexico. There was the significant bump in the latest FIFA ranking, which has the U.S. in 10th, as high as it's been since 2006 (yet still one place behind Mexico, due to the machinations of the ranking formula). That could come in handy come World Cup draw time (not to mention for U.S. players seeking moves to the U.K. due to work permit rules), although if there's anything the U.S. men have learned in recent years, it's that just getting to be part of the World Cup draw takes considerably more than a presumption. With qualifying for Qatar 2022 set to begin in a few weeks, however, things couldn't be shaping up much better from a U.S. perspective.
The key, then, especially for the core of the squad that is based abroad, is taking the start of the domestic league seasons across Europe and maintaining the form that made this ascent from the depths of October 2017 possible.
Last season was a landmark one on multiple levels for U.S. players in Europe, and perhaps it's no coincidence that the senior national team enjoyed success in the aftermath of it all. Chelsea's Christian Pulisic became the first male U.S. player to feature in the Champions League final and the second to win it (and he very nearly scored in it, too). Opposite him was Zack Steffen, who was on the bench for Man City in the final, but did actively backstop the club to another League Cup title. The two were among 10 U.S. players to win 13 combined trophies for European clubs, and two of nine who competed in the Champions League last season. That's a high bar to set, but there's the potential for a similar—or even more substantial—output in 2021-22.
Here's a closer look at the U.S. player pool featuring abroad at the highest levels, or the ones very close to it, and the outlook for some of the individuals who figure to take part in the World Cup qualifying effort—or at least push for a place on one of the multiple rosters coach Gregg Berhalter will call on with hopes of a successful and smooth road to Qatar:
Christian Pulisic, Chelsea
Pulisic endured a frustrating but ultimately rewarding 2020-21 season. He fought the injury bug, which has been a theme early in his career, and Thomas Tuchel's midseason hiring didn't result in the automatic playing time some presumed given the pair's prior experience together at Borussia Dortmund. Yet late in the season, Pulisic turned it on—his play vs. Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals was heavily influential in Chelsea's triumph—and he excelled coming off the bench and providing a spark when he wasn't starting. Given Chelsea's attacking riches, not to mention the acquisition of Romelu Lukaku, there is again a logjam of talent, and regular starts may not pile up. Pulisic came off the bench in the UEFA Super Cup vs. Villarreal and converted a penalty kick in the shootout to help Chelsea claim another title—and another to add to the trophy haul for Americans abroad this season.
Zack Steffen, Manchester City
Steffen is again set for another season backing up Ederson for the Premier League powerhouse. He started and played well in Man City's Community Shield defeat to Leicester City, beaten only by a Kelechi Iheanacho penalty kick, and will likely wind up with domestic cup patrol this season. That was good enough a season ago—though the argument for daily training environment vs. regular match time will be fired up again if Ethan Horvath establishes himself at Nottingham Forest or Matt Turner continues shining regularly for the New England Revolution.
Josh Sargent, Norwich City
Sargent secured a move from Werder Bremen to the promoted Premier League side, ending his run with the German club that launched his pro career. He goes to a club with an established star forward in Teemu Pukki and one that plenty are pegging to be involved in the relegation scrap. Sargent surely knows a thing or two about that after his last two years in Bremen, but the hope is that he adjusts to the new surroundings smoothly and earns playing time off the bat. With the U.S. forward position still not fully settled, there's an opportunity for Sargent if he can find some quick success. He knows a thing about that, too: Sargent scored for Werder Bremen on his first touch in December 2018.
Owen Otasowie, Wolverhampton
Otasowie played sparingly for Wolves last season and wouldn't figure to have a considerably bigger role this season—if he stays. Belgian champion Club Brugge is reportedly interested in his services, which could open up some opportunities at the club and country levels. Everton and West Ham have also been linked to moves for the 20-year-old central midfielder.
Matt Miazga, Chelsea; Cameron Carter-Vickers, Tottenham
Neither center back figures to be long for his current club, as both have been loaned out perpetually over the years. Miazga has spent the last five years on loan in four countries (and according to Fabrizio Romano, it'll be six in five with a loan to La Liga's Alavés lined up), while Carter-Vickers has represented six lower-tier clubs closer to home over the last four years. It's long past time for both to find long-term stability if they have any desire to be a part of Berhalter's regular rotation.
In the Championship
Horvath's move to Nottingham Forest from Club Brugge could result in a genuine battle for the U.S.'s starting goalkeeping job, especially after his heroics in the Nations League final. So far he's been on the bench for one league game and started in a first-round League Cup victory. ... Left back Antonee Robinson remains at Fulham for now despite transfer buzz after the Cottagers' relegation, and versatile defender Tim Ream is back for more as well in the quest to yo-yo back up to the top flight. ... Right back Matthew Olosunde left Rotherham for Preston North End on a free transfer and finds himself lower down a crowded depth chart at the position. ... Duane Holmes embarks on his first full season at Huddersfield Town after last season's winter move from Derby County. He had been firmly on Berhalter's radar two years ago but will need to play his way back.
Gio Reyna, Dortmund
Reyna has inherited Jadon Sancho's No. 7, which speaks volumes to what the club expects of the 18-year-old this season. Erling Haaland remaining at Dortmund allows their dynamic connection to continue developing, and Reyna should have ample opportunity to rack up assists to the lumbering forward who gave him his "American Dream" nickname.
Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig
Adams begins a second chapter under Jesse Marsch at Leipzig, and the familiarity from their time together with the New York Red Bulls should do wonders for his outlook. Not that he needed any favors. When healthy, Adams has been a fixture for Leipzig and deployed at multiple positions with confidence. He'll be joined by another U.S. player, Red Bulls rising star Caden Clark, in the winter.
John Brooks, Wolfsburg
It's a big season for the 28-year-old Brooks, whose Wolfsburg is back in the Champions League. It's imperative for the U.S. that he remains in form and healthy given his importance to the U.S. defense at a position that is not overflowing with starting-caliber and veteran talent. He is the back-line marshal for both club and country.
Chris Richards, Bayern Munich
It remains to be seen whether Richards will stay with Bayern or go back out on loan. He spent the latter half of last season on loan at Hoffenheim, but began the season on the matchday bench for new manager Julian Nagelsmann vs. Monchengladbach in Friday's 1–1 draw. Earning regular playing time elsewhere—and finding success in doing so—would thrust the 21-year-old back into the conversation for the starting U.S. XI.
Julian Green, Greuther Furth
Green played a major role in getting Furth promoted to the Bundesliga, and he figures to play a significant role in the club's quest to stay there. Furth was dealt a disappointment in the DFB Pokal, losing in the first round in penalty kicks to fourth-tier opposition (Green's late goal had pushed the match to extra time), so the focus is firmly on league play now. Green was recalled to the U.S. for the first time since Berhalter became coach prior to the Nations League final four, and continuing consistent good play with Furth will keep him in the midfield mix for World Cup qualifying, especially with the expanded rosters Berhalter is expected to bring to each of the match windows.
Joe Scally, Borussia Monchengladbach
Scally is one of the most intriguing American Abroad stories to watch this season. The 18-year-old NYCFC academy product and fullback became the third-youngest U.S. player to appear in a Bundesliga game, making an impressive league debut at left back against Bayern Munich of all clubs. He did so after impressing in a first-round DFB Pokal win to kick off the season and has the look of a player carving out a role on a top team in a top league. It won't be long before he's part of the national team mix if he stays on that trajectory—especially considering the U.S.'s never-ending quest to find a reliable, regular left back.
Matthew Hoppe, Schalke
Hoppe, who impressed mightily at the Gold Cup, remains at relegated Schalke in the 2. Bundesliga, at least for now. The striker, whose five-goals-in-three-games binge thrust him onto the mainstream radar, has been linked with a move away to multiple top-half Premier League clubs, where the prestige could be nice, but the playing time not as guaranteed. Given the impression he left on the U.S. this summer, it would behoove him to find a destination where the minutes and level of competition strike a proper balance.
Sergiño Dest, Barcelona
Dest remains at Barcelona amid the chaos and financial crisis that resulted in Lionel Messi's departure for PSG. His lineup position is no more secure than it was last season, especially with right back Emerson Royal being brought into the fold, but his versatility to feature on either side means he'll always be a viable option for Ronald Koeman.
Yunus Musah, Valencia
Musah begins the season out with a leg injury, which threatens his availability for the first World Cup qualifying window next month. He's still not officially cap-tied despite pledging his verbal commitment to the U.S., but that'll be sorted if and when he sees the field in qualifiers. The 18-year-old will hope to make significant strides after emerging on the scene in his debut season last year.
Shaq Moore, Tenerife
Down in the Segunda División, Moore is looking to parlay his strong play at the Gold Cup into either another consistent season or a transfer to a higher level. He's under contract for three more years, so it may take a significant offer to pry him loose. Either way, he's back on Berhalter's radar on the right back depth chart.
Weston McKennie, Juventus
McKennie emerged as a regular under Andrea Pirlo last season and now must impress Massimiliano Allegri to do the same. A bona fide leader and lineup staple for the U.S., McKennie will have the expectation level raised following his five-goal debut campaign, playing for a team expecting to reclaim the scudetto after it had to claw to a top-four finish.
Bryan Reynolds, Roma
The 20-year-old Reynolds is in for the José Mourinho experience, which could go in oh so many ways. He started a handful of preseason friendlies after making five appearances late in Roma's 2020-21 season following his arrival from FC Dallas and should be expected to become a more regular contributor in the Italian capital. Should that happen, more U.S. appearances will follow. He did not factor into the Nations League finals or Gold Cup.
Gianluca Busio and Tanner Tessmann, Venezia
The 19-year-old duo left MLS to become part of the U.S. takeover at the promoted Serie A side. Whether they become immediate fixtures for the club remains to be seen, but their potential has clearly been recognized, and they've doubled the U.S. contingent in Italy's top flight.
Tim Weah, Lille
Weah is back with the reigning French champion and has come off the bench to spell Canadian star Jonathan David in each of the first two games this season: a Trophée des Champions win over a relatively shorthanded pre-Messi PSG and a Ligue 1-opening draw vs. Metz. There's Champions League football in store for Weah this season, provided he can continue carving out a regular role—starting or off the bench—under a new manager.
Konrad de la Fuente, Marseille
Konrad's move from Barcelona both freed him from the chaos at Camp Nou and also opened up a world of opportunity. He delivered a gorgeous dribble and assist to kick-start Marseille's season-opening, come-from-behind win vs. Montpellier and looks to have ample opportunity on the wing under manager Jorge Sampaoli. Quality depth on the wings isn't necessarily in abundance for the U.S., and the 20-year-old could play his way into a more regular role if he keeps it up.
Nicholas Gioacchini, Caen
Down in Ligue 2, the 21-year-old Gioacchini is back for a third season at Caen, where he doubled his first-season tally of two league goals with four last season. More will be expected in this campaign from a player who has provided a touch of class off the bench for the U.S. in his eight caps.
ELSEWHERE OF NOTE ON THE CONTINENT
Brenden Aaronson is back at Salzburg after having an immediate impact under Marsch in his first half-season, and he has a preseason game-winner over Barcelona to his name already. A triumph over Brondby in the qualifying playoff round would cement Salzburg's place in the Champions League group stage and give Aaronson exposure to the top level. ... The same goes for Jordan Siebatcheu's Young Boys, which faces Ferencvaros in the playoff round. Siebatcheu, now playing for German-American manager David Wagner, has been on fire to start the season, with three goals in Champions League qualifying and a pair in Swiss league play. The starting forward job for the U.S. could be his with more consistent scoring. ... DeAndre Yedlin was a smash hit in his first few months at Galatasaray, parlaying it into a first call-up in a year-and-a-half for the Nations League. He'll have the added bonus of Europa League play if his Turkish side can beat Randers in the playoff round. ... Mark McKenzie's play—and resilience—at center back in the Nations League final four makes his first full season at Genk in Belgium one to watch closely. He's joined in the Belgian top flight by U.S. Gold Cup left back Sam Vines, who just signed at Antwerp. ... Reggie Cannon remains in limbo at Portugal's Boavista, where finances aren't in order and a move for the reliable right back seems likely. He was not involved in the club's season-opening defeat.
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