Weston McKennie plays in a match on Nov. 29, 2019 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany
As sports around the world prepare to come back after COVID-19-related shutdowns, men’s soccer is moving to the front of the pack.
While four European leagues have officially ended their 2019-20 seasons — Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Scotland — several others have held out hope of returning, with a dozen already approved to come back.
The first of those was the Bundesliga in Germany, which played its first games in nearly 10 weeks this past weekend.
Whether, and when, other countries follow is still up in the air. Major League Soccer, notably, allowed players back for individual workouts earlier this month, and the league is reportedly considering a tournament for all 26 teams later this summer in Florida.
For now, though, Germany stands alone as the world’s one major league playing games.
That’s good news for U.S. fans.
Since Thomas Dooley debuted in the league in 1986, the Bundesliga has become a regular destination for top U.S. players, with nine currently competing there. And due in part to the league’s tradition of allowing young players an opportunity to develop their games, it’s little surprise that some of the brightest young U.S. stars can be seen on German fields.
For those just getting into the German league as we await a wider return of sports, here’s a primer on what to watch for among the American contingent.
Can Tyler Adams Finish The Season Strong?
The 2019-20 season has been start-stop for Tyler Adams. The talented 21-year-old midfielder has shown plenty of promise early in his time with RB Leipzig, but that promise has often sandwiched between time on the trainer’s table. After missing much of the first half of the season with a groin injury, and then missing time again later for a calf injury, the New York Red Bulls product had returned to play just before the shutdown, and with the extra time off he appears ready to go, having started the team’s first game back this past Saturday. Although Leipzig has fallen to fourth in the standings, after having led the league at the winter break, the team is still going strong in the final eight of the UEFA Champions League, should it return.
Will Gio Reyna Emerge As The Next Young U.S. Star?
Word quickly spread through the U.S. soccer community on Saturday morning: Not only was the Bundesliga coming back, but Gio Reyna was set to make his first league start for second-place Borussia Dortmund. The 17-year-old Reyna, son of former U.S. men’s captain Claudio Reyna and women’s national teamer Danielle Egan Reyna, broke into Dortmund’s first team over the winter, and the midfielder had fans salivating when he scored his first professional goal in February — a right-footed stunner against Werder Bremen in the DFB Pokal, or German Cup. Playing for a team with a well-earned reputation for player development — fellow American Christian Pulisic, who now plays for Chelsea in England, being one notable success story — Reyna’s trajectory appears bright. However, that first start will have to wait. He was pulled out of the lineup after suffering an injury during warm-ups.
It’s Time To Shine For Americans On Struggling Teams
Not much has gone Werder Bremen’s way this season, and with just four wins in 25 games so far the team is almost certain to be relegated to the second division. That could prove to be a silver lining for 20-year-old striker Josh Sargent. The St. Louis native is expected to get a lot of playing time as the team looks to build toward the future. In his second year with the club, Sargent has three goals and two assists across 19 league games so far. Just above Bremen in the standings is Fortuna Dusseldorf, where veteran defensive midfielder Alfredo Morales has enjoyed a strong season. However, he might be without teammate Zack Steffen down the stretch. The first-choice U.S. goalie, 25, started the first 17 games of the season before suffering a knee injury. It’s unclear whether he will play again this year — or ever for Dusseldorf, as he’s on loan to the team from Manchester City, and the English team could elect to bring him back next season.
Business Continues On For American Standouts
The return to play wasn’t as memorable for Schalke 04, which fell to rival Dortmund 4-0 on Saturday, but one bright spot for the team remains center midfielder Weston McKennie. Just 21, the Texas native has already been a regular for Schalke for three years. And despite the weekend’s disappointing result, his team, which is coached by former U.S. national team player David Wagner, is in eighth place and knocking on the door to a spot in next year’s Europa League. One of the teams they’re chasing is sixth-place Wolfsburg, where 27-year-old John Brooks remains a staple in the central defense. Both players are key contributors to the national team, as well. Meanwhile, veteran defender Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt) and winger Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), teammates on the 2014 U.S. World Cup team, continue to be contributors for their teams as well.