The turning of the calendar to August brings excitement to the world of European club football once more. Gone are the dog days of international preseason tours which are typically barren of the game’s largest superstars playing for more than one half (we’re looking at you, International Champions Cup). In a world where the allure of European football captivates American interest, the increased hype of players from the United States performing in European leagues has never been more palpable.
In this article, we preview the upcoming Bundesliga season and which American players fans should keep their eyes peeled towards throughout the top German division’s campaign. In the land of Oktoberfest and a covert/low-key American youth development system, thanks to former USMNT Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, a few national team household names will further stake their claims for a 2018 World Cup roster position, and may even cement their case for a starting spot.
John Brooks - VFL Wolfsburg
Hot off the heels of becoming the most expensive American transfer in world football history, Brooks has much much to prove with 2016-17 basement escape artists, VfL Wolfsburg. As if his price tag of 20 million euros isn’t a hefty enough burden, the 24-year-old defender transfers from Europa League competitors, Hertha Berlin, with the purpose of plugging the defensive holes that permitted 52 goals against Bundesliga competition last season. The team which qualified for the 2015-16 Champions League quarterfinals has evaporated, leaving behind a club ready to reclaim what they built just two years ago.
This leaves our World Cup 2014 hero in a position unlike most American internationals. Brooks will be considered the bedrock of Wolfsburg’s defense, leaving the development of his successes entirely in his own hands. For a young centerback, he has the speed and physicality to matchup against some of he toughest forwards in the world (see Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Anthony Modeste and Robert Lewandowski). If Brooks shows up to his fullest potential, the reps he earns against these big players will surely have Bruce Arena marking him down in next summer’s Starting XI.
Bobby Wood - Hamburger SV
Like Brooks, Bobby Wood comes into this Bundesliga season with some new cash in his pocket as well. Wood penned a new contract with Hamburg, which finished 14th during Wood’s first campaign in Germany’s highest division. He didn’t play half bad either. Last season the 24-year-old USMNT regular played in 32 matches, grabbing 9 goals and 2 assists across all competitions. It wasn’t the most flashy of numbers, but decent considering the injury woes he underwent throughout the course of the season.
The most important role that Wood can play for the USMNT at the moment is a viable starter who knows how to mix it up against some of the most stingy defenses in Europe. With Clint Dempsey morphing into an ultimate off-the-bench weapon for Arena, someone needs to fill the striker role. And at the moment, Wood has the potential to beat out Jordan Morris in that role, barring that Wood can keep his injuries at bay.
Fabian Johnson - Borussia Monchengladbach
A man who experienced some injury issues of his own towards the end of last season, Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Fabian Johnson is equipped to make a run at a starting role for Russia 2018. The question that remains is what position he best serves in. Featured as a wing back under Klinsmann’s tenure, it has been argued Johnson’s best fitting position lies on the wing, where he regularly features for his club.
Johnson has 10 goals and 12 assists since joining BMG from Hoffenheim in 2014, and has reportedly agreed to feature in the more important matches for the USMNT going forward. Despite missing many friendlies within the past few years, it appears Johnson remains high on Arena’s list. The veteran hopes to get back to his 2015-16 form and reassure Arena his place on the wing in 2018.
Christian Pulisic - Borussia Dortmund
How could we forget about America’s favorite sporting starlet? Fresh off his ESPY nomination for Best Breakthrough Athlete, the 18-year-old has his sights set on enforcing his role as starter for Champions League side Borussia Dortmund. It has been well documented that Pulisic’s meteoric rise has grasped American soccer world’s attention, often resulting in fans and reporters dubbing him as the savior of American soccer.
Arena displayed his faith in the teenager by starting him in the World Cup qualifier against Mexico in Estadio Azteca back in June, so we know Pulisic has grit. Yet, the question that remains with Pulisic is whether he can sustain that confidence and determination throughout a grueling club campaign while breaking through as a regular starter.
He will have to do so under new manager Peter Bosz, who is taking over from the man who brought Pulisic in, Thomas Tuchel. He will also have to compete for starting time alongside the likes of Marco Reus, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ousmane Dembele, and new summer arrivals Mahmoud Dahoud, Omer Toprak, Dan-Axel Zagadou and Maximilian Philipp.
All that being said, Pulisic has defied many of the expectations surrounding his young career thus far. Former Dortmund boss and current Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp, has already displayed his interest in the young American, should Phillipe Countinho leave for Barcelona. Whether that move occurs or not, Pulisic will certainly be featured as a first team regular on a squad fighting for major European hardware. Not a bad time to be 18.