For Americans wanting to watch their nation’s youth, who aren’t named Christian Pulisic, rise through the ranks of European football and onto the international stage, the Bundesliga features plenty of names to follow. We continue our 2017-18 season preview series of players from the United States to watch in Germany’s top division.
Caleb Stanko – SC Freiburg
One of the guys who was borderline on making this list, Stanko has been with SC Freiburg since 2011. Last season the 24-year-old central midfielder was loaned out to FC Vaduz, a club based in Liechtenstein that plays in the Swiss Football League. He made 20 league appearances, but only came away with one assist and no goals during his season-long spell with the last place finishers in Switzerland’s top league.
Despite battling through an ACL tear in 2014, which dramatically slowed his progression at Freiburg, Stanko is equipped to make some appearances in a CDM role. His flexible style of play and willingness to bunker in on defense could help him see some minutes were Freiburg in a defensive scenario or lineup.
The Michigan native carries with him some previous international experience, which could benefit his chances of another call-up. Stanko captained the U.S. U-20 national team at the 2013 U-20 World Cup and secured his first cap against Trinidad and Tobago in a September 2016 World Cup Qualifier in Jacksonville, Florida.
Julian Green - VfB Stuttgart
Before the rise of Christian Pulisic, Julian Green carried the title, and burden, of being America’s greatest young star. The hype surrounded the 22-year-old early on in his career when he rose through the ranks of Bayern Munich’s youth development system and earned a spot on Jurgen Klinsmann’s 2014 World Cup roster. To top it all off, he scored a beauty of a one-touch volley to pull within one goal against Belgium in the Round of 16.
However, despite a few sturdy performances during preseason, Green did not receive the minutes he was looking for during his 2016-17 stint with Bayern Munich. Halfway through last season, the winger made a permanent transfer to then second-tier side, VfB Stuttgart in hopes of getting more regular playing time. Green ended up with ten appearances for Stuttgart and scoring only one goal in the club’s promotion winning campaign.
This season, expect Green to feature more regularly for Stuttgart in the Budesliga. He’s a player known for his dynamic, playmaking ability with the ball and quick bursts of speed to split the gaps between opposing fullbacks and centerbacks. On the downside, he has been noted to be a bit lazy on the defensive side, which can be a turn off for managers in a league where formation organization is so critical. We will have to wait and see what the youngster pulls out of his hat this season. But hey, at least we have another American to watch on a nationally televised cable channel!
Haji Wright - FC Schalke 04
The first of a foray of young potential stars to be coming through FC Schalke, Wright by far bodes one of the bigger bodies as a striker in the U.S. development system. With his 6’ 3” frame, Wright can win almost any aerial battle against some of the toughest centerbacks the Bundesliga has to offer. And to top it all off, his speed, technical skill and calm finishing abilities are the skills that have earned him an early call up to the senior squad.
Of course, Wright still has much to learn for a 19-year-old on a squad stocked full of talent up top. Yet despite the competition, Wright said in an an interview with the team’s website, “The more I train with the team, the more I feel like I belong. I really enjoy Domenico Tedesco’s training sessions. They’re hard but a lot of fun.”
In a preseason matchup against sixth division side SpVgg Erkenschwick, Wright managed 4 goals and an assist in one half of play. Yes, sixth tier competition is nothing to boast about, but scoring four goals in 45 minutes is a challenging feat, no matter where or whom you’re playing professionally. Hopefully his recent good form will encourage more minutes from the striker who is on the rise of American soccer radars.
Weston McKennie - FC Schalke 04
Hey, lookey here! FC Schalke and a young American are linked once more. If you’re still not on the Pulisic bandwagon or just need a team to root for in the Bundesliga, this club may be the perfect match. Not to mention, Virginia native and 18-year-old Nick Taitague signed with the club’s U-19 squad this spring and had 2 assists in 2 appearances in the Bundesliga A-Junior league. So you may want to keep an eye on him and a potential call-up in the coming year.
Anyways, back to the player of focus. Weston McKennie has gained much attention in recent months. After his first call-up to the senior team during the last Bundesliga game of last season, the 18-year-old has received widespread praise, with sporting director Christian Heidel calling the United States youth international, "impressive." McKennie earned his call up after a successful season with the U-19 squad, where he featured as a holding midfielder with the captain’s armband (for a few matches) while contributing four goals and three assists in 19 league appearances.
In the senior squad’s tuneup this preseason, McKennie managed an assist in a 3-2 win over Besiktas. Not a bad first few months for the youngster. But the main thing to focus on will be whether he can sustain his recent performances. Should McKennie see more playing time with Schalke, we would have to assume that his call-up to Arena’s national team is right around the corner. America’s central defensive midfielders are an aging bunch, so a shot of youthful grit could serve well in upcoming World Cup Qualifiers, if not international friendlies. Let’s just hope the development of the young international goes to plan in Germany’s top division.
Anyone else fans should keep their eye on in Bundesliga? Maybe even some second-tier players like Terrance Boyd? Let us know in the comments below. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter!