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Bundesliga Preview: North American soccer stars to watch in Germany

Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Alphonso Davies is poised to compete for Bayern Munich. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

The German Bundesliga league will kick off on Friday with the top match between current champions Bayern Munich and title challengers 1899 Hoffenheim. 

Bayern Munich, in particular, has been in the spotlight in North America. The record-setting Bundesliga champions not only participated in the International Champions Cup in the United States this summer, but the club also signed a development deal with Major League Soccer side FC Dallas and secured the services of MLS’ biggest talent, Alphonso Davies. 

The Canadian is the most expensive player ever to leave Major League Soccer, and he will join U.S. wunderkind, and Borussia Dortmund star, Christian Pulisic in Germany in January. 

Pulisic and Davies, however, are not the only North American stars. Ahead of the Bundesliga season, we introduce the biggest North American stars that play in Germany and what we can expect from them, and their clubs, in the upcoming season. 

Christian Pulisic (USA) – Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic attempts a shot during a 2018 International Champions Cup match against Benfica at Heinz Field on July 25. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

Pulisic is one of the most recognized international Bundesliga stars. Deemed the football messiah in the U.S., Pulisic was heavily criticized after the Americans failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

That criticism seemed to have also impacted on his performance in Germany. At times it felt that many, however, forgot that Pulisic is still only 19. 

Furthermore, the United States and his club Borussia Dortmund went through existential crises last season. Dortmund fired successful head coach Thomas Tuchel last summer due to personal differences between the board and the coaching staff. 

New head coach Peter Bosz then struggled to get his coaching philosophy established at the club and was fired and replaced by Peter Stöger in December. Stöger, in turn, never played attractive football and was replaced this summer by Lucien Favre.

Favre is considered a tactical genius and many pundits in Germany believe that he could get Dortmund back on track. Favre loves developing young players and Pulisic is understood to play a big part of Favre’s plans this season. 

Expect Pulisic to be among the core players for Dortmund this year as the Borussia will challenge Bayern for the title and look to go deep in the Champions League. 

Weston McKennie (USA) – Schalke

Weston McKennie (8) of celebrates after scoring the first goal during a friendly between Portugal and the U.S. at Estadio Municipal Leiria on Nov. 14, 2017. (Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

The 19-year-old McKennie was a revelation at Schalke last season. Signed from FC Dallas in the summer of 2016, head coach Domenico Tedesco promoted McKennie to the first team last summer. 

There, McKennie played 22 games, or 1196 minutes, for Schalke in the Bundesliga. The central midfielder was also one of the reasons Schalke did not go all in to renew the contract of midfield star Max Meyer.

A dynamic and fast midfielder, McKennie almost decided to become an American Football player instead of a soccer player when he was younger

His love for American football is still evident today. At times McKennie plays like a quarterback holding onto the ball, trying to look for the key pass that can slice open an opponent. 

Playing with a maturity that is beyond his years, McKennie helped his club to a second place finish last season. The departure of Meyer and star Leon Goretzka, as well as additional games in the Champions League, will mean that McKennie will be given even more playing time this season. 

Playing in the Bundesliga, the German Cup and the Champions League will provide a significant challenge for his club and although Schalke is projected to once again finish in the top six, another second-place finish seems unlikely. 

John Anthony Brooks (USA) – VfL Wolfsburg

Berlin’s John Anthony Brooks plays the ball during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Hertha BSC Berlin and VfL Wolfsburg in Berlin. (Michael Sohn/AP Photo)

Brooks and Wolfsburg had a difficult season last year. 

Born in Berlin, Brooks is the son of a U.S. serviceman from Chicago. A duel German-U.S. citizen, Brooks made the switch from the German to the U.S. soccer program at the U-23 level. 

He then played for the United States at the 2014 FIFA World Cup scoring the game-winner against Ghana in the first group stage match. Back in Germany, he quickly established himself as Hertha’s number one defender. 

Hertha, however, are a development club and Brooks was identified as an asset that could be cashed in. Hence, his boyhood club sold Brook to cash-rich Wolfsburg. 

Owned by Volkswagen, Wolfsburg had big ambitions with Brooks. The defender, however, went down with a serious injury during the summer training camp and managed just nine games all last season. 

Without Brooks, Wolfsburg struggled and finished 16th in the Bundesliga. Forced into the relegation playoffs against Holstein Kiel, who finished third in Bundesliga 2, Brooks managed to play the full 180 minutes of the two-legged tie helping his club to a 4-1 aggregate victory. 

Back to full fitness, Brooks will most certainly anchor the defense for Wolfsburg this season as the Wolves hope to return to the upper half of the Bundesliga table.

Timothy Chandler (USA) – Eintracht Frankfurt

Eintracht Frankfurt’s Timothy Chandler, left, holds off the Philadelphia Union’s Jay Simpson during an international friendly on July 14, 2018, in Chester, Pa. (Derik Hamilton/AP Photo)

Chandler is another German-American playing in the Bundesliga. Born in Frankfurt, Chandler, like Brooks, is the son of a U.S. serviceman. 

Furthermore, while he chose to represent the United States over Germany, Chandler has become somewhat of a fan favorite in his hometown. His status further improved when he helped his club win the German Cup last May.

Defeating Bayern 3-1 in Berlin, it was Eintracht Frankfurt’s first title in 30 years. 

The victory in Berlin means Eintracht Frankfurt will compete in the UEFA Europa League this season. Chandler, however, will miss all of the Europa League group stage due to a knee injury. 

The wing-back will be out for six months after going through surgery last week.

Fabian Johnson (USA) – Borussia Mönchengladbach

Borussia Monchengladbach’s Fabian Johnson, right, passes the ball under pressure from Mario Lemina of Southampton during the preseason friendly match between Southampton and Borussia Monchengladbach at St Mary’s Stadium on Aug. 4, 2018, in Southampton, England. (Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

Another German-American, Johnson was born in Munich. A product of the 1860 Munich academy, Johnson’s father is a former U.S. basketball player, who played in Germany. 

Johnson, however, spent most of his youth career playing for Germany and won the 2009 U-21 European Championships with the country of his birth. Seeing his path to the first team blocked, however, Johnson made the switch to play for the United States internationally in 2011. 

In the Bundesliga, Johnson has been a prominent player at Hoffenheim and Gladbach, who he joined in 2014.

While it has a rich history, Gladbach delivered inconsistent results and finished ninth last year. Head coach Dieter Hecking, however, has made tactical adjustments this summer, moving the club from playing 4-4-2 to 4-3-3.

In that system, Johnson is supposed to operate as an attacking winger on the left side in a supporting role for Gladbach’s new record signing Allasane Pléa. With Pléa in the squad and a new system in place, Gladbach is hoping for success this season. 

Bobby Wood (USA) – Hannover 96

Christoph Kramer, of Borussia Moenchengladbach, tackles Bobby Wood, of Hamburger SV, on May 12, 2018 in Hamburg, Germany. (Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Bobby Wood is another U.S. national team striker with a past at 1860 Munich. 

Brough over from Honolulu to Munich in 2007 as a 17-year-old, Wood had an up and down career in Germany thus far. Knee problems meant that 1860 cut their losses in 2015. He then impressed for both Erzgebirge Aue and Union Berlin in Bundesliga 2.

A big money move to Hamburger SV followed. There, however, Wood was a disappointment, and his lack of goal-scoring was one of the reasons why the club was relegated from the Bundesliga the first time in history. 

Trying to cut costs Hamburg loaned Wood out to Hannover 96. Wood hopes to resurrect his career once again and help Hannover in the fight against Bundesliga relegation. 

Josh Sargent (USA) – Werder Bremen

Josh Sargent, center, celebrates scoring a goal against India during their FIFA U-17 World Cup match in New Delhi, India. (Tsering Topgyal/AP Photo)

Sargent is one of the biggest talents in the Bundesliga. The American moved to Werder Bremen from Scott Gallagher Missouri, a youth development academy based in St. Louis. 

Signed by Werder Bremen last September FIFA rules meant that Sargent could not play for Werder until he had turned 18 on February 20, 2018. 

“Joshua had been in our notebooks for quite some time. He has some good qualities and is among the most promising talents of his age group worldwide,” Werder’s squad planer Tim Steidten explained in February when Sargent officially became a Werder player. 

A center-forward, Sargent names Robert Lewandowski as his biggest idol. For now Sargent, however, is understood to play mostly for Bremen’s reserve side. 

But Bundesliga teams are no strangers of throwing young players into the shark tank of professional football early and should an injury crisis arise at Werder expect Sargent to get some playing time. 

Alphonso Davies (Canada) – Bayern Munich

Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Alphonso Davies (67) celebrates after scoring against Minnesota United in July at BC Place. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

It was the transfer of the century for the Vancouver Whitecaps. Sold for a base sum of €10 million (around $12 million), Davies, including all bonuses, could eventually cost Bayern Munich $22 million. 

Bayern fans, however, have to be patient while they wait to finally see the young Canadian star play in the Allianz Arena. The Whitecaps winger will turn 18 in November and only then will FIFA rules allow him to complete an international transfer. 

Hence, Bayern opted to keep Davies in Vancouver until January. The Bundesliga will go on an extensive winter break during late December and much of January, at which time Bayern will head to the Middle East to train in Qatar. 

That training camp will be the first stepping stone of Davies’ Bundesliga career. Sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić and head coach Niko Kovac believe that Davies can get first team minutes right away. 

The young Canadian is expected to stay with Bayern and will not be sent out on loan.

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