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Bundesliga: Four must-watch games for American viewers this weekend

In this Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, file photo, Bayern's Serge Gnabry, left, and Dortmund's Marco Reus challenge for the ball during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in Dortmund, Germany. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The Bundesliga returns from its annual winter break Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET with Hoffenheim hosting Bayern Munich. That match, in particular, could see the Bundesliga debut of Canadian star Alphonso Davies, who joined Bayern officially on Jan. 1 after completing his record transfer from the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Davies, however, is not the only new North American face in the league. RasenBallsport Leipzig made the signing of United States national team player Tyler Adams from the New York Red Bulls official in December. Adams becomes the 13th U.S. national team player under contract in the Bundesliga this season, making Americans the fifth largest foreign contingent in the league.

Here are four must-watch games when the Bundesliga returns to action this weekend. 

Hoffenheim against Bayern (Friday, 2:30 p.m. ET)

Will Alphonso Davies make his debut? The 18-year-old turned some heads in Bayern’s midseason camp in Doha and then showed off some of his skills in Saturday’s Telekom Cup final, which Bayern won 4-2 in penalties over Borussia Moenchengladbach.

“I am living my dream; I want to cry,” Davies told reporters after the match. “I want to learn and get better every day and play every game like it is my last.

Teammate Joshua Kimmich said after the penalty shootout win that Davies “is very fast and is extremely dynamic, which will help us.”

During training camp in Qatar, Davies did say the high pace of the Bundesliga game “is a challenge to get used to,” but Bayern coach Niko Kovac has continued to praise Davies’ potential. 

“He is a young player, who was voted the best player in his native country,” Kovas said during a media session in Doha. “He has enormous potential. We need quality, and that is why he is here.”

It is doubtful that quality will be enough for him start against Hoffenheim is, however. Bayern is six points behind league leader Borussia Dortmund. In dire need of points, Bayern coach Niko Kovac is unlikely to experiment with Davies in the starting XI. But, the Canadian could see a few minutes towards the end of the match, depending on the score. 

Hannover against Werder Bremen (Saturday, 9:30 a.m. ET)

Two U.S. men’s national team strikers face each other at the HDI Arena in Hannover, Lower Saxony, Germany — Hannover’s Bobby Wood and Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent. 

For Wood, this will be a crucial match both on a personal and club level. Hannover enters the second half of the season in 17th place with just 11 points from the first 17 games. 

The ghost of relegation has been a major topic in Lower Saxony, and with Hannover losing key striker Niclas Füllkrug, the focus is on Wood to perform. Wood, however, has struggled this season, scoring just three goals in 14 Bundesliga appearances. 

Nonetheless, the striker will start against Werder on Saturday.

“Bobby is the only [striker] with Bundesliga experience in the squad. It is without question [he will start],” Hannover head coach André Breitenreiter told reporters earlier this week. 

Sargent, in the meantime, will likely once again come off the bench. Favorably compared with former Werder legend Miroslav Klose, the 18-year-old native of O’Fallon, Mo., scored seven goals in 12 Regionalliga Nord games earlier this season and was promoted to the first team in the fall. 

Once there, he never looked back. Brought on in the 76th minute on matchday 14 against Fortuna Düsseldorf, it took Sargent just two minutes to score his first ever Bundesliga goal. He then also scored coming off the bench against RB Leipzig on matchday 17, this time needing 11 minutes to get on the scoresheet. With this in mind, the forward will likely be a super sub once again for Werder on matchday 18 against Hannover. 

RB Leipzig against Borussia Dortmund (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET)

The Bundesliga Topspiel (top game), as the Saturday afternoon fixture is called in Germany, will see newly-signed Tyler Adams host Christian Pulisic’s Borussia Dortmund. But while Pulisic is on his final few months in Dortmund — he will join Chelsea at the end of the season — Adams has only recently joined Leipzig.

Developed by the New York Red Bulls, Adams’ transfer to Germany can be considered a call-up of sorts. The two clubs are deeply connected. With Leipzig needing reinforcements in midfield after selling Naby Keïta in the summer to Liverpool, the club completed a deal for Adams in the late fall. 

In order not to damage New York’s MLS Cup aspirations, a deal was not officially announced until after the end of the MLS season. Once in Germany, Adams quickly became an internet sensation after a brilliant introductory news conference with head coach Ralf Rangnick. Adams caught his coach off guard by telling him that he already has a German girlfriend. 

On the field, Adams has been excellent and impressed in Leipzig’s test match against Galatasaray on Saturday.

“It felt great playing with him, he always demands the ball. It didn’t feel like this was his first match with us,” teammate Diego Demme told reporters in Germany after the game. 

There is a chance Adams could start Saturday against Dortmund. Whether that will be the case for Pulisic remains to be seen.

Perhaps the biggest American star in the Bundesliga, Pulisic has somewhat struggled in the first half of the season and lost his starting position to the emerging Jadon Sancho. Nonetheless, Dortmund needs the American to fight off a tough challenge by Bayern for the German championship. 

Hence, the Black and Yellows refused to sell the winger to Chelsea this winter and instead structured a deal that will see Pulisic play in Dortmund until the end of the season.

“I want to finish this season strong with Dortmund and then make the next step [in my career],” Pulisic told the German outlet Sport Bild last week.  

Schalke against Wolfsburg (Sunday, noon ET)

Our final match will take us to Gelsenkirchen, where Schalke with Weston McKennie and Haji Wright will host Wolfsburg’s John Anthony Brooks. 

For Schalke, this will be a crucial game. The Royal Blues finished second in the Bundesliga last season but have struggled all season and currently finding themselves involved in the relegation battle. 

They are 13th in the standings with just 18 points from 17 games. Just four points separate the Royal Blues from the dropzone — not enough for a club that started with Champions League ambitions. 

Although he struggled with injuries earlier in the fall, McKennie has been one of the few bright sparks in a Schalke side that appeared leaderless at times. At one point, the defensive midfielder was even used as a striker in an attempt by head coach Domenico Tedesco to fix Schalke’s goalscoring woes. 

It is a fate McKennie shared with his American teammate Haji Wright. A striker by trade, Wright was mostly used in Schalke’s reserve side, where he scored seven goals in 11 fifth division games. Called up in November, he managed to score only once in five games. 

The two will now face a Wolfsburg side that has seen a reverse in fortune. The Wolves only just avoided relegation, being forced to play in the two-legged relegation/promotion playoff against Bundesliga 2 side Holstein Kiel. 

Brooks was one of the best players over the two legs and has since been excellent for Wolfsburg. With Brooks guarding the backline, Wolfsburg might be the most significant surprise package in the first half of the season as the Wolves are currently fifth in the Bundesliga standings, just three points behind a Champions League spot. 

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