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Bundesliga preview: Americans take center stage ahead of 57th season

U.S. national team stars, and a few Canadians, are expected to play a big role in the upcoming Bundesliga season.

In this file photo taken March 2, 2019, Nürnberg midfielder Hanno Behrens (L) and Leipzig midfielder Tyler Adams (R) vie for the ball during a Bundesliga football match in Germany. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

Bayern Munich and Hertha Berlin will kick off the Bundesliga season Friday at 2:30 p.m. ET. This season — the 57th for the German league — 11 Americans and two Canadians will feature among the 549 registered first-team players. 

Players from the United States make up 3.8% of all players in the league, according to Transfermarkt, and together with Spain are the seventh most represented nation in Germany’s top flight. 

U.S. players Weston McKennie (Schalke), John Anthony Brooks (Wolfsburg), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Zack Steffen (Fortuna Düsseldorf), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen) and Canadian Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) are the most recognizable names.

“Those players are just the spearhead,” Arne Rees, Vice President Strategies for the Americas, told Pro Soccer USA. “The next generation of Americans, who are still in the Bundesliga academies, they are the ones to watch from what I hear. There are some potential superstars that could form the spine of the USA 2026 World Cup team. It is a story that we want to tell.”

Rees added that “German clubs like to work with” Major League Soccer academies in the U.S. and cited Bayern Munich’s partnership with FC Dallas as an example. As a result of that connection, Bayern was able to acquire Chris Richards. The 19-year-old will start the season with Bayern’s reserve team, Bayern Amateure, in the German third division, but there are expectations for the defender to feature in the first team at some point this season. 

Richards is one of the Americans not listed among the 11 U.S. players above. Another American Bundesliga youth prospect to watch is Borussia Dortmund’s new signing Giovanni Reyna.

“The boy is crazy good. He could have signed for any club in the world, but in the end, he chose Borussia Dortmund,” Dortmund’s under-17 coach Sebastian Geppert said. “We wanted him last winter, but there were some problems with licensing.”

As a non-European Union citizen, Reyna technically had to wait until his 18th birthday to be signed by Dortmund. But Reyna, the son of former U.S. national team player Claudio Reyna, was granted Portuguese citizenship, which paved the way for his early move to Dortmund. Once he joined the club, he starred on Dortmund’s U.S. Tour, and there have been rumblings that Reyna could make his full professional debut at the club as early as this season. 

Sargent has already gotten his taste of the first-team action with Werder Bremen last season, playing in 10 games and scoring two goals, but he could have a breakout season. He was among the final cuts from the U.S. Gold Cup squad this summer, but he made the most of his extra time off by training in Germany. As a result, he started for Werder in the first round of the DFB Pokal — a German knockout tournament — and he is tabbed to be the top striker in head coach Florian Kohfeldt’s system, ahead of new signing Niclas Füllkrug. 

Also at the top of his team’s depth chart going into the new season is new Fortuna Düsseldorf goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

Steffen was signed by Manchester City last winter from Columbus Crew SC, but the English Premier League club opted to send Steffen out on loan to Fortuna Düsseldorf so he could gain playing experience against some of Europe’s toughest competition. 

Good with his feet and excellent when it comes to anticipation, Steffen went into the training camp challenging previous No. 1 goalkeeper Michael Rensing. Head coach Friedhelm Funkel started Steffen in the first round of the German Cup, a sign the club is planning to head into the new season with Steffen as the new starting goalkeeper. 

For Sargent and Steffen, the new season will be about establishing themselves in the Bundesliga. But other Americans — such as Weston McKennie, John Anthony Brooks and Tyler Adams — have already shown they can consistently compete on one of Europe’s top stages. McKennie and Adams, in particular, will carry the U.S. flag in the Bundesliga. 

The two midfielders are cornerstones for the U.S. national team and also occupy important positions in the tactical setup of their respective clubs. McKennie was even on the shortlist of becoming Schalke’s captain this season, but Schalke’s head coach, former U.S. national team player David Wagner, handed the armband to goalkeeper Alexander Nübel instead. 

Nonetheless, McKennie will be one of the leaders at a Schalke side that found itself in turmoil last season and barely escaped relegation. 

Over in Leipzig, Adams will work with a new head coach this season. Joining Leipzig from Hoffenheim is 32-year-old head coach Julian Nagelsmann, who is considered one of the brightest coaching talents in Europe at the moment. Nagelsmann is renown for his revolutionary coaching methods, and it is expected that Adams will make a big step under Nagelsmann this season.

Bayern’s Alphonso Davies scores his side’s 2nd goal during the friendly soccer Audi Cup match between FC Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur at the Allianz Arena stadium in Munich, Germany, Wednesday, July 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

A big step that is also expected by Canadian star Alphonso Davies, who joined Bayern last winter from the Vancouver Whitecaps but played just 74 minutes in six Bundesliga games overall. 

“He has to learn,” Lothar Matthäus said to Pro Soccer USA during an interview ahead of the DFL Supercup. “Coming from MLS to one of the biggest clubs in the world is a big step, but Bayern Munich really believes in him.”

For the Bundesliga, the North Americans in the league are a major asset. The league believes they can open the door to what is still the most lucrative non-European soccer market, but that does not mean North American players will be given a free pass.

“We would never say to our scouting department, ‘Look at a player from that territory because it would help us grow in that market,'” Carsten Cramer, the managing director of the Borussia Dortmund Geschäftsführung-GmbH, said in a round table discussion ahead of the DFL Supercup.

In other words, the young North Americans are in the league to help teams win, and not to fulfill the marketing agenda of the second most profitable league on the planet.

“It is all about winning the trophies,” said Jörg Wacker, an executive member of Bayern Munich’s board.

No other foreign league has as many U.S. national team players as the Bundesliga, and the 57th season will provide plenty of storylines for American fans to follow.

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