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North Americans abroad: How key USMNT players fared in Europe recently

HANOVER, GERMANY - AUGUST 31: Bobby Wood of Hannover 96 holds off Manuel Akanji of Borussia Dortmund during the Bundesliga match between Hannover 96 and Borussia Dortmund at HDI-Arena on August 31, 2018 in Hanover, Germany. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

In this segment of North Americans abroad, we take a look at some of the United States national team players competing in Europe and how they’ve fared in the opening games of the 2018-19 club season.

The U.S. is holding national team camp this week in preparation for two competitive friendly fixtures: Sept. 7 in East Rutherford, N.J., against Brazil and Sept. 9 versus Mexico, in Nashville.

Interim head coach Dave Sarachan is missing two top players without Christian Pulisic, who is being rested after picking up a minor knock during training with his German club side Dortmund, and up-and-coming star Josh Sargent, who has asked to stay with Werder Bremen to focus on breaking into the club’s first team. 

But even without Pulisic and Sargent, Sarachan has multiple players in camp who have already made their marks this year in some of Europe’s best leagues.

John Anthony Brooks (VfL Wolfsburg)

Brooks is enjoying life in the Bundesliga at the moment. The 25-year-old central defender had a difficult season last year. Plagued by injuries, Brooks managed just nine appearances 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 to help his club to a 4-1 aggregate victory. 

Wolfsburg’s John Anthony Brooks celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between VfL Wolfsburg and FC Schalke 04 Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018. (Peter Steffen/dpa via AP)/dpa via AP)

After a summer without injuries, Brooks appears to be in the form of his life. The defender scored Wolfsburg’s opening goal of the season against last year’s runner-up FC Schalke 04 on Matchday 1 of the Bundesliga. He was then a rock in defense, helping his team hold on to a 1-1 scoreline until a late winner by striker Daniel Ginczek secured Wolfsburg three big points against one of the powerhouses of the Bundesliga.

Then on Matchday 2, Wolfsburg faced Bayer Leverkusen. Once again Brooks was outstanding as his side collected another three points, winning 3-1. It has been a sensational start for Wolfsburg, and Brooks.

Weston McKennie (Schalke 04)

Weston McKennie and his club, Schalke, had a nightmare start to the season. Two games and two defeats are not what Schalke fans expected after finishing the Bundesliga in second place last year. 

The 20-year-old McKennie was very much to blame for Hertha Berlin’s opening goal on Matchday 2. The midfielder was played out of position in a three-man defense. McKennie struggled and was overrun by Hertha attacking winger Javairô Dilrosun ahead of the opening goal scored by Ondrej Duda. 

In McKennie’s defense, Schalke head coach Domenico Tedesco seemed to quickly realize the U.S. national team player is no centerback. Halfway through the first half, Tedesco switched his formation from 3-5-2 to 4-2-3-1, which allowed McKennie to play in central midfield next to new signing Sebastian Rudy.

Hertha’s Vedad Ibisevic and Schalke’s Weston McKennie challenge for the ball during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Schalke 04 and Hertha BSC Berlin in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

“We now know what we are good and not good at. The things which we are good at, we will carry doing well, and those things which didn’t work today won’t be tried again in the future. I take full responsibility for the mistakes made today,” Tedesco said after the match.

For McKennie, the two U.S. friendlies will be a welcome distraction before he heads back to Gelsenkirchen to help turn results around for his club side. 

Bobby Wood (Hannover 96)

Bobby Wood could have been the man of the hour against Dortmund on Matchday 2. Hannover 96 was holding Bundesliga giant Borussia Dortmund, which was without the injured Pulisic, to a 0-0 draw when Wood received the ball in the 88th minute and broke away from the defense to go one-against-one with Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Bürki. 

Time slowed, and the HDI-Arena in Hannover briefly fell quiet in anticipation. But instead of a goal shout, loud groans were heard throughout the arena as Wood stumbled over the ball, giving away a chance for a late winner. 

Instead, Hannover had to make due with just the one point. On loan from Hamburger SV, Wood’s second-half appearance was his first Bundesliga game for Hannover. 

Julian Green (SpVgg Greuther Fürth)

While Wood struggled, Julian Green enjoyed life in Bundesliga 2. Fighting off relegation to Liga 3 last season, his club SpVgg Greuther Fürth is flying high at the moment. 

The favorite club of former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is currently fifth in the Bundesliga 2 standings. Although labeled a forward for the U.S. men’s national team setup, Green is more of a playmaker for Fürth.

Hence, his actual numbers — one assist in four games — do not reflect his full influence on Fürth’s game. A metronome in midfield, Green is a key player for the club. And the 23-year-old, once labeled among Bayern Munich’s biggest talents, is slowly but surely addressing the hype that followed him through the early stages of his career.

Julian Green (C) during a, FC Bayern Munich practice session at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., USA, on July 30, 2014. (EPA/ANDREW GOMBERT)

Timothy Weah (Paris Saint-Germain)

A duel U.S.-Liberia citizen, Timothy Weah has been part of Paris Saint-Germain’s setup since 2014. He’s the son of former Ballon d’Or winner and current President of Liberia George Weah, who also played for PSG from 1992-95.

Making his debut in Ligue 1 last season, Weah managed three games for the first team in 2017-18. He was linked with a loan move away from PSG, but new head coach Thomas Tuchel decided to keep him around. 

United States’ Tim Weah in action during an international friendly soccer match against Bolivia, Monday, May 28, 2018, in Chester, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The German head coach brought Weah on during the first two matches of the season, and the 18-year-old scored his first senior-level club goal on Matchday 1 against SM Caen. He was then not included in the last two games against SCO Angers and Nimes Olympique. PSG hopes Weah will get some much-needed playing time when the U.S. faces Brazil and Mexico.

DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United)

After playing 61 games in the English Premier League, DeAndre Yedlin finally scored his first-ever English Premier League goal during the weekend.

After joining Newcastle United in the summer of 2016, the left back briefly tied the score against English champions Manchester City on Saturday. But ultimately, City won the match, with Kyle Walker scoring the winner in the 52nd minute. 

Nov 11, 2016; Columbus, OH; USA defender DeAndre Yedlin (2) during warm ups before the match against Mexico at MAPFRE Stadium. Mexico beats the USA 2-1. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Yedlin’s goal ended the second-longest period in history without a U.S. goalscorer in the English top flight. It has been 1,623 days since Geoff Cameron scored on March 23, 2014, for Stoke City. 

Despite breaking the duck, it has not been all happy times for Yedlin. Four games into the season, Newcastle is still looking for its first win. With his club struggling, heading to the U.S. to play Brazil and Mexico will be a welcome distraction for the wingback. 

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