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The Five Best American Soccer Players Outside the MLS

| December 24, 2020 5:34 am PDT
Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna

There was a time when American soccer players struggled overseas.

John Harkes made history by becoming the first US national to play in the English Premier League back in 1992, although it’s fair to say that his name hasn’t exactly gone down in history, has it?

But in recent years, the pool of Americans playing abroad has been growing at a rapid rate.

With elite European clubs now searching far and wide for the next big thing and Major League Soccer producing more top-quality players than ever before, it is hardly surprising that many of the USMNT’s stars play their soccer overseas.

But who are the best US soccer players outside of MLS right now? I share my top five below.

Christian Pulisic – Chelsea (England)

Sure, Hershey is best known for its chocolate. But Christian Pulisic has put his hometown on the map for different reasons.

He may only be 22, yet Pulisic is already regarded as one of the most talented forwards in the EPL, if not the world.

Pulisic spent much of his childhood between England and America, playing for youth teams Brackley Town, Michigan Rush, and PA Classics. But he truly made a name for himself in Germany, joining Borussia Dortmund as a 16-year-old in 2015.

Having shone at U17 and U19 level, it quickly became apparent that Pulisic was ready for the first team. He made his full Dortmund debut in January 2016, becoming the third-youngest player in the club’s history at the time (17 years, 4 months, 12 days).

After making over 100 appearances for Dortmund across four seasons, Pulisic earned himself a £58m move to EPL giant Chelsea in 2019.

During his debut season in London, the skillful forward notched up 11 goals and 10 assists, finishing the 2019/20 campaign with five goals and four assists in his final nine EPL outings. Despite suffering with injuries, Pulisic has continued to catch the eye in 2020/21.

With his low center of gravity, lightning pace, and intelligent vision, many people – including Chelsea manager Frank Lampard – have compared Pulisic to Blues legend Eden Hazard.

The table below details Pulisic’s development since turning pro.

CHRISTIAN PULISIC’S FULL PROFESSIONAL SEASONS IN NUMBERS
Season Club Appearances Goals Assists
2015/16 Borussia Dortmund 12 2 0
2016/17 Borussia Dortmund 43 5 13
2017/18 Borussia Dortmund 42 5 7
2018/19 Borussia Dortmund 30 7 6
2019/20 Chelsea 34 11 10

Giovanni Reyna – Borussia Dortmund (Germany)

American soccer fans have been chanting Reyna’s name since the early 90s – but not this Renya.

Son of former USMNT star Claudio Reyna, Gio has been busy writing his own story over the past few years. And just like Pulisic, the 18-year-old has been making waves with Borussia Dortmund.

The attacking midfielder spent four years learning his trade in New York City’s academy. But when Dortmund came calling in 2019, Reyna packed his bags and left for Germany.

It didn’t take long for the prodigy to nail down a spot in Lucien Favre’s side. In fact, after bagging eight goals and eight assists in just 16 appearances for the U19s at the start of 2019/20, Reyna made 18 first-team appearances during the second half of the campaign.

The teenage sensation has since featured in each of Dortmund’s opening 12 Bundesliga matches in 2020/21, contributing three goals and five assists along the way.

He was rewarded for his efforts with a USMNT call-up in November, with Gregg Berhalter handing Reyna his senior international debut a day before his 18th birthday. A few days later, Reyna scored in the United States’ 6-2 thrashing of Panama.

Reyna is now among the ten youngest players to feature for the USMNT.

  • Freddy Adu – 16 years, 234 days
  • Steve Snow – 17 years, 132 days
  • Bobby Convey – 17 years, 151 days
  • Tab Ramos – 17 years, 154 days
  • Christian Pulisic – 17 years, 192 days
  • Eddie Gaven – 17 years, 259 days
  • Yunus Musah – 17 years, 348 days
  • Juan Agudelo – 17 years, 358 days
  • Giovanni Reyna – 17 years, 364 days
  • Jozy Altidore – 18 years, 10 days

Sergiño Dest – Barcelona (Spain)

Sergiño Dest almost didn’t play for the US.

Having been born in the Netherlands to a Surinamese-American father and a Dutch mother, many believed he would opt to represent the country of his birth. I mean, playing for the Netherlands is a seriously attractive option, right?

But when Dest made his USMNT debut in November 2019, he pledged his allegiance to America.

Following six years in Ajax’s famed academy, the youngster established himself as Erik ten Hag’s first-choice right-back during the 2019/20 season.

Dest featured in all but four of Ajax’s league games last term before the Eredivisie campaign was cut short by the pandemic. He also started four Champions League matches, gaining vital experience against Lille, Valencia, and Chelsea.

Of course, Ajax is one of Europe’s most prestigious clubs. But when Barcelona offered the Dutch outfit €21m for Dest in October 2020, it was a move that neither the club or the player could turn down.

Teaming up with former Netherlands head coach Ronald Koeman, Dest immediately found himself playing a key role in the Catalans’ backline. Let’s not forget that he only turned 20 a month into his Barca career.

Dest plays with a maturity far beyond his years. His defensive and attacking attributes have seen him become one of the most talk-about young full-backs in world soccer – and he is only going to get better.

Weston McKennie – Juventus (Italy)

Germany’s top-flight has been home to numerous American players in recent years, with Weston McKennie one of many USMNT stars that have thrived in the Bundesliga.

Currently on loan at Juventus, the dynamic midfielder is fast becoming a household name in European soccer.

The Texan spent three years in Germany as a youngster, playing for local club FC Phönix Otterbach. He went back to his homeland in 2009, where he spent seven years in FC Dallas’ youth set-up.

In 2016, McKennie turned down a contract offer from the Toros and returned to Germany, signing for Schalke 04.

After making his senior debut the following year, McKennie made 91 appearances for the Royal Blues. He is best known for his box-to-box qualities, yet his versatility saw him operate in countless different positions during his time in Germany.

From center-back to right-back to right-wing to forward, McKennie has done it all.

He seems to have settled as a central midfielder at Juventus, and with Andrea Pirlo as his manager, he is now learning from one of the most gifted midfielders in soccer history.

After racking up two goals and two assists in his first 12 appearances for the Bianconeri, don’t be surprised if Juventus turns McKennie’s loan deal into a permanent move.

Josh Sargent – Werder Bremen (Germany)

Josh Sargent scored with his very first touch on debut for Werder Bremen, announcing himself on the Bundesliga scene in style. But it took years of hard work to get to that point.

The Missouri native spent time at the St. Louis Scott Gallagher Soccer Club and the IMG Academy as a youngster. While scoring goals at a rapid rate for United States’ youth teams, he had trials with Dutch side PSV Eindhoven and German club Schalke.

However, he ended up signing his first professional contract with Werder Bremen on his 18th birthday – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Following his debut goal, Sargent has since become an integral part of Werder’s team. As a teenager, he was handed ten Bundesliga appearances in the 2018/19 season, although it wasn’t until the following campaign that he really began to make his mark.

Despite suffering a mid-season injury, the forward featured in 28 of Bremen’s 34 league matches in 2019/20. In fact, his four goals and four assists played a big part in helping the club avoid relegation.

Sargent is now tied down to a long-term contract at Werder, but if he continues to shine, it will surely only be a matter of time before Europe’s elite clubs come calling.

You only have to look at Sargent’s record for the national side to see what he is capable of.

JOSH SARGENT’S RECORD AT EVERY INTERNATIONAL LEVEL FOR THE US
Level Debut Appearances Goals
Senior May 29, 2018 12 5
Under 23 March 22, 2019 2 0
Under 20 May 22, 2017 6 4
Under 17 December 2, 2015 48 30
Under 15 August 16, 2015 2 1

Final Words

The Bundesliga seems to be the favored destination for US players at the moment. As well as Reyna and Sargent, Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich), John Brooks (Wolfsburg), and Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt) all ply their trade in Germany.

There are also plenty of Americans in England, too, with Owen Otasowie (Wolves), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Zack Steffen (Manchester City), and DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle) operating in the Premier League.

As the standard of American soccer continues to improve, we are bound to see more and more USMNT players featuring for Europe’s top teams.

Of course, MLS is packed with homegrown youngsters. But in this day and age, America’s leading soccer players are now gaining global recognition, with the very best playing for the world’s top clubs.

Ben Morris
Ben Morris

Ben is a sportswriter and tipster who specializes in soccer. Currently based in the UK, he has traveled all around the world watching – and betting on – his beloved sport.

Alongside his regular soccer content, Ben publishes blogs and picks for cricket, Formula 1, Aussie rules, darts, and various other sports.

Ben is a diehard fan of Nottingham Forest and England, so he hasn’t had much to cheer about in recent years!

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