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Why Does the German Bundesliga Attract So Many American Players?

| October 4, 2020 1:37 am PDT
German Bundesliga American Players

Americans have always featured in the Bundesliga. From Landon Donovan to Christian Pulisic, many of the country’s top soccer stars have made a name for themself in Germany.

But right now, it feels like there are more USMNT players in the Bundesliga than ever before.

John Brooks and Timothy Chandler have been around for years. But the recent emergence of youngsters like Giovanni Reyna, Tyler Adams, and Josh Sargent has thrust American players back into the spotlight in Germany.

So, why do so many Americans move across the Atlantic and settle in the Bundesliga?

In this post, I look at the Bundesliga’s current crop of American players and discuss why so many USMNT stars end up in Germany’s top flight. I also assess the lack of Americans in Europe’s other top leagues.

Americans Currently Playing in the Bundesliga

Let’s start by looking at the Americans currently plying their trade in Germany’s top division.

Giovanni Reyna – Borussia Dortmund

Gio Reyna doesn’t even turn 18 until November, but the teenager is already a household name in Germany. Son of USMNT legend Claudio Reyna, the attacking midfielder is one of many prodigies benefitting from Dortmund’s willingness to give youngsters first-team minutes.

Reyna is already closing in on a quarter-century of appearances for BVB, with goals and assists in the Bundesliga, Champions League, and DFB-Pokal under his belt. Lucien Favre views him as an integral part of Dortmund’s senior squad, and at just 17, he is only going to get better.

Tyler Adams – RB Leipzig

Having joined Leipzig from New York Red Bulls in January 2019, Tyler Adams took a while to adjust to life in the Bundesliga. Granted, a lengthy injury kept him on the sidelines for the majority of the 2019/20 campaign. But towards the end of last season, the 21-year-old became a regular starter for Leipzig.

The versatile midfielder scored the winning goal to knock Atletico Madrid out of the Champions League quarter-finals back in August, and his relentless work rate saw him cover the most distance of any Leipzig player in each of the first two Bundesliga games this season.

Chris Richards – Bayern Munich

Hansi Flick handed Chris Richards his Bayern Munich debut towards the end of last season, and the Alabama native also featured in the 8-0 drubbing of Schalke on the opening weekend of the 2020/21 campaign.

Richards plays for Bayern II on a regular basis, but he is gradually beginning to feature in the first-team squad more frequently. As a center-back, it’s obviously going to be difficult for him to displace the likes of David Alaba and Niklas Sule anytime soon. But I expect to see him being given plenty of opportunities this term.

John Brooks – Wolfsburg

John Brooks is one of the longest-serving Americans currently operating in Germany’s top flight. The giant defender made over 100 appearances for Hertha Berlin before joining Wolfsburg in 2017, and he has since become a key component of the Wolves’ backline.

Brooks was actually born in Berlin and represented Germany at U20 level. But thanks to his American father, he now has almost 40 caps for the USMNT. The 27-year-old is recognized as one of the best center-backs in the Bundesliga.

Josh Sargent – Werder Bremen

After making a name for himself at the academy level in Missouri, Josh Sargent was snapped up by Werder Bremen when he was just 17. Now 20, Sargent has established himself as one of the best young forwards in the German top tier.

Sargent only missed four Bundesliga games due to injury last season, racking up four goals and four assists in 28 league appearances. He has already started each of Werder’s opening two games this term, getting off the mark with an assist against Schalke on Matchday 2.

Timothy Chandler – Eintracht Frankfurt

With over 200 Bundesliga appearances to his name, it’s fair to say that Timothy Chandler has thrived in Germany ever since he made his debut for Nurnberg back in 2011. The 30-year-old has been with Eintracht Frankfurt since 2014 and even clinched the German Cup in 2017/18.

Operating primarily as a right-back, Chandler’s versatility has seen him play just about every position on the pitch. He is comfortable on either flank both defensively and offensively and has even filled in at center-back and defensive midfield over the years.

Nick Taitague – Schalke

Nick Taitague started his career with amateur side Carolina RailHawks. But after proving that he was clearly too good for amateur soccer, Taitague signed a professional contract with Schalke shortly after his 18th birthday.

The midfielder spent his first couple of years in Germany playing for Schalke’s youth and development teams, but he is now on the verge of breaking into the senior side. With Weston McKennie joining Juventus and Schalke struggling both on and off the pitch, 2020/21 is destined to be Taitague’s breakthrough season.

Ulysses Llanez – Wolfsburg

Ulysses Llanez rose to fame when he scored on his USMNT debut back in February. The skillful forward joined Wolfsburg from LA Galaxy in 2019 and notched up a hugely impressive 11 goals and six assists in just 16 appearances for the U19 team last season.

The 19-year-old has been loaned to Dutch Eredivisie side Heerenveen for the duration of the 2020/21 campaign. The move will enable him to gain vital top-flight experience, so I can see him playing an important role in Wolfsburg next season.

The Attraction of the Bundesliga

I believe there are three key reasons why the Bundesliga attracts so many American players. I discuss my theories below.

First-Team Opportunities for Young Players

It feels like the majority of German clubs live by the “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” approach. The Bundesliga has always been an excellent place for young players to grow, regardless of nationality.

Nowadays, soccer managers are under so much pressure to succeed, and this often leads to youngsters at top clubs being left out of the team. For example, if a Premier League manager is fearing for his job and needs to get a result, he is more likely to favor an experienced player over a promising youngster in his starting XI.

But in Germany, that is not the case. In fact, in 2018/19, the average age of starting lineups in the Bundesliga was the lowest across Europe’s top five leagues, at just over 26. Borussia Dortmund’s average was under 25, and they only missed out on the title by two points.

Dortmund’s starting XI for the opening game of the 2020/21 season featured four players under the age of 21, with two 17-year-olds on display. Midfielders Gio Reyna (17) and Jude Bellingham (17) both started behind Erling Haaland (20) and Jadon Sancho (20) in attack.

Simply put, young American players are much more likely to be given regular game time in the German top flight, as opposed to the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, and Ligue 1. This is one of the main reasons why US nationals find themselves in the Bundesliga.

Relaxed Immigration Laws

As well as the obvious on-field factors, there are also some off-field elements that make the Bundesliga a more accessible option for Americans. Indeed, obtaining a work permit in Germany is relatively straightforward.

In the UK, non-EU players are required to have played a certain number of senior international games to be accepted by the English Football Association. But in Germany, as long as you’re 16, signing for a Bundesliga team as a foreigner is nowhere as a tricky.

Christian Pulisic moved to Dortmund when he was just 16 and was promoted to the senior team a year later. He ended up making over a century of appearances for BVB before switching to Chelsea in 2019 and becoming the most expensive North American of all time ($73m).

If Pulisic had joined Chelsea as a teenager, there is absolutely no way he would have gained so much first-team experience at such a young age. But thanks to Germany’s relaxed immigration laws for athletes, Pulisic is now one of the best wingers in the EPL, and he is still just 22.

Pulisic’s story offers hope for young Americans looking to make a breakthrough in Europe, with the flexible work-permit regulations in Germany giving him the best possible start to his professional career.

Bundesliga’s Favorable Style of Play

Europe’s top five leagues each have their own identity. Italian soccer is renowned for its defensive approach, so Serie A is very tactical. La Liga is a highly technical league, so Spain seems to attract more flair players. Meanwhile, Ligue 1 is known for its physicality.

By contrast, the preferred style in Germany is fast-paced and transitional, similar to the EPL. This approach obviously suits young and energetic players.

Bundesliga clubs generally look to sign players that can adapt to the demands of the league, while youngsters searching for regular first-team action are far more likely to opt for a move to a team that accommodates young players.

With that in mind, it is no coincidence that so many young Americans thrive in Germany.

How Do Europe’s Other Top Leagues Compare?

The Bundesliga is undoubtedly the number one European destination for Americans. But how many US nationals are currently playing in the continent’s other leading leagues?

The table below shows the total number of American players across Europe’s other top leagues.

English Premier League 4
Spanish La Liga 1
Italian Serie A 1
French Ligue 1 1

As you can see, the combined total of American players across Europe’s other top leagues is less than the Bundesliga alone.

Let’s take a look at which Americans play in the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, and Ligue 1. I also discuss possible reasons for the lack of US players in these divisions.

Does the EPL Hinder American Players?

In total, 45 Americans have called England’s top division home over the years. Brad Friedel, Clint Dempsey, and Tim Howard are among the most famous names to have played in the EPL. But right now, Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic is the only genuine UMSNT star in the Premier League.

Tim Ream was recently promoted to the EPL with Fulham, while DeAndre Yedlin is surplus to requirements at Newcastle. The Premier League’s only other American – Aston Villa’s Indiana Vassilev – is spending the 2020/21 season on loan at third-tier side Burton Albion.

Given its shared language with the US, England should arguably be a more natural destination for American players. But when you consider the strict work-permit laws and the competition for first-team places at every EPL club, it’s hardly surprising that Americans are flocking to Germany.

Why Haven’t We Seen More Americans in La Liga?

La Liga almost had no American representatives this season, although Sergino Dest’s transfer from Ajax to Barcelona changed that. The right-back is one of the most highly-rated youngsters on the planet, but he will be flying the US flag on his own in Spain this term.

Before Dest’s transfer, just four Americans had previously played in Spain’s top flight. Jozy Altidore is perhaps the most notable name, but the current Toronto FC striker endured a fruitless spell with Villarreal. Kasey Keller, Shaquell Moore, and Oguchi Onyewu also failed to make an impact in La Liga.

Like the EPL, even La Liga’s lesser teams boast vast strength in depth. This has made it – and will continue to make it – difficult for American players to establish themselves in Spain.

Can Weston McKennie Shine in Serie A?

It’s fair to say that Michael Bradley is the only American that has shone in Italy’s top division. The midfielder starred for Chievo before having two successful seasons with Roma. But interestingly, he made a name for himself in the Bundesliga with Borussia Monchengladbach.

Iconic defender Alexi Lalas enjoyed a relatively low-key spell with Padova in the 90s, while Armando Frigo and Joshua Perez played for Fiorentina almost 80 years apart. However, Juventus’ Weston McKennie is America’s sole representative in Serie A this season.

It is worth pointing out that McKennie is actually on loan from Schalke, so he is yet another example of America’s connection with the Bundesliga. But given he is competing with countless world-class stars for a place in Juventus’ midfield, I can’t see him getting much game time.

Is Ligue 1 a Sensible Option for Americans?

Ligue 1 has welcomed more American players than La Liga and Serie A over the years. Overall, 11 Americans have played in the French top flight, although Lille’s Timothy Weah is the only USMNT player currently operating in Ligue 1.

French soccer is known for its physical approach, so it is often tough for young foreign players to adapt to the testing demands of Ligue 1. This could be why we have seen very few Americans make a name for themself in France.

Having said that, Weah is only 20, and he already looks very comfortable in Ligue 1. If Weah continues to enjoy further success, perhaps more American youngsters will view France as the ideal place to learn their trade and develop their game.

Final Thoughts

When you couple Germany’s lax work-permit regulations with the willingness of many Bundesliga clubs to give young players first-team opportunities, it’s easy to see why so many American players end up in the Bundesliga.

At the end of the day, young players generally find it far more difficult to break into the starting XI of an EPL or La Liga team. But in Germany, there is a much clearer path for up-and-coming players.

Of course, Borussia Dortmund is best known for giving youth a chance. However, across the entire division, American players are thriving.

As things stand, there is no reason why American players won’t continue to flock to the Bundesliga.

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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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