A look at 10 American youngsters and their chances of a 2019 beakout
As 2018 enters its final month, ASN peeks into 2019 to see which young players are poised for a potential first team breakthrough in Europe next year. Brian Sciaretta breaks it down.
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedEVERY YEAR there are always a few American players who earn their first team debuts in Europe. 2018 was no exception as Erik Palmer-Brown made his debut and others like Jonathan Amon, Weston McKennie, and Antonee Robinson carried their momentum forward from 2017.
December 03, 2018
December 03, 2018
So what will 2019 look like? It would hardly be surprising to see numerous breakthroughs among younger American players in Europe, although it is always difficult to predict when and if it will happen. Some prospects materialize quicker than expected and others bloom later. Many never pan out altogether. For a number of them, it will take a luck or maybe even a fortuitous loan to get attention.
Here are 10 American prospects to keep an eye on in 2019 along with a look at their chances to emerge as first team players next year.
Josh Sargent (forward, Werder Bremen)
Given that he has played in a U-17 World Cup, a U-20 World Cup, and the U.S. national team inside of a year, there is perhaps no prospect that American fans are more excited about before his professional debut. When that moment comes for Sargent, American fans are sure to be very excited.
The good news is that it will probably happen sooner than later. Between a combination of his performances for Werder’s youth teams, him training with their first team, and the comments spoken by the club’s coaches and technical directors, he seems close to the first team.
The friendlies during the Bundesliga winter break is often a time when clubs take a look at new options. It’s during this time whent Americans such as Christian Pulisic, Danny Williams, and Timothy Chandler broke into their clubs to become Bundesliga regulars. It’s easy to see Sargent following their footsteps.
Tyler Adams (midfielder, RB Leipzig)
The move abroad often requires an adjustment period for young American players. But there are plenty of reasons to think that Adams will be able to hit the ground running.
First, he is naturally a very mature person well beyond his years. Two, he will be walking into a system at RB Leipzig that is similar to how he has played with the Red Bulls. Three, he is playing very well at the moment and is in strong form. Four, he will be walking into a club who has Jesse Marsch on its coaching staff, and Marsch knows Adams better than anybody.
Adams is a very talented player who is walking into a very good situation. Yes, Leipzig is near the top of the Bundesliga table and won’t want to change a winning formula. But there should be plenty of midfield minutes to go around to include Adams.
Richard Ledezma (midfielder, PSV)
Now with Tyler Adams having announced his move to RB Leipzig, the worst kept secret in American soccer is that Richard Ledezma, 18, will be leaving for PSV Eindhoven, likely in January. The highly talented U.S. U-20 midfielder blossomed in recent years at Real Salt Lake’s academy but opted to leave for PSV instead.
So can Ledezma break into PSV’s first team in 2019? It will be tough to do for the remainder of the 2018/19 season because PSV is chasing the Eredivisie title and is just two points clear of Ajax. But as is typical of the best of the Eredivisie, there is typically turnover after the season as the best players typically get sold and teams reload.
If Ledezma impresses over the next six months, he can be part of that reloading. Maybe not as a starter for PSV but perhaps as an occasional option of the bench to start 2019/2020. If he hasn’t made a debut a year from now, he will still be in a good position at PSV since he’d only be 19 but a loan might come calling.
One important factor to consider is that Dutch teams typically have to really value a non-EU player in order to sign him. One of the restrictions on non-EU players in Holland is that they have a higher minimum salary. By signing Ledezma, the club is significantly invested in him. This is not an example of a European club simply taking a low risk flyer on an American player. With this level of investment, PSV is going to want to play Ledezma.
Ledezma is talented and U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos had him as a big part of his team this past year. The current U.S. U-20 team was good enough to win CONCACAF without Ledezma, who was injured for the tournament in November. But at the World Cup in May, Ledezma should be front and center.
Sebastian Soto (forwards, Hannover)
Sebastian Soto, 18, has been scoring goals in droves with Hannover’s U-19 team this season. With his goal over the weekend, he has 10 goals and five assists in 13 games. It won’t be long, however, until its decided he needs a higher level challenge.
Hannover’s first team looks like it will be in a tough relegation battle for the remainder of the season. That could be a tough spot to turn the keys over to an unproven teenager. One of the team’s regular forwards is U.S. international Bobby Wood.
It will be interesting to see what the club does over the winter break. The biggest reasons for the team’s struggles are in defensive midfield and the backline. But it will need a steady hand up top. If the team acquires a forward, Soto’s chances for a debut this season take a hit. If not, he has a real chance as there will always be some sort of squad rotation.
Soto did tell me in November that he thinks he has a good chance of making his first-team debut this season. If he trains with the first team during winter break, he will have very good shot.
If Hannover suffer relegation, Soto will have a very good chance of seeing regular minutes in the 2.Bundesliga next year. If Hannover stays up, he will be in an important preseason to determine if he stays or goes out on loan.
Sergino Dest (right back, Ajax)
If you could buy stock in a player, Sergino Dest, 18, seems like he would be a wise bet to invest heavily. The technical and athletic right back had a great month where he helped the U.S. U-20 team win CONCACAF and then featured for the Jong Ajax (the club’s second team in the second tier of the Dutch pyramid) where he scored his first goal over the weekend.
Sergino Dest vs. Diego Lainez???? pic.twitter.com/HUV9RE4Zxn— Doesan Tadic®? (@DoesanTadic) November 22, 2018
He’s got a very good skillset to go along with pace and a good feel for the game. Dest really seems like a unique player that could rise through the ranks quickly. The Eredivisie title race seems like it will be tight but if the team finds itself in a situation where they can experiment, don’t be surprised of Dest gets a chance.
If not, Dest will have the U-20 World Cup in May followed by preseason at Ajax where he will have a big opportunity to make his case.
Nick Taitague (winger, Schalke)
Nick Taitague’s talent has never been in question. Since he arrived in Europe at Schalke, he’s always been among the most talented American teenagers. The problem, however, is that he can never seem to stay healthy for a prolonged period of time.
Over the weekend, Taitague scored a goal for Schalke’s U-23 team. While his goal was aided by horrific goalkeeping, the bigger story is that the Richmond, Virginia native was healthy. Schalke’s U-23 team plays at a low level in the fifth tier Oberliga but if Taitague can stay healthy, he has a chance to play for the first team this year. Given his track record, it can go either way.
Nick Taitague's goal for Schalke IIpic.twitter.com/8cM4xB6dMo— USMNT Videos (@USMNTvideos) December 2, 2018
Tab Ramos rates Taitague and would probably like to have him for the U-20 World Cup as well in May. So the opportunity is there for Taitague but will his body cooperate?
Chris Gloster (Left back, Hannover)
Teammates with Sebastian Soto, Chris Gloster has many of the same issues. The first team at Hannover is in a relegation battle and it can be seen as a risky stage for inexperienced teenagers.
The benefit that Gloster has is that he is a left back, a hard position to find for many clubs, and that Hannover is struggling in defense at the moment. The main left back for Hannover, Miiko Albornoz, is experienced but on one is safe when a manager feels he needs to shake things up. The winter break could be interesting for Gloster who has played for both Hannover U-19s and U-23s so far this season. The New Jersey native recently impressed for the U.S. U-20 team en route to winning the CONCACAF title.
Still the more likely path probably involves Gloster being involved during the first team’s preseason. If Hannover is relegated, Gloster seems like a good bet to get 2.Bundesliga minutes.
Chris Richards (central defender, Bayern Munich)
Chris Richards is one of the top players on the United States U-20 team and that team’s chances at success at the U-20 World Cup largely depend on the Alabama native.
At this point, it seems like a foregone conclusion that he will be purchased by Bayern from FC Dallas as part of the exercise to buy on his loan. But then what? He is currently performing well for Bayern’s U-19 team.
Richards is not close to Bayern’s first team although he could get more time with the first team in preseason summer friendlies, like he did this past summer. The question comes whether or not Bayern see it as important to keep him within their system or to send him out on loan to get first team minutes against full professionals.
Of course it is also very likely that one year from now, Richards is still playing within Bayern’s system. But he is certainly one to watch when you consider how far he has progressed this year.
Alex Mendez (midfielder, SC Freiburg)
The Californian recently turned heads that the CONCACAF U-20 championship where he was the best player in the entire tournament - including scoring two goals in the final against Mexico.
The good news is that Mendez will be set to start playing for Freiburg’s U-19 team in January and Freiburg is a club that is inclined to play young players. Due to him turning 18 only recently, he wasn’t able to register to play competitively for the club for the first half of the season.
This is absolutely insane from Alex Mendez. USA closing in on a spot in the 2019 U-20 World Cup pic.twitter.com/2ynFE3gkLB— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) November 17, 2018
The likely scenario is that Mendez is kept with the club’s U-19 team for the remainder of the season and then goes to play at the U-20 World Cup in May. If he succeeds there, he could get a shot with the first team in preseason.
Charlie Kelman (forward, Southend United)
Southend United forward Charlie Kelman, 17, is a dark horse pick among young Americans in Europe. He is currently playing at a fairly low level for the youth teams of third-tier League One club Southend United. But he has been scoring goals at a staggering rate for the club’s U-18 team and recently the U-23 team. In 2017/18 he scored 61 goals for the club’s U-18 team.
Born in England to an American father, Kelman’s play has already landed him a first team debut in a EFL Trophy matchup but it would seem as if league minutes could come in 2019. The third tier of England is not ideal but it is certainly good for a player of his age.
Kelman’s progress at Southend United has already landed him a spot on the U.S. U-18 team where he made his debut in June. Already, there are reports that bigger clubs in England could be interested.
Kelman’s situation is harder to read than others on this list but his goal scoring rate certainly makes him one to follow for a possible first team breakthrough in 2019.