Young Americans in Europe: A Comprehensive Update
July 13, 2016
THE EUROPEAN PRESEASON is in full swing and the Liga MX season is about to get underway—which means now is a crucial time for many American players trying to build a case for playing time to start the season.
Many top American players—like Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, and Geoff Cameron—are still on break from after the Copa America. Brooks and Johnson, in fact, are recovering from injuries that kept them out of the Copa’s third-place game. But while these players recover from a grueling summer, others are trying to push themselves into midseason form.
Here's a rundown of the top stories for Americans abroad in the preseason.
Rubin back in good graces at Utrecht
In one of the most promising developments for American players in the European preseason, it appears that Rubio Rubin is in strong position to reclaim his starting position with Utrecht. A quick scan of Americans in Europe reveals that most are either defenders or midfielders of the box-to-box variety.
Rubin, 20, is a rare American attacker who moved abroad and plays first-team soccer in the Eredivisie, a significant league. After earning more than 2,000 minutes in 2014-15, last year the Oregon native suffered a leg injury which kept him out of action for almost six months.
The signs are there that Rubin could be back to playing regular minutes for Utrecht. He’s been a regular starter for the club in preseason, which includes a two-goal outing against Destro on June 28.
His return to action can only help the U.S. national team which desperately needs more options at forward. Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski are over 30, Aron Johannsson and Terrence Boyd are perpetually injured, Jordan Morris is a rookie, and Jozy Altidore is injured at all the wrong times. Outside of Bobby Wood, there are just not many reliable options at forward.
Hyndman, Wood, Stanko Step it up
This year will feature two new Americans among the top leagues in Europe. Emerson Hyndman is now in the Premier League with AFC Bournemouth and Bobby Wood is with Hamburg SV. Wood, 23, has established himself with the U.S. national team while Hyndman is hoping to finally find his way into regular first-team minutes. (The Dallas native refused to sign a new deal with Fulham last year, which likely played a big role in his diminished playing time.)
Now both Yanks will enjoy a fresh start—although neither move is devoid of risk. It’s a huge step up for both Wood and Hyndman who also could find playing time hard to come by should they hit a run of poor form. If they succeed, however, it will bolster their cases for consideration in the run-up to the 2018 World Cup.
Meanwhile, Caleb Stanko, 22, is also participating in preseason with SC Freiburg which is coming off a promotion to the Bundesliga. Last season was frustrating for the Michigan native who regularly made the bench for Freiburg’s first team but saw only 121 minutes of action. Freiburg’s normal starters stayed mostly free from injury so opportunities were few and far between.
So far this preseason Stanko has been playing a bit more and even scored in a friendly against fifth-tier SV Oberachern.
Palmer-Brown flying under the radar
He didn't generate a lot of headlines here in the U.S. but Erik Palmer-Brown's January move from Sporting Kansas City to Porto proved to be a shrewd decision for the 19-year-old Ohio native.
The U.S. U-20 central defender played very well and walked into Porto B’s starting lineup as one of the team’s youngest players, helping the squad win the Segunda title in Portugal. A reserve team winning a second-tier trophy is a very rare occurrence, last accomplished by Real Madrid in 1984.
Palmer-Brown recently returned to Portugal and started in the preseason opener against Brighton. His loan expires at the end of the year and there is a good chance that if he continues to improve, he could debut with the first team—which includes league play, European competitions, and two cup competitions.
Porto has the option to buy Palmer-Brown and it will be one of the most interesting stories among Americans abroad this year since he has shown top potential since arriving.
Carter-Vickers with Spurs' first team
It is of course fair to note that Tottenham is still without many top players who are on vacation following the European Championships, but Carter-Vickers remains in the teams plans. With Tottenham’s first team playing in the Premier League, Champions League, and two cup competitions, a first-team debut is very possible. A loan is also not out of the question. Either way, time is on his side right now.
Canouse and Kiesewetter settle in
Another pair of Americans who recently made moves in Europe, Russell Canouse and Jerome Kiesewetter, are longtime veterans of U.S. youth national teams.
Kiesewetter, 23, is now with Fortuna Dusseldorf in the 2.Bundesliga. The speedy winger was previously with Stuttgart where he had two Bundesliga appearances in March 2015 but played mostly with the club’s U-23 team. He earned positive reviews for his performances with the U.S. U-23 team and the two friendlies for the full national team. Unfortunately he was rarely playing at the club level and could not build upon that success. Now he will have the chance to show what he can do on a weekly basis.
This past week Kiesewetter played the second half of Fortuna Dusseldorf’s 1-1 draw with FC Viktoria Plze? and looked dangerous, according to local media reports.
Canouse, 21, signed an extension with Hoffenheim in June but was then sent on loan to Bochum of the 2.Bundesliga where he will look for first-team minutes. Injuries have limited his time over the past year for Hoffenheim (where he played at the U-23 level) and with the U.S. U-20 team (where he was forced out of the 2015 U-20 World Cup). Normally a defensive midfielder, Canouse made one Bundesliga performance for Hoffenheim in March.
Expect loans for Zelalem and Miazga
Arsenal's Gedion Zelalem, 19, spent last season on loan with Glasgow Rangers during its promotional hunt in Scotland’s Championship. Matt Miazga, 21, made the jump to Chelsea from the New York Red Bulls in January and logged two first-team appearances.
While both players are with their English Premier League clubs at the moment, it's likely that they will go out on loan. With both having European passports, the door is open to send them pretty much anywhere.
Gyau, Boyd, Johannsson look to rebound
Sources close to Johannsson say there has been some positive movement with the nerve problem in his hip, which has sidelined him since last September.
Earlier this week, Boyd participated in his first practice for RB Leipzig in more than 18 months. That's the good news. The bad news is that after RB Leipzig’s promotion to the Bundesliga, there is going to be a lot of competition for minutes among quality players. Boyd is now 25 and has missed a lot of time. He can ill-afford to miss any more.
It's great that he's on the field but now he must prove his worth, making this preseason one of the more critical times of his career.
Similarly, Gyau is back to playing with Borussia Dortmund II, where he will train this preseason and hope to see action with the third-tier team.
The Maryland native was recently included in Dortmund II’s recent team picture.
Will Arriola build on USMNT debut?
Paul Arriola, 21, saw action in 27 games for Club Tijuana across the Apertura and Clausura seasons. With playing time now under his belt, he will try to move past role player status and establish himself as an impact player.
He brings some momentum into the Liga MX preseason after scoring and assisting in his debut for the U.S. national team in May against Puerto Rico.
Last week, the Chula Vista, Calif., native started and scored in a 1-1 draw with Morelia—Tijuana's final preseason game. Tijuana will open its Apertura season on Friday against the same club.
Alvarado to stay with Club America
Ventura Alvarado, 23, has been a perplexing figure. He has not played that much in Liga MX but in 2014 he snuck into Club America’s starting lineup during the playoffs and won a league title. (It wasn't all that rare of a feat, as Joe Corona, Edgar Castillo, Jose Torres, Greg Garza, and now Omar Gonzalez have all accomplished the same.)
Winning the title with America, however, was enough for U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann to call the Phoenix native up and insert him into his starting lineup for the 2015 Gold Cup. Unfortunately for Klinsmann and the U.S., Alvarado underperformed and the team struggled.
To date, Alvarado has only played 2,229 Liga MX minutes but still continues to be part of the national team discussion as he was part of the preliminary roster for last month’s Copa America Centenario.
After last season, Alvarado was frustrated with his playing time and asked to find a new team (with MLS being on his wish list). While club president Ricardo Pelaez was helping Alvarado look for a new team, the two eventually came to an agreement for Alvarado to stay on another six months and if he wants to leave then, the club will continue to help him.
Kitchen and Hearts begin in Europe
There are several American players in the early Europa League qualifying rounds but Perry Kitchen is the only one playing right now who is in the U.S. national team picture.
Kitchen, 24, made the move to Hearts in March and proceeded to walk directly into the starting lineup. Now he is beginning his first full season with the Scottish Club and the American is off to a nice start, playing well for Hearts in a 6-3 aggregate win over FC Infonet Tallinn of Estonia.
Next up for Hearts: Birkirkara FC of Malta.
The early rounds of the Europa League and Champions League often feature poor quality. Hearts will be looking to make a run in the Europa and help lift Scottish soccer which suffered an embarrassment when champions Celtic lost the first leg of its opening Champions League qualifying round to semi-pro Lincoln Red Imps FC of Gibraltar.
Birnbaum: will he or won't he move?
Of all the Americans in MLS who are poised to make a move to Europe, Steve Birnbaum's name keeps popping up. Now in his third year with D.C. United, the former University of California standout has become part of the U.S. national team picture as a backup central defender.
Lately there has been a lot of interest in Birnbaum from Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel and D.C. United recently rejected an $850,000 offer from the Israeli champions. Birnbaum, who is Jewish, could obtain an Israeli passport and not occupy a foreign roster spot.
United was right to reject the offer for several reasons. First, most U.S. national team players who leave for Europe do so for more than $1 million. Second, D.C. United are in the middle of a playoff hunt and that would crumble if Birnbaum is sold and no solid replacement is brought in. With a new stadium on the horizon, United needs momentum as it tries to return to being an elite team in the league.