By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON DC (Jul 25, 2018) US Soccer Players - Late last week, reports had two American prospects on their way to Germany for “secret” trials with world famous Bayern Munich. The players in question, Cameron Duke and Ulysses Llanez, are two of the most highly touted young prospects in the American development system. Duke is a midfielder attached to the Sporting Kansas City academy who won Player of the Year in the U16/17 age group for the US Development Academy’s Central Conference. Forward Llanez secured that same honor for the West Conference while playing in the LA Galaxy system.
Putting aside the question of just how “secret” the trials with Bayern actually were, the fact that the German superclub brought in a pair of Americans for a look isn’t as strange as it might seem. Bayern is very obviously in the midst of a push to find talent in North America, whether through a calculated program or simply because this remains an under-exploited region for European clubs.
Earlier this month, Bayern signed 18-year old defender Chris Richards on loan from FC Dallas. Richards is currently in Germany working with Bayern’s U-19 team, where he’ll presumably get a chance to earn his way into the senior team. A 10-day trial back in April set the stage for a move to Europe. While there are no guarantees Richards will develop into a first-team member at Bayern Munich, the mere fact of his signing indicates doors are opening for players from North America.
Bayern is currently engaged in a broader re-focusing on youth, so it’s not just players from the United States and Canada that are moving to Munich. Collecting so many young players from around the globe is possible because of the club’s substantial resources. Rather than take a selective, pointed approach to the signing of prospects, Bayern can afford to cast a wide net.
Still, there is a decidedly American flavor to Bayern’s recent activity, both on the soccer and commercial sides of their operation. Bayern established a New York office earlier this decade focused on English language outreach and has put considerable effort into expanding the club’s US fanbase. Greater scouting of American players is a natural extension of that effort, dovetailing with the plan for greater relevance in this part of the world.
The project is low-risk, high-reward for Bayern. The cost to bring in American players is minimal, thanks to a lack of top-level track record for Americans and the inability of MLS clubs to recoup when players leave from their academies. The highest-profile example of the phenomenon is a player at a different German club, Weston McKinnie of Schalke.
Bayern is following in the recent footsteps of Schalke and Borussia Dortmund with the North American search for talent. Christian Pulisic is the most famous American at Dortmund, and for good reason, but BVB also recruited Joe Gyau and Junior Flores.
McKinnie’s move from the FC Dallas academy to Schalke proved the efficacy of teenage American talent chasing Bundesliga dreams when he broke into the club’s first team last season. Along with Pulisic, McKinnie is the poster child for US-born and bred players having the chops to hack it in an ultra-competitive environment like Germany’s top division.
Bayern’s approach of bringing multiple American players and potentially placing them into the academy system together makes sense. It's a hedge against teenagers far from home failing because of an inability to adapt to an intense foreign environment.
American soccer history is rich with stories of players who earned the chance to develop at a club in Europe only to suffer debilitating homesickness and a lack of emotional support. Pulisic famously dodged that problem because his parents made the move with him. For American players whose parents can’t make the same life change, a fellow American or two sharing the experience can go a long way towards keeping players happy and engaged.
On Tuesday, Bayern completed the purchase of Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Alphonso Davies for a reported €13m. Just 17, Davies has taken the league by storm with his speed, intelligence, and skill. While players like Richards, Duke, and Llanez represent low-cost explorations of talent with big potentials but limited experience, Davies is an investment. Throwing a net over a few North Americans who have achieved at the youth levels is one thing. Spending an MLS-record free on a kid who can’t even make the move to Germany for another six months is another.
Where Bayern leads, other clubs are sure to follow. Dortmund and Schalke deserve credit for being open to American talent. Bonus points for Dortmund because of the club’s role in developing Pulisic to “Real Madrid has interest” levels. Bayern's involvement takes this to the next level.
Whether Bayern’s interest in American and Canadian players continues unabated depends on the success of the players they’ve brought in. Not all of them have to reach the first team or become star. It's a numbers game, something Bayern is keenly aware of as it begins a campaign that can only be long-term in scope. One player reaching the first team, or one player generating enough interest to deliver a profit is more than enough.
Even if no American or Canadian players do well at Bayern, the club derives goodwill from reaching into the American player pool and pulling out the occasional signing. This is the modern game, where everything is marketing and all thinking must be global. The jerseys would practically sell themselves.
More From Jason Davis:
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- Thierry Henry makes a move
- Nothing set midway through the MLS season
- The Red Bulls and NYCFC hope for continuity
Logo courtesy of Bayern Munich