The 2018-19 Premier League season begins on Friday and with it a noticeable absence of USMNT players. After a few seasons with less and less American involvement, that’s becoming the new normal. The season kicks off with four USMNT players in Premier League squads and none of those teams involved in European competitions or finishing higher than 10th-place last season.
It’s a tough scenario for the USMNT players involved, playing in the most lucrative league in the world with arguably the highest profile. That carries a lot of pressure, but there’s a distinct difference between the contenders and everybody else. We can all point to Leicester City’s magical season as the exception, but that happened in 2015-16. There’s not a lot of time to look back at the highest levels of club soccer.
This season is already about Manchester City’s shot at repeating as champions. Last season’s runners-up Manchester United decided to focus on player availability and the short offseason due to the World Cup. Will their returning champion Paul Pogba make the difference alongside their squad of world all-stars? Is there space for Liverpool to move up into the top two? Then there’s Arsenal under a new manager and with Stan Kroenke now taking sole possession of the club. Spurs also loom, finishing 3rd last season and about to open their new stadium.
At the other end of the table, that drop to the Championship already looms for a lot of clubs. Playing for safety is a Premier League tradition, with at least a couple of clubs expected to see their form collapse around New Year’s.
For the USMNT players, what our English friends refer to as “midtable obscurity” certainly beats a relegation battle. We’re going to preview each USMNT player’s club based on last season’s finish.
DeAndre Yedlin – Newcastle United
DeAndre Yedlin doesn’t get the credit he’s due for following the USMNT player in Europe template. First, get an opportunity. Yedlin left Seattle following the 2014 MLS season as an emerging star. Signing with Spurs, he ended up on loan to Sunderland playing regularly in the Premier League in 2015-16. Spurs transferred Yedlin to Newcastle United. Dropping down a league, he became a key member of their Championship winning squad. Last season in the Premier League, he played in 34 games with Newcastle finishing 10th.
That 10th-place finish now looms large for manager Rafa Benitez. There’s plenty of reasons to see this season’s Newcastle unable to match that. It’s a combination of lack of transfer budget and player availability, the new normal for Premier League teams. With any Premier League club now seen as being able to pay more for players due to their TV rights money, foreign clubs are happy to take advantage. Benitez described the situation at the club as leaving him “worried” and applying that to “everything” not just transfers.
With that in mind, the individual players have to see opportunity. Yedlin, in particular, has shown he can perform at Premier League level and be a difference maker when needed. Playing through club problems is an unfortunate part of the job in a league like England’s.
Emerson Hyndman – Bournemouth
Playing time is the issue for Emerson Hyndman at Bournemouth. Since joining the club from Fulham for the 2016-17 Premier League season, Hyndman has played one game. That came last season, with Bournemouth finishing in 12th-place. This is another club where matching last season’s finish might count as a success.
Bournemouth isn’t the type of club likely to take points from the contenders, meaning fighting with the teams around them to try to get some separation in the table. 36 points meant safety last season. Bournemouth finished eight better with 44. That included winning their finale, the difference between finishing 12th and 14th or 15th.
Spending is again an issue. Bournemouth has tried, buying defender Rico from Leganes and David Brooks from Sheffield United. Those deals cost just under $14m and $15m with the club trying to get a deal for Jefferson Lerma from Levante done at over $25m. Again though, the figures involved might have impressed prior to the last Premier League TV deals. Now? It’s doing business in this league.
Danny Williams – Huddersfield Town
Danny Williams was a regular in manager David Wagner’s squad before a March injury cost him the rest of the season. Huddersfield went on to avoid relegation with a 16th-place finish. Williams is back with the club wanting more than a struggle in their second season in the topflight.
Four points ended up the difference for Huddersfield Town in 2017-18. The problem this season is the same as last season, production from the forwards. This isn’t a team scoring enough goals in this league. Huddersfield hasn’t addressed that in the transfer market.
There’s a larger issue for Huddersfield and several other teams expected to struggle this season. Other than penciling in the newly promoted clubs, there aren’t clear favorites for the drop. It’s easy to lump Huddersfield in with clubs in and around the relegation zone.
Tim Ream – Fulham
Tim Ream was a key part of Fulham’s promotion via the playoffs. Back in the Premier League, the club is no stranger to the pressure both in the Premier League and in the tough greater London market. Ream last played in the Premier League with Bolton in 2011-12, his first season in England. He turned into a regular for them and then Fulham a league down.
As with any promoted team, it’s tough to figure out how much of that winning squad to keep. Fulham spent significantly, including $28.5m to Newcastle to make forward Aleksandar Mitrovic’s loan deal permanent. They also bought defender Alfie Mawson from Swansea City for $19.4m and midfielder John Michael Seri from Nice for $23.3m.
There’s a way of looking at Fulham’s plans for the Premier League as beefing up a playoff team that finished 3rd in last season’s Championship. That worked for Huddersfield Town last season.
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