By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 12, 2021) US Soccer Players – The ranks of US internationals in the English Championship grew by three this winter when Jordan Morris, Paul Arriola, and Daryl Dike went on loan. Morris and Arriola joined Swansea City, a club fighting for promotion to the Premier League. Dike moved to Barnsley, a club solidly in the middle of the table. Both Morris and Dike have purchase options attached to their loan deals, meaning their transfers could become permanent after the season.
The Championship has long been the home of American players, going to the earliest days of the modern American game. England’s second division doesn’t have the glitz and glamor of the Premier League, but culture and resources make it an attractive destination for Americans who want to test themselves abroad.
With the new trio, there are now nine USMNT players in the league for the remainder of the 2020-21 season. The addition is significant enough to return American representation in the Championship to previous levels. Like with the Premier League, the number of Americans in the Championship has dropped as other European competitions opened their arms and the English system raised the bar for work permits.
Brexit changed the work permit rules, resulting in more opportunities for American players. The limited schedule mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the number of games required for players to meet the post-Brexit requirements. Morris and Arriola had no problem earning their permits thanks to their regular appearances with the USMNT over the last 12 months. Dike’s move was a little more complicated.
Gregg Berhalter’s decision to call up Dike and give him a debut for the USMNT in January’s 7-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago put the striker over the points threshold necessary for him to qualify to play in England. The same sleight-of-hand allowed American striker Sebastian Soto to join Norwich for the second half of the Championship season after spending the first half of the year on loan with Dutch side Telstar. Soto played twice for the United States in 2020, giving him the necessary points to secure a work permit and return to the club that signed him in the summer.
With nine Americans now in the Championship, the profile of those players runs the gamut. Some, like Soto and Dike, are young players looking to establish themselves in a visible, competitive environment and set up a future move to a bigger club.
Norwich man Soto is just 20-years-old. His origins in California led him to start his youth career in San Diego before joining the Real Salt Lake academy in 2016. In the era before MLS was committed to selling young players and the league choosing not to collect training compensation, Soto passed on a homegrown contract and instead signed with Hannover 96 in Germany.
The end of his contract in Germany led to a move to Norwich. Work permit rules forced the Canaries to send him out on loan. With the recent move back to his parent club, Soto can now look for minutes in the Championship.
Technically speaking, Soto is not yet a first-team player. His journey will begin with Norwich’s U-23 team. If Soto can earn playing time in 2021, he’ll have a chance to help Norwich push for promotion. The Canaries hold an automatic promotion spot 28 games into the campaign.
Dike moves straight into the first team at Barnsley, a team with very different prospects with 60 percent of the season over. Barnsley won’t challenge for promotion, but they’re also not all that worried about the possibility for relegation. That might mean more opportunity for the Orlando City striker. He made his Barnsley debut on Thursday as a substitute in an FA Cup loss to Chelsea.
Established players like Morris and Arriola figured to be trusted quickie by Swansea, another club currently holding onto an automatic promotion spot. The forwards represent low-cost options for a club in need of depth to see out their promotion campaign. Both Morris and Arriola are versatile and can play multiple positions, a bonus for head coach Steve Cooper.
The newest additions to the Championship draw attention away from a few players who have been mainstays in the division. The fact that center back Cameron Carter-Vickers is still just 23 might surprise a few longtime USMNT observers. Carter-Vickers made his USMNT debut in 2017 and has run through a series of Championship club stops in the years since. Tottenham-Hotspur still holds Carter-Vickers’s contract and the UK-born defender is now on his sixth second-division loan stint.
So far in 2020-21, Carter-Vickers has a handful of appearances for Bournemouth. The Cherries are clinging to a promotion playoff position in sixth-place after dropping four games straight. Ironically, the poor run of form might open up more chances for Carter-Vickers to play.
Duane Holmes was once an up-and-coming USMNT prospect who declared the country of his birth over the country of his upbringing. Now 26, Holmes is back with his boyhood club of Huddersfield Town after a stint with Derby County. Huddersfield re-signed Holmes in the winter window, taking him back to the club where he spent the first three years of his professional career
After starting 33 games in 2019-20 for Derby County, Holmes’s playing time dropped off this season. The move to Huddersfield, elevating him a few places up the Championship table, should mean more chances to get on the field. Even in the short time since his move, Holmes has already appeared in two games, starting one.
The oldest American in the Championship is the only one with Premier League experience. Geoff Cameron is now in his third season with Queens Park Rangers. Cameron moved to the Championship team back in 2018 after six years with Stoke City in the top division. The 35-year-old’s contributions to Rangers are significant and noteworthy.
QPR isn’t a threat for promotion this season, but Cameron’s steady play has earned him 24 stats for a competitive side. Cameron is closing in on 250 appearances in English soccer, an incredible record for a player who didn’t make the jump across the Atlantic until he was 27.
The Championship also has another pair of American youngsters who bear mention. Charlie Kelman, Cameron’s 19-year-old teammate at Queen’s Park Rangers, and Matthew Olosunde, a former New York Red Bulls and Manchester United academy player now suiting up for Rotherham United.
Kelman is just starting at QPR. Olosunde helped Rotherham gain promotion from League One last year and is working to keep the club in the Championship for another season.
What we’re seeing in England’s second tier is another opportunity for American players at different points in their career. That’s an unlikely upside in this strange season in Europe.
More From Jason Davis:
- What to expect from the MLS final four
- USMNT players at the top of the Bundesliga
- MLS player movement in strange times
- The USMNT, T&T, and the 2021 schedule
Photo by Joe Robbins – ISIPhotos.com