By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 3, 2022) US Soccer Players – When Weston McKennie completed his move from Juventus to Leeds United on Monday, he became the third USMNT player on their roster, joining Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson. A fourth prominent Yank is on hand in the form of manager Jesse Marsch. McKennie’s arrival strengthens the “Leeds United States” plotline as LUFC climbs the list of clubs that have proved particularly comfortable homes for US players abroad over the decade.
Why do certain places become USMNT enclaves abroad? Does it matter how many countrymen you share a locker room with? Every example has its own story, and the United States is far from the only nation with players to experience this phenomenon. Those who live it tend to speak highly of its advantages.
Marsch’s influence matters. He and the rest of Leeds United’s leadership certainly believe McKennie and the rest of their January acquisitions can help collect the points needed to climb up the English Premier League table and away from a relegation fight. History offers some encouraging signs.
“Fulhamerica,” both past and present, makes for an obvious starting point. Starting with Marcus Hahnemann in 1999, 13 Yanks have called Craven Cottage home over the decades, several clustered in a vibrant period from 2003 to 2011. First came Bocanegra at the start of his European journey, then Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, Kasey Keller, and Eddie Johnson followed.
All earned significant playing time, too, particularly in the 2006-07 and ’07-’08 campaigns where they were crucial in last-gasp dodges of relegation from the Premier League. Roy Hodgson fielded all five in a key 1-0 win over Everton in March of 2008, setting a record that still stands.
The tradition-rich London club embraced its Americans. The team-leading scorer in ’06-’07, McBride got a pub inside the stadium named after him. Dempsey became a club icon, setting an array of individual records while leading the Cottagers to arguably their greatest-ever modern heights with the memorable run to the 2010 UEFA Europa League final.
The tradition continues today. Tim Ream and Antonee “Jedi” Robinson are trusted regulars on the Fulham back line as they make an impressive return to the top flight under manager Marco Silva, currently in a surprising seventh place. Young or old, few along that stretch of the River Thames needs convincing about the value of USMNTers.
The blue half of Glasgow has employed 10 Americans dating back to Claudio Reyna in 1999. What made Ibrox a USMNT outpost was the five-year run that opened with DaMarcus Beasley’s arrival in 2007 and rolled on via Maurice Edu, Carlos Bocanegra, and Alejandro Bedoya. This phase was headlined by three straight Scottish Premier League championships, breaking Celtic’s hold on that title, as well as two Scottish Cup captures and cult hero status for some of the Yanks.
Today James Sands and Malik Tillman have renewed this Rangers tradition. Sands helped the Gers reach last year’s UEFA Europa Cup final within months of his arrival from New York City FC. Tillman joined up on loan from Bayern Munich over the summer and currently sits in a tie for fourth on the club’s scoring chart. Both retain huge upside given the hefty first-team experience they’ve already accumulated at relatively young ages.
According to Transfermarkt, 18 US players have worn Xolos black and red at youth or senior levels since 2010. Edgar Castillo, Joe Corona, and Greg Garza powered a head-turning run to the 2012 Apertura championship barely a year after arriving in the topflight, the highest achievement of Tijuana’s existence. Perhaps even more so when a deep run in the Copa Libertadores soon followed.
Herculez Gomez, Michael Orozco, and Alejandro Guido also shined in Baja California, and USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann often called up Xolos to his rosters. The contributions of former players Paul Arriola and Brandon Vazquez in the most recent USMNT camp point to an enduring legacy.
BVB’s relationship with US talent is another with both deep roots and a living present. Christian Pulisic wrote his name into both Dortmund and US soccer lore with his rise from 16-year-old academy kid to star attacker and record-breaking transfer departure. He wasn’t the first Yank to wear the Black-and-Yellow, though. That was Jovan Kirovski, a trailblazer back in the 1990s.
Pulisic was club mates with Joe Gyau and Junior Flores while in Germany, two very highly-rated prospects as they rose through the US youth national teams system. Gio Reyna followed after, one of many who cited Pulisic’s path as influential in their own choices.
Prominent success stories like Pulisic and Reyna should also be taken in the larger context of the dramatic flow of US talent to the Bundesliga that picked up speed in the 2010s. A longstanding, multilayered relationship that dated back decades took on a striking new scale via Adams, McKennie, Josh Sargent, and many others making the most of Bundesliga opportunities.
Two years ago, Wolfsburg had five Americans on the books, from John Brooks on the first team to younger prospects Uly Llanez, Michael Edwards, Bryang Kayo, and Kobe Hernandez-Foster. While those five players have all moved on, Wolfsburg spent significantly on the transfer acquisition of DC United homegrown Kevin Paredes, though, and the 19-year-old wingback has climbed up the depth chart this season, making 12 first-team appearances and counting.
Will Leeds become more of a Fulhamerica than Fulham itself? Much will hinge on their ability to steer clear of the drop zone and inspire the sort of euphoria their fans caught on the rise to the top of the Championship and long-awaited return to the Premier League. As usual, nothing wins confidence like positive results on the pitch.
More from Charles Boehm:
- Defense, identity, and urgency from the USMNT vs Serbia
- The Olympic angle at this January camp
- Into a new era of North American soccer broadcasting
- Five questions for USMNT Players in England in 2023
Photo by James Heaton – News Images via ZUMA Press Wire – ISIPhotos.com