The 2020-21 soccer season is kicking off all over Europe, with the English Premier League and Spanish Primera Divisions beginning this past weekend, and the German Bundesliga and Italian Serie A (both leagues available LIVE all season long on ESPN+ in the United States) starting on Sept. 18 and Sept. 19 respectively. In addition to the usual talking points and discussions over title favorites and relegation threats, it’s indirectly a big season for the U.S. national team, who boast several of their stars in top European leagues along with several prospects beyond the 2022 World Cup cycle.
With so many USMNT stars dotted around Europe and gearing up for a long campaign, ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle and Tom Hamilton broke down where they all are, and what their prospects are for the new season.
Overall, Pulisic’s first year in the Premier League was a success, as he tallied nine goals and four assists in 34 league and cup appearances. In the process he put to rest any doubts about whether he could hack it skill-wise in the EPL, as he often dazzled on the left wing while also drifting inside.
This season, Pulisic will be hoping to build on what he achieved in 2019-20, but with an added challenge: staying healthy. The U.S. international suffered two muscle injuries — a hip ailment at the start of the year and a hamstring issue in the FA Cup final — and that continued a trend from his time at Borussia Dortmund. The competition for places is still there with the likes of Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech arriving to replace William and Pedro, along with Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek to contend with. But there seems to be a bit more faith in Pulisic heading into the season, as witnessed by him being given the No. 10 shirt. — Carlisle
As has been a recurring theme throughout his career, Brooks endured an inconsistent season for the Wolves. He made 31 appearances in all competitions in helping Wolfsburg to a seventh-place finish and qualification for the Europa League. But he also endured a hamstring injury that sidelined him for a month, and he was even benched for a time by manager Oliver Glasner in February. To his credit he reclaimed his spot shortly thereafter, but then faded a bit after the return from the COVID-19 shutdown.
Brooks is likely to continue to be a mainstay for Wolfsburg this season, even if his start — he was red-carded in a Europa League defeat to Shaktar Donetsk — was auspicious. That only highlights the need for more consistency. Can he achieve it? At age 27, Brooks is basically fully formed as a player, but one can still hope that his accumulated experience will see him raise his level during the current campaign. — Carlisle
All summer, as McKennie trained at Schalke waiting for his move, it looked like the USMNT star centre midfielder would be off to the Premier League. McKennie, 22, was being chased hard by Southampton and Leicester; then, as Andrea Pirlo settled into the hottest of seats at Juventus, in came the Serie A giants and in the blink of an eye McKennie was on a private jet to Turin.
McKennie is a brilliant box-to-box midfielder. Throughout Schalke’s tough campaign, in which they finished 12th in the Bundesliga, McKennie’s energy was infectious and he was a rare ray of light in a dismal campaign in Gelsenkirchen. He led from the front and was also one of the early voices in football’s messages of anti-racism and support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
This season, McKennie will not have it easy at Juventus. At Schalke he was one of the first names on the team sheet, but this term he has the likes of Arthur (arriving from Barcelona for £66m), Sami Khedira, Adrien Rabiot, Rodrigo Bentancur and Aaron Ramsey to contend with for a spot in the starting XI. Still, expect him to thrive. He has signed for Juventus on a loan deal with the option to make this a permanent stay, and we predict this will become a formality as he slots right into life at the Serie A champions. — Hamilton
USMNT star Weston McKennie says he is honoured to be the first American to play for Juventus.
The versatile 21-year-old scored the winning goal for RB Leipzig in their Champions League quarterfinal win over Atletico Madrid in the 2019-20 campaign and has established himself as a key cog in the Julian Nagelsmann machine. Having signed for the Bundesliga high-flyers from New York Red Bulls in January 2019 for a bargain £2.37m, Adams’ versatility means he can cover any position across the back four and happily slot in along the midfield. For a manager who doesn’t believe in formations and values pressing, Adams is a dream of a player.
Having played 18 times for Leipzig last campaign, Adams’ goals for this term will be to start more matches for the Bundesliga side. With a relentless campaign facing Nagelsmann’s squad as they battle on three fronts, with the Champions League also on their radar, his versatility and work rate will be key. The goal for Leipzig is a top-four finish in the German league, and Adams will be doing everything to ensure they reach and, ideally, surpass expectations like they did last season. — Hamilton
In an ESPN FC exclusive, Tyler Adams explains why the current crop of U.S. players is so exciting for Americans.
Having signed for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City from Columbus Crew in July 2019 for £6.14m, the goalkeeper is still waiting for his first-team debut as he spent last term out on loan at Bundesliga side Fortuna Düsseldorf. He made 18 appearances in Germany until injury cut short his season in December. Having suffered from a problem with his knee, he battled back to full fitness only to sustain MCL damage in April that saw him play no further part in the 2019-20 campaign.
Now back at Manchester City, Steffen is seen by Guardiola as a key part of their squad. With Claudio Bravo having left City at the end of last term on a free transfer and now between the pots at Real Betis, Steffen will vie with the world-class Ederson for a spot in City’s first team. He will likely clock up a number of starts in cup competitions and will add to his 17 caps for the USMNT. — Hamilton
Sergino Dest, DF, Ajax (Dutch Eredivisie)
The young right back enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2019-20 and went from the fringes of the senior squad to being one of the most sought-after fullbacks in Europe. Dest, 19, signed his first professional contract with Ajax in December 2018 and made his first-team debut in August 2019. His impressive form for Ajax started turning heads at the Netherlands and then-boss Ronald Koeman was keen for Dest to declare for the Oranje. But Dest, who played youth-level football for the U.S., took his time to shore up his decision and opted for the USMNT.
Exclusive: Why Dest chose U.S. over Netherlands
His trajectory has been rapid, like his darts down the right flank, and he was crowned U.S. Soccer’s Young Male Player of the Year for 2019. But there’s still a chance he has a new club by the end of the transfer window on Oct. 5 as he’s getting plenty of interest. Ajax have a practise of eking out one final season from their ridiculous list of prodigious young talents before they secure a move to one of Europe’s bigger fish. Bayern Munich are still being heavily linked with Dest, and if he moves there he’ll have Benjamin Pavard and Joshua Kimmich as rivals for a spot. But if he does stay put he’ll still be front and centre of Ajax’s Eredivisie and Champions League campaigns. He will look to another season of starting week-in-week-out for the Dutch giants and continuing to develop his game. — Hamilton
Gio Reyna, MF/FW, Borussia Dortmund (German Bundesliga)
The sky’s the limit for the 17-year-old forward. Having joined Borussia Dortmund from MLS side NYCFC in July 2019, Reyna made his debut for the Bundesliga giants in January 2020 and scored a memorable first goal in their DFB-Pokal defeat to Werder Bremen in February. But it was enough to make people sit up and take notice, while those who had followed his promising career — including father Claudio, who won 112 caps for the USMNT, and mother Danielle Egan, who won six caps for the USWNT — knew it was a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ Reyna would start making his mark for Europe’s elite.
It is easy to forget he has played just 18 first-team matches for Dortmund. But in a team that boasts all-world young talent like Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland, Reyna has the perfect role models around him to take his game to the next level. He is still waiting to make his USMNT debut — his first chance was delayed in the spring due to the coronavirus outbreak — but expect that to come sooner rather than later. He has all the ability and application to be a USMNT mainstay for the next 15 years, but his goals this season will be to get as much first-team football as possible for Dortmund and continue to develop. — Hamilton
Robinson’s 2019-20 campaign was a veritable roller-coaster. He was one of the few standouts on a Wigan team that ended up being relegated from the English Championship, with his runs forward offering a threat in attack. He nearly parlayed that into a dream move to AC Milan, only to have it scuttled by a heart condition that showed up during his medical. He eventually made a move to Fulham, freshly promoted back to the English top flight.
Robinson’s goal this season will be to force his way into the first team, no easy task at a Premier League club, especially with playoff final hero Joe Bryan ensconced at left-back. Robinson didn’t make the subs bench in the Cottagers’ 3-0 opening-day defeat to Arsenal, but given the investment Fulham have made in him, he’ll be given time to acclimate. — Carlisle
Patience paid off for Cannon, who, after two years in FC Dallas‘ academy, a brief stop in college soccer at UCLA and then three-plus seasons with FCD, made the move to Europe with Portuguese side Boavista in September. Since the start of the 2018 season, Cannon was a consistent presence at right back and while his numbers didn’t necessarily catch the eye — he had three goals and five assists in 68 league and playoff appearances — his attacking instincts impressed U.S. national team manager Gregg Berhalter.
At Boavista, Cannon will be making his initial foray into European soccer and he’s already made a positive impression, scoring the opening goal in the club’s 4-1 friendly win over CD Tondela last weekend. The right-back spot for the U.S. is there for the taking, so he’ll need to adapt quickly if he is to grab that position at the international level. — Carlisle
DeAndre Yedlin shares a message from his grandfather, saying he’d fear for Yedlin’s life in the United States.
The big question for Yedlin is simple: Will he even be in Newcastle much longer? Yedlin was a peripheral figure last season, making 20 league and cup appearances, but just 10 starts in league play. (The majority of those came in the front half of the season, too.) Hip and hand injuries also made it difficult for Yedlin to remain in the lineup and he ultimately lost his starting spot to Javier Manquillo.
A change of scenery might do Yedlin good. One would expect that at age 27, and given his Premier League experience, Yedlin would be a shoe-in to be the right back for the U.S. men’s national team, but he seems far from first-choice there. If he can establish himself at a new club — Turkish side Besiktas is among the sides interested in Yedlin — then that might revitalize his career and allow him to reclaim his spot with the U.S. national team. — Carlisle
Tim Ream, DF, Fulham (English Premier League)
The center-back has been a mainstay with Cottagers for the last five seasons, making his 200th appearance for the club in the season-opening 3-0 defeat at Arsenal. In last season’s promotion push, Ream made a staggering 47 league and playoff appearances, testament to his consistency and durability. His passing ability out of the back remains a strength, though as U.S. fans can attest he is guilty of the occasional gaffe.
This season will mark Ream’s third foray into the Premier League, having had previous campaigns with Bolton Wanderers in 2011-12 as well as Fulham’s previous season in the top flight in 2018-19. If Fulham are to avoid relegation this time around, Ream will certainly need to be at his best on both sides of the ball. Fulham can only hope that Ream’s consistency comes to the fore over the course of the campaign. — Carlisle
Matt Miazga, DF, Chelsea (English Premier League)
The 25-year-old centre-back signed for Chelsea in 2016, but has made two Premier League appearances in four years having spent much of that span out on loan. It’s long been Chelsea’s policy to buy promising talent and develop them by sending them out to trusted teams to aid their development. Miazga spent two seasons with Vitesse Arnhem in the Eredivisie and six months at Nantes before arriving at Reading in the Championship. He has played there for the past 18 months.
Miazga made 24 appearances for Reading last term, in a campaign disrupted by a hamstring injury at the start of the season and an ankle injury in January. He picked up a red card in their defeat at Derby in June, following an altercation with Tom Lawrence after the final whistle, and would play one further match for the Royals. This term Miazga will likely spend another season out on loan and is not short of suitors, though his destination is at yet unknown. — Hamilton
Josh Sargent, FW, Werder Bremen (German Bundesliga)
Mark 2019-20 as a season that tested the hugely promising 20-year-old, though one that would have taught him a huge amount. Having been left out of the USMNT Gold Cup squad in the 2019-20 preseason, he had to battle with oscillating between starting for Werder Bremen and finding his role reduced to that of an impact substitute. He picked up an untimely hamstring muscle tear in December that kept him out for six weeks, but as Werder Bremen battled to avoid the drop in the latter part of the Bundesliga campaign, Sargent was instrumental in the German side keeping their spot in the top flight as they won their relegation playoff against Heidenheim.
The signs in 2020-21 are promising for Sargent, who played across the front line last term. He carried his impressive preseason form into Bremen’s opening match of the 2020-21 season proper, starting and scoring in Bremen’s 2-0 win at FC Carl Zeiss in the first round of the DFB-Pokal. — Hamilton
Alfredo Morales, MF Fortuna Dusseldorf (German 2. Bundesliga)
Morales shook off an early hamstring injury to be a steady presence for Dusseldorf last season in the center of midfield, making 31 league and cup appearances. But despite his ball-winning and prowess in the air, it wasn’t enough to prevent the Rhinelanders from avoiding the drop.
Now Morales will play in the 2. Bundesliga. It’s a league with which he is familiar, having spent a total of five seasons in Germany’s second tier with the likes of Hertha Berlin and Ingolstadt. The challenge this time around will be to return Dusseldorf immediately back to the top flight, and Morales appears to be very much in his team’s plans. He logged 78 minutes in a two-way midfield role in Dusseldorf’s 1-0 German Cup road win over Ingolstadt, the kind of result that Morales and Dusseldorf will need more of as the season progresses. — Carlisle
Tyler Boyd, Besiktas (Turkish Super Lig)
Boyd spent the 2019-20 campaign adjusting to the pressure and expectations of playing for Besiktas, one of Turkey‘s biggest clubs, and it proved to be an up-and-down campaign. The good news is that Boyd made 28 league and cup appearances, but he scored just three goals along with one assist. That level of offensive production was far below what he achieved during a loan stint the previous season with Ankaragucu, when he tallied six goals and four assists in 14 matches.
This season, matters are already looking up for Boyd, with Besiktas showing continued faith in the winger. That was repaid in part when he scored the opener in Beşiktaş’ 3-1 win over Trabzonspor to start the Turkish Super Lig campaign, cutting in from the left wing to fire inside the far post with the help of a slight deflection. Boyd and Besiktas will no doubt be hoping that this is a sign of things to come. — Carlisle
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH
Christian Cappis: The midfielder established himself at Danish Superliga side Hobro last season, making 30 league appearances and scoring one goal while filling a variety of central midfield roles. Cappis even secured an invite to the annual January camp for the U.S. men’s national team, though he was an unused substitute in a 1-0 friendly win over Costa Rica. Those performances were such that there was talk of Cappis moving on, but now he finds himself in an unusual situation. Cappis has two years left on his contract, but his work permit to play in Denmark wasn’t renewed and he had to leave the country. Reports out of Denmark say that Hobro’s owner, Lars Kühnel, believes that Cappis will be back some time in the autumn, assuming the player isn’t transferred. In the meantime, all Cappis can do is wait to see how the situation plays out. — Carlisle
Chris Richards: The 20-year-old centre-back is yet to make his USMNT debut, but is on Berhalter’s radar. He is at Europe’s reigning Champions League holders, Bayern Munich, and made his debut in June. This season he will either be in the first-team mix or leave on loan. — Hamilton
Nick Taitague: The 21-year-old attacking midfielder was promoted to Schalke’s first team ahead of this season. He arrived at Schalke in 2017 from the Carolina RailHawks and has played for Schalke II but has the number 29 to his name and will want to make his mark in the Bundesliga this term. — Hamilton
Matthew Hoppe: The Schalke forward has his sights set on breaking into the Bundesliga side’s first team this season and following in the footsteps of the departed McKennie. He is performing well for Schalke’s Under 19s and will look to put forward his case for senior recognition this term. — Hamilton
Ulysses Llanez: The 19-year-old signed for Wolfsburg from LA Galaxy in April 2019 and was promoted to the Bundesliga side’s first team a year later. He scored on his full USMNT debut in February and will hope to make his senior debut for Wolfsburg this season. — Hamilton