When it comes to selecting the perfect starting XI for the United States Men’s National Team, every fan has their own opinion. One important factor we all take into account is the league in which the player is currently perfecting his craft.
The United States today arguably has the best pool of players to pick from than ever before. This is due to both the rise in quality of MLS with young players like Jordan Morris and Darlington Nagbe coming into the spotlight and the growing numbers of Americans making an impact abroad like Christian Pulisic, Fabian Johnson, and DeAndre Yedlin. It is now head coach Bruce Arena’s job to take a good look at the players available to him and select the perfect squad for the World Cup in 2018.
That being said, how many American nationals are actually playing abroad and where? The map below helps visualize the countries with the most Americans in their leagues. Click on the image and hover over each country to see the number of players, and click on the country to see the players current playing there. (Note: click on the white space or “Home” button on the top left to reset the map)
Click on the image to go interactive
From the offset, we can see a few countries that stand out: Germany, Mexico, United Kingdom, and several Scandinavian countries.
Germany leads the list with 34 Americans currently scattered across the country’s football pyramid. Of the 34 players, 8 currently play in the German top-division Bundesliga. These players are what many USMNT fans would consider “household” names – Christian Pulisic, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood, etc. Former head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s influence and knowledge of German-born US eligible players played a big role in the rise of Germany as an anchor for Americans abroad. German clubs have also made several statements regarding tapping into US markets for friendlies and TV rights, so there is a healthy relationship between the two nations.
“I think that America is not only a fantastic country, it’s a growing market for soccer. It’s also a growing market for marketing activities for European soccer clubs, but we have to show up.” – Michael Schade, Senior Executive at Bayer Leverkusen
If you’re a fan of the US national team, this is a good sign. Germany is one of the best countries for young players to develop as they have interactions with world class players, coaches, and facilities.
Julian Green, who came into the spotlight after scoring on his first touch in the 2014 World Cup, has had a shaky start. After failing to get consistent minutes at Bayern Munich, he recently made the move to second-division club Stuttgart where he has already scored. 18 year-old wonderkid Christian Pulisic, touted as the future of the USMNT, has also experienced significant development – already bagging 5 assists and 2 goals for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and Champion’s League.
The English and Scottish leagues also have a fair amount of high caliber Americans, totaling 23 players. Experienced USMNT defender Geoff Cameron has made 137 appearances for Stoke City in the Premier League, and youngsters Lynden Gooch, DeAndre Yedlin, and Cameron-Carter Vickers are also notable players currently developing in the English leagues. As for Scotland, 20 year-old Bournemouth midfielder Emerson Hyndman has made quite an impact already at his loan spell with Rangers bagging 2 goals and 2 assists in just 6 appearances. Arsenal midfielder Gedion Zelalem was also on loan at Rangers last season, but failed to make an impact. Zelalem is currently on loan with Dutch side VVV-Venlo where has scored 1 goal in 2 appearances.
The other hot spot for Americans abroad on this visualization is Mexico. Oddly enough, most of these players are defenders – Omar Gonzalez, Michael Orozco, Edger Castillo, and Ventura Alvarado. Some would argue that Liga MX is a better league than MLS for defenders since, as noted by many of these players in interviews, the drop in quality of players after numbers 1-10 is much lower in Liga MX than MLS. Liga MX v. MLS is a hot topic for fans of both sides, but playing against creative attackers such as Gignac, Cardona, and Sanchez doesn’t hurt and can help develop some of these American defenders.
21 year-old goalkeeper Ethan Hovrath is another emerging talent who is sometimes off the radar since he does not play in a top-tier league. The Colorado-native signed with Norwegian club Molde FK in 2013 and has made a significant impact. Hovrath helped his team go unbeaten three times in the Champion’s League, followed by impressive performances against giants Sevilla, Ajax, Celtic, and Fenerbache – notably making two saves against RVP and three saves against Nani in the Europa League group stage. After catching the eye of many scouts, Hovrath recently signed with Belgian defending champions Club Brugge in 2017 on a four and a half year contract.
It’s hard to visualize without a map how many Americans there actually are playing abroad. Sweden, Finland, and Iceland all bolster a decent number of Americans. Americans are also in New Zealand, Vietnam, Israel, and many other unexpected countries. It is also worth noting there are many players out there in lower-leagues who are eligible for US citizenship that are not on this map (for example, forward Theoson Siebatcheu currently on loan at third-division French side LB Chateauroux). Will they ever receive a nation team call up or even decide to play for the US? Although it’s too early to tell, it is interesting to see where Americans have managed to sneak in.
TL;DR: Germany, England, Mexico
Although there are many Americans spread across Europe and the world, most USMNT-caliber players are in Germany, England, and Mexico. As Bruce Arena takes charge of the national team, it will be interesting to note whether we will see more players from foreign countries called up or if Arena will rely on familiar MLS players to fight through World Cup qualifying (probably the latter).
This data visualization does not include all American players abroad – several youth players (U21, U18, etc) are not in the data set. According to transfermarkt, Germany leads the race with 103 legionaries if we include those players. The rest follow a similar order as this data set, with Mexico and England being the next highest. Canada is also excluded from this data set as the source website (soccerway) categorized domestic league players who are at Canadian teams as “abroad”. There are currently 49 Americans in Canada, all at MLS/NASL/USL teams.
I hope this map helps illustrate familiar and unfamiliar Americans abroad. It lets us keep an eye on where the pool of national team players abroad are developing, thus allowing us to gauge which foreign countries have the most influence on the future of the United States Men’s National Team.