JAMIE HILL - Thursday, May 19, 2011
Longtime fans of US soccer are accustomed to keeping one eye on the horizon, always searching for the newest young sensation. Sometimes, our prodigies achieve the heights that are expected of them, but more often a hopeful fanbase is left wanting. If those in the business of prospect-watching have learned anything, it is that there is safety in numbers.
Fortunately for the US, the numbers are indeed growing. The ranks of Americans abroad swell to ever greater numbers with each passing year, even as Major League Soccer adds new franchises and expands roster sizes. While England is home to the likes of Clint Dempsey, Brad Friedel, Stuart Holden, and Tim Howard, it is Germany that has taken center stage for the next generation of Yanks Abroad.
The reasons for Germany's status as the most fertile foreign ground for young American players are two.
First, there is a rising tide of young German-Americans that are emerging across the Bundesliga's academies. All of these players have grown up in Germany and most of them are the children of American servicemen and German mothers.
Nurnberg's Timothy Chandler has rapidly become the most prominent member of this group, but he does not stand alone. After missing most of the year with a knee injury, Daniel Williams was able to make several appearances for Freiburg at left back in the twilight of the season. The last 12 months also saw Hertha's versatile Alfredo Morales make his first team debut.
German-Americans can also be found by delving into younger age groups. Anthony Brooks and Jerome Kiesewetter of Hertha Berlin and Fabian Hurzeler of Bayern Munich are candidates to figure in to the 2013 U-20 World Cup team. Brooks has advanced the furthest, having played extensively for Hertha's reserve team at the tender age of 18. Young forward Jann George remains in Nurnberg's long-term plans even after an injury-plagued season.
Even relatively unheralded youngsters such as Kaiserslautern's Andrew Wooten and Hertha's Terrence Boyd have been in fine form in 2010-11. Both forwards found the net with frequency in the Regionalliga for their clubs' reserve teams.
The second draw to Germany is the lack of artificial barriers to entry. While England provides the easiest cultural transition for players, the UK's stringent work permit rules are such that an unproven American prospect lacking an EU passport will find the door to English clubs locked and barred. In contrast, Germany has relatively few restrictions on foreigners.
In that context, it's not surprising to see a host of non-German-born prospects toiling in German academies, too. This group is headlined by 1860 Munich's talented young forward Bobby Wood and Hoffenheim winger Joseph Gyau, who are arguably two of the best hopes for the American attack anywhere.
A number of other young players have made the jump from American youth soccer to Germany as well, including several players with US U17 experience, such as Charles Renken (Hoffenheim), Carlos Martinez (Energie Cottbus), and Shaquille Phillips (Energie Cottbus). Current US U17 international Matthew Dunn plies his trade with FC Koln.
Germany has even become home to the fledgling group of Americans who have entered Europe's managerial ranks. David Wagner, a German-American and former US national team forward, has taken charge of Borussia Dortmund's U-23 team. Meanwhile, VfL Osnabruck legend Joe Enochs was temporarily handed the reins at his old club during their desperate fight against relegation at the end of the season.
If history is any guide, many of these players will not make the grade at their clubs despite some success at the youth levels. This is a cruel, but undeniable fact of life in the academy. Nonetheless, the quantity of American prospects and the progress that some have already made should be encouraging to fans of US soccer, as both provide a buttress against the natural attrition rate of young players.
Furthermore, there's little reason to think that the two pipelines of young American talent in Germany will run dry. The USSF has done a commendable job of uncovering and recruiting German-American dual nationals and German clubs will continue to see value in the low-risk/high-reward business of signing 18-year-old amateurs from American youth clubs.
While MLS will continue to be a major source of young American talent, a US soccer fan would be remiss to ignore what is brewing in Germany.