With the Champions League draw set for the group stage and the Europa League not far off — let’s throw in the Europa Conference League to boot — which Americans and/or USMNT-eligible players will be chasing glory this fall, winter, and spring?
No less than 26 players and one manager are alive in the three competitions as of post time.
There are names you no doubt know like Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, those you may not like Raków Częstochowa’s Ben Lederman, and those you may not know are in the competition like longtime MLS and NASL striker Christian Ramirez of Aberdeen.
We’re counting Bayern’s Taylor Booth, who played in Wednesday’s German Cup demolition of Bremer SV.
CJ dos Santos is with Benfica B and Sebastian Soto with Porto B, but that just feels like too much cheating. Same for the Europa League, where Leicester City’s second side has 18-year-old Chituru Odunze.
What’s the full list (and let’s face it, there are probably some missing due to little-known eligibility)? Read on..
Legendary goal scorer Gerd Muller has passed away at the age of 75.
A legend’s legend, Muller was the author of 566 goals for Bayern Munich won EURO 1972 and the 1974 World Cup with West Germany.
And “Der Bomber” was the top scorer at both of those tournaments and four European Cups.
He won three European Cups and four Bundesliga crowns with Bayern in a career that started with 1861 Nordlingen and ended in the United States with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the North American Soccer League.
Muller scored 68 goals in 62 caps for West Germany, and held the World Cup all-time goal record for more than three decades.
It was announced in 2015 that Muller was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Here’s fellow Bayern legend and current club CEO Oliver Kahn:
“The news of Gerd Müller’s death deeply saddens us all. He’s one of the greatest legends in the history of FC Bayern, his achievements are unrivaled to this day and will forever be a part of the great history of FC Bayern and all of German football. As a player and a person, Gerd Müller stands for FC Bayern and its development into one of the biggest clubs in the world like no other. Gerd will forever be in our hearts.”
Robert Lewandowski is, in all likelihood, going to lead Europe’s top leagues in goals this season, having matched German top-flight royalty with his 40th goal of the season on Saturday at Freiburg.
The Polish international celebrated the goal by lifting his jersey to wear a shirt with Gerd Muller’s face and the message “4VER Gerd,” having met the former Bayern striker’s 49-year-old record and earning a guard of honor from his teammates in the process.
Bayern’s star center forward can stand alone atop the single-season Bundesliga list If he scores again, with a final day match-up still to come versus Augsburg.
He’s also going to open next season with the ability to match Muller’s record for Torjägerkanone, a sixth-season leading Germany in scoring that’s just one behind the Fort Lauderdale Strikers alum (how often is Gerd Muller referred to as a former NASL player, we humbly ask?).
How many have scored 40 goals in a top European league season? The list is not terribly long as no Premier League Golden Boot winner or Serie A capocannoniere honoree has hit the 40 mark…
Barring absurd runs from Lionel Messi (29 goals) or Cristiano Ronaldo (28), Lewandowski will become the first Golden Shoe winner from outside La Liga, Serie A, and the Premier League since 2001-02, and the first from Germany since Muller claimed his second after the 1971-72 season.
We’ve said this before but Lewandowski’s incredible career has somehow been downgraded due to existing in two realms of the same world: one with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and another where Bayern’s dominance of the Bundesliga has overshadowed his work. At least in recent seasons, he’s at-worst on par with Ronaldo. And that’s only out of respect for the Portuguese’s entire body of work.
Bayern Munich's players and coaching staff paid tribute to Lewandowski after his record-matching goal.
The now USMNT head coach had just turned 33 when he made his 2.Bundesliga debut for 1860 Munich, months after captaining Energie Cottbus to Bundesliga promotion.
“He was already a leader,” Schafer said during a roundtable with American media on Monday. “It is not always easy for a very young player because a leader telling you very honestly the truth, some positive, some negative. You learn from experienced guys. When I made my step to Wolfsburg he was the first one to call me and congratulate me. We were always in touch, even in my time in the U.S.”
Schafer accepted a move to the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2017 largely to the front-office experience that the then-NASL club was willing to offer him.
By that time Berhalter had earned the reputation for making a fine meal out of low-budget spending as the head coach of the Columbus Crew.
“He’s a very very good coach,” Schafer said. “Maybe in a certain time, he’ll wind up in the Bundesliga but first he has a very important job to do with the United States men’s national team.”
The American parallels between Schafer’s playing career and time as sporting director at Wolfsburg — one of two unbeaten teams remaining in the Bundesliga — don’t stop with the Berhalter relationship.
Schafer may not be playing any more, but his left center back is still a United States men’s national team player and its best in John Brooks.
The 27-year-old arrived at Wolfsburg from Hertha Berlin in 2017, mere months after Schafer moved to Tampa.
Brooks is in the form of his career this season, and Schafer is seeing the fruits of the defender’s prime. Brooks is among the top center backs in long passes — below Mats Hummels but above Dayot Upamecano — his terrific vision being met by increased aggression befitting of his 6-foot-4 frame.
ProSoccerTalk asked Schafer about Brooks’ lofty position in the passing stats and the Wolfsburg sporting director pointed to higher goals for the center back, pointing out that the Bundesliga outfit is encouraging Brooks to improve the same thing that Berhalter wants to see out of him in the USMNT set-up.
“His passing skills are on a high level, even compared to Upamecano and Hummels,” Schafer said. “Passing skills, no doubt he has one of the best things, especially left-footed because you have just a few numbers. Sometimes I wish him to be more strong and dominant defender as he was in the last couple of weeks.
“Even Gregg, we have the same opinion. Right now what he needs to do is to say, this is the final step. With his size, he needs to score 4-6 goals every year. If he jumps nobody can stop him. He needs to be our German wall.”
Berhalter said last month that Brooks “is as steady as they come in terms of his personality … When the level steps up, that’s where he can step up as well. He’s shown that he can adapt to the game.”
Schafer, who dismissed talk that Brooks could transfer with just over 18 months left on his deal, is “very proud” of how the USMNT tower has come with Wolfsburg.
While Brooks has played every single minute of Wolfsburg’s 10-match unbeaten run to start the Bundesliga season, he earned status as starter was not automatic.
“We had a long and very honest conversation,” Schafer said. “He learned from the things we told him and the last couple of weeks are his best performances since he’s been in Wolfsburg. He’s dominated. He is a huge factor in our having one of the best defenses in the Bundesliga. I’m very proud of him and everyone knew he was not really in the plan with the coach but he was patient and he got his chance and performed at a really high level.”
Schafer later added, “With more consistency, he can be one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga.”
In addition to Brooks and USMNT youngster Ulysses Llanez — more on him later — Wolfsburg has a number of Americans at different stages of development.
USL transplant Bryang Kayo (18) is on Wolfsburg II and Schafer says Kayo has made “a great impact” and is working on his decision-making in the final third. Also with Wolfsburg II is former DC United center back Michael Edwards (20). LA Galaxy product Kobe Hernandez-Foster (18) is a left back with Wolfsburg’s U-19s and Isaiah Thomas is with the U-17s.
Schafer credits his time in Tampa with giving him added confidence in the American market, noting that blue-collar synergy with owners Volkswagen and NISA club Chattanooga FC.
“I learned more about the mentality from the U.S. players,” Schafer said. “I was really impressed. They were always ready to learn. They asked me a lot of things. That’s why we signed a few more American players in our club. I can confirm that American players have a very good mentality and mentality is very very important in my country. We are a worker town. We are Volskwagen. So if we sign players we have to check that the mentality is the right thing for Wolfsburg.”
That brings us back to Llanez, who Schafer admits was in between a rock and a hard place due to his age and experience.
Llanez, 19, headed to Wolfsburg’s academy from LA Galaxy II in 2019 after scoring twice with an assist in 12 USL outings by the age of 17.
He tore up the U-19 Bundesliga Nord with 11 goals and six assists in 16 games last season and Wolfsburg felt Llanez needed a step between Wolfsburg II and the Bundesliga.
“Uly was our top top top young talent last season,” Schafer said. “He had a very impressive U-19 season. Our second team is in the fourth league in Germany. Fourth league to first league with (Champions League ambition), that’s a huge step. We have to be honest. We had a long discussion with player and agent and we found a step to Holland where a lot of young players get chances is better than staying at Wolfsburg and sometimes being a sub in the first league.”
Schafer looped Llanez into heady territory when asked why American players like Christian Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna have made waves in Germany.
“Everybody is looking for top speed,” Schafer said. “Both of the players are really quick, really mobile, can handle 1-against-1 and that’s what I learned from the U.S. In Germany there is a huge discussion to have everyone able to play every position. What we miss now is players who are creative, who handle 1-against-1, who are a little bit crazy on the pitch. Pulisic, Reyna, Llanez, they are major 1-against-1 players and that’s what we can learn from the U.S.”
Schafer pointed to Atlanta United as a shining example of how Major League can be a stopgap between top South American talent and the upper leagues of Europe, citing Newcastle United’s Miguel Almiron as a player who took his game to the next level in MLS.
But he was also wary of the cost of playing the game at a youth level in the United States. Schafer was very surprised that he paid soccer tuition for his kids while here, comparing the $2000 per kid to the 60 euros his family plays to join a club in Europe.
“I said we will spend the money but it’s not the right system,” Schafer said. “Some parents are not in the situation to pay $2000 a year for kids to play soccer. You need to find the right way to create a fair system. … You have to think of a system, a bonus system, where the club that develops player or get them to the national team. … Money should be not the factor in whether (young players) get developed or not.”
Wolfsburg has a challenging few days ahead, with a home top-half clash against Eintracht Frankfurt on Friday before a visit to Bayern Munich five days later.
LADUE, Mo. — Bob Hermann, the soccer executive who launched the Hermann Trophy given annually to the top college soccer players in the United States, has died at age 97.
His family said he died Monday at his home in the St. Louis suburb of Ladue.
A key figure in the rise of the professional sport in the U.S. in the 1960s, Hermann was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2001.
Robert Ringen Hermann was born on Jan. 3, 1923. He went to St. Louis Country Day School and in 1944 graduated from Princeton, where he was on the crew. Commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Navy, he served on the aircraft carrier USS Savo Island in the Pacific theater and rose to lieutenant.
He founded the plastic containers firm Hermann Cos. in 1956 and in 1967 helped create the National Professional Soccer League, a 10-team circuit in the U.S. and Toronto. Hermann launched the league with the help of former Philadelphia Phillies owner William D. Cox, who had been banned from baseball for life in 1943 for betting on his own team.
Hermann co-owned the St. Louis Stars with Bill Bidwill of the NFL’s Cardinals. After the 1967 season, the NPSL merged with the United Soccer Association and formed the North American Soccer League. Led by the Cosmos and Pele, NASL raised the presence of the soccer in the U.S. until it folded after the 1984 season.
Hermann’s Stars moved after the 1977 season to Anaheim and became the California Surf. The club was taken over in 1980 by a group headed by Henry Segerstrom, then folded after the 1981 season.
In 1967, Hermann founded the Hermann Trophy, presented to the top men’s college soccer player by the Missouri Athletic Club. A women’s award, also named after him, began in 1988.
Hermann Stadium, the 6,050-seat home of the soccer team of St. Louis University, was named after him in 1999 following a $5.1 million renovation he helped fund.
In 1981 he founded the Veiled Prophet Fair, a Gateway Arch-area celebration around the time of the Fourth of July now called Fair St. Louis. He also served as chairman of the St. Louis Zoo.
His first marriage, to the late Lilly Busch Hermann, ended in divorce. His second wife, Mary Lee Marshall Hermann, died last August. He is survived by daughter Carlota “Lotsie” Hermann Holton, son Robert R. Hermann Jr.; four stepchildren, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by daughter Christy Busch Hermann.