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Bundesliga is back: What to watch for

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The Winterpause ends Friday, as Bayern Munich visits Hoffenheim with a new feel for its first match of a calendar year: That of the title chaser.

The six-time defending Bundesliga champions enter the second half of the season six points back of Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: JPW’s PL picks ]

Still 2.5 months from the next Der Klassiker (April 6 at the Allianz Arena), Bayern has to navigate a title fight without the chance to directly affect its rivals. Both clubs face Premier League opposition in the Champions League — Bayern with Liverpool, BVB v. Spurs — and neither has a particularly easy start to 2019. Other storylines to watch:

How much will Christian Pulisic’s transfer further affect his playing time? Whether or not Pulisic leaves for Chelsea as a Bundesliga champion is one thing, but many American eyes will be trained upon how often he’s deployed by Lucien Favre at Borussia Dortmund.

Let’s be clear on one thing: Favre has rotated his forwards heavily between Champions League and the Bundesliga. Jadon Sancho has played 1025 minutes, Jacob Bruun Larsen 830, Maximilian Philipp 515, Paco Alcacer 503, and Pulisic 483. Numbers two through eight on the playing time scale are defenders or midfielders (Marco Reus is first with 1483).

Amongst BVB attackers in the Champions League, however, only Reus has played more than Pulisic’s 339 minutes. And while Pulisic played 1 and 2 minutes in consecutive Bundesliga matches, he went 90 against Monaco in the UCL match separating those sub spots.

In other words, this isn’t as much of a quagmire as some Americans would lead you to believe. Yes, ex-Man City man Jadon Sancho has stolen Pulisic’s wonder boy numbers and title, but the kid isn’t being left in the cold.

Is Weston McKennie heading for Liverpool? It seems more likely a new deal is coming at Schalke, but you could easily see Jurgen Klopp liking the versatility of the 20-year-old midfielder as its midfield gets a bit older.

Schalke’s American midfielder Weston McKennie (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

What about the rest of the Americans (and a Canadian)? Almost as many eyes will be on Tyler Adams as the New York Red Bulls product takes the next step at RB Leipzig. FC Dallas’ Chris Richards is also now with Bayern Munich, while Canadian phenom Alphonso Davies begins his much-anticipated time with Bayern.

John Brooks of Wolfsburg is the top-rated American player in the top flight this season via WhoScored.com, one of eight Yanks to take the field.

Here are the Americans abroad in Germany :

Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund — 11 apps, 483 mins, 1G-2A
Weston McKennie, Schalke — 13 apps, 778 mins, 1G-1A
Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen —
2 goals in 45 senior minutes
John Brooks, Wolfsburg — 16 apps, 1440 mins, 1G-1A
Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig  —  
Arrived in January
Haji Wright, Schalke  —  5 senior games, 1 goal
Bobby Wood, Hannover 96 — 14 apps, 913 mins, 3G-1A
Aron Johannsson, Werder Bremen — Hasn’t played
Fabian Johnson, ‘Gladbach — 11 apps, 543 mins, 1 goal
Timothy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — Hasn’t played
Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — 11 apps, 917 mins, 1 goal
Caleb Stanko, Freiburg — Hasn’t played
Timothy Tillman, Nurnberg — Hasn’t played

How low will Schalke finish? A dreadful start to the season has last season’s No. 2 team, Schalke, sitting four points above the relegation playoff spot, nine back of the last Europa League spot, and 13 behind the Top Four.

Schalke’s other route to Europe include the DFB-Pokal, where they next face Fortuna Dusseldorf in the Round of 16, and winning the Champions League (Manchester City is their next opponent).

Will Robert Lewandowski defend his Golden Boot? The Bayern Munich star is chasing his fourth time leading the league in goals since 2013-14, his final year at Dortmund. Here are the current leaders:

Race for the Golden Boot
Pos Name Total
1 Luka Jovic, Eintracht Frankfurt 12
1 Paco Alcácer, Borussia Dortmund 12
3 Marco Reus, Borussia Dortmund 11
3 Timo Werner, RB Leipzig 11
5 Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich 10
6 Sebastien Haller, Eintracht Frankfurt 9
6 Thorgan Hazard, Borussia Monchengladbach 9
6 Alessane Plea, Borussia Monchengladbach 9
9 Youssef Poulsen, RB Leipzig 8
10 Alfred Finnbogason, Augsburg 7

[ MORE: Emery on possible exit for Mesut Ozil, reason for his absence ]

Will any of the new boys survive? Two teams go down and a third goes to a playoff game against the third place team in 2.Bundesliga (currently FC St. Pauli).

This season, the four latest teams to earn promotion are all in danger of the drop. Here’s how bottom of the table looks:

14. Fortuna Dusseldorf(2018/19) – 18
15. Augsburg (2011/12) – 15
16. Stuttgart (2017/18) – 14
17. Hannover 96 (2017/18) – 11
18. Nurnberg (2018/19) -11

Sargent describes how it felt to score first Bundesliga goal

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Less than 12 months after signing his first professional contract, Joshua Sargent accomplished his dream of playing in the Bundesliga. Seconds later, he was on the scoreboard.

Just 88 seconds after coming on, Sargent provided a header to put the ball across the goal line and score his first Bundesliga goal in a Werder Bremen 3-1 win over Fortuna Dusseldorf. Sargent found the back of the net again two weeks later, against strong opposition in RB Leipzig.

[READ: “Pity” Martinez pictured in New York]

Following a short trip back to his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, Sargent joined up with his teammates in South Africa for some warm-weather training during the Bundesliga winter break.

Sargent is looking for another taste of first team action as Werder Bremen resumes the Bundesliga season at Hannover on Saturday. Should Sargent continue to get regular minutes for either or both the Werder Bremen first or second teams, expect him to get another call-up to the U.S. Men’s National Team for its European-based friendly matches in March.

USMNT’s Sargent scores again

Carmen Jaspersen/dpa via AP, file
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American teenager Josh Sargent scored the second goal of his Bundesliga career, giving Werder Bremen an equalizer at RB Leipzig on Saturday.

RBL led 2-0 at halftime through Lukas Klostermann and Timo Werner, but Bremen began to get it going in the second half.

[ WATCH: Townsend’s Goal of Season contender ]

Max Kruse’s deflected strike made it 2-1 in the 67th, a minute after the visitors put the 18-year-old Sargent into the match.

Sargent got his own marker in the 77th, running into space to earn a terrific pass from Yuya Osako and pull Bremen level with a fine finish inside the far post. RBL has since retaken the lead.

The run and the shot are equal parts encouraging, as the stage has not proved too big for the USMNT forward.

Bundesliga takes notice of US teen Sargent’s scoring debut

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BERLIN (AP) Still only 18 but with one Bundesliga goal from one Bundesliga match, United States forward Josh Sargent is already being touted as a possible heir to Claudio Pizarro.

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Sargent scored for Werder Bremen with his first touch two minutes after coming on as a substitute in his league debut against Fortuna Duesseldorf on Friday. Pizarro, who has scored more goals (194) than any other foreign player in the Bundesliga, is 40 with his one-year deal over at the end of the season.

“It’s a realistic goal,” Bremen coach Florian Kohfeldt said of Sargent. “We want to develop our own top forwards. If, next summer, Josh is the one (to replace Pizarro), then we’ll have done a lot of things right.”

In the 3-1 win over Fortuna Duesseldorf, Sargent was in the right place at the right time to head home the rebound from close range after opposing goalkeeper Michael Rensing saved Martin Harnik’s initial effort.

It was the fastest goal scored by a Bremen debutant and it ensured Sargent, who turned 18 on Feb. 20, is the second-youngest player to have scored for the German club after Aaron Hunt.

“Beginner’s luck,” Sargent tweeted.

The teenager also got a goal in his national team debut on May 28, scoring in a friendly against Bolivia. The U.S. Soccer Federation said he is the first American since at least 1990 to score in both his national and professional team debuts. Sargent also scored against Peru in October.

Sargent, who is from O’Fallon, Missouri, and joined Bremen last year, was finally given his chance in the Bundesliga after impressing with seven goals in 12 games for the club’s under-23 team in Germany’s fourth tier. He had to wait until his 18th birthday before he could play.

“He’s a good guy,” said Kohfeldt, who is trying to protect the player from burgeoning expectations.

“There’s so much in the guy. I don’t want to expect too much from him,” Kohfeldt said. “He scored one goal. After that there were some actions that didn’t quite work out.”

Kohfeldt said Sargent could expect more Bundesliga appearances but there is no rush to give the teenager playing time. Bremen next plays at league leader Dortmund on Saturday.

“We need to be careful with what we expect from him,” Kohfeldt said. “If he makes five or six appearances by the summer, it’ll have been a good year.”

Sargent can also learn a lot from Pizarro. The veteran Peru striker, who is in his fourth stint at Bremen, helped the club win the German Cup in 2009 and helped Bayern Munich to six Bundesliga titles during his time in Bavaria.

Kohfeldt, who said Sargent had been working on his physique, also praised the player’s mental strength, saying he doesn’t care whether he plays at Bremen’s Weserstadion, the under-23’s Platz 11 or “in front of 80,000 in Dortmund.”

“He can block that out, a quality Pizarro also has,” Kohfeldt said. “That can make the difference between a good and an outstanding player.”

More AP Bundesliga coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Josh Sargent scores first professional club goal

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What a way to make an enterance.

Two minutes into his first professional appearance for Werder Bremen, 18-year-old United States international Josh Sargent scored his first professional goal for the club as the German side defeated Fortuna Dusseldorf 3-1.

Sargent came on as a 76th minute sub for Milot Rashica and scored with his very first touch. Fellow sub Martin Harnik looked to be in, reaching with his right leg to touch a Davy Klaasen cross on net. Fortuna goalkeeper Michael Rensing was positioned well to save the point-blank attempt, but as bodies spilled to the turf and the ball popped up in the air, Sargent was there to head home the final goal of the match, a special moment.

Sargent had pushed for more playing time with his performances both in preseason with the first-team squad, and with the club’s reserve team that plays in the German fourth tier. Sargent bagged seven goals in 12 matches for Werder Bremen II, which earned him a call-up to the main squad.

The 18-year-old already has six appearances for the senior USMNT squad, scoring two goals. He is hailed as the striker of the future, thought highly of by those both domestically and abroad, and he continues to prove worthy of those valuations.