Six U.S. Players Having a Big Impact on Their European Club Teams in 2019
Two months into 2019 and with the MLS season about to begin, we felt it timely to draw our first conclusions on how our U.S. prospects have performed this year in some of Europe’s top leagues. TL;DR: several Europe-based U.S. players are off to a great start this year and have made a bigger impact that many expected. We highlight six players that have impressed us the most with their clubs so far:
1. Tyler Adams — RB Leipzig, Bundesliga
Following Adams’ move from the New York Red Bulls to German top-side RB Leipzig in January, Adams has appeared in 6 out of 7 possible competitive matches for his new club and has had an immediate impact on the pitch. While his defensive abilities were never in question, his early success as a ball distributor in the Bundesliga has been nothing but remarkable, underpinned by many one-time passes that keep Leipzig’s game fast-paced, particularly in transition play. Moreover, following early games where Adams often preferred to simply keep possession, he is getting increasingly comfortable seeking out passes that can split the opponent’s defense and has already booked his first assist in the Bundesliga with a stellar pass to Youssef Poulsen in a 3–1 victory of Stuttgart. Lastly, while many suspected that Adams would be most likely to get minutes as a right back given hefty competition in Leipzig’s midfield, he’s been exclusively utilized as a holding center mid by Coach Rangnick, likely given Adams’ superior ball winning abilities in the center of the pitch. We think this further underscores Adams’ long-term prospects for both club and country. Adams has already been our Star of the Week twice this year.
2. Timothy Weah — Celtic Glasgow, Scottish Premiership
Alongside Adams, Timothy Weah is the second USMNT player who has benefited from a transfer this winter break, as he is thriving with his new club Celtic Glasgow early this year following his loan-deal from PSG. While he’s been named our Star of the Week “only” once, he’s been among the notable performers a staggering three more times as he’s been a consistent threat in front of goal for Celtic already. His strengths may seem clear: quick, agile, extremely talented on the ball and he has an uncanny ability to finish from seemingly any angle. However, what leaves us most excited about Weah’s long term prospects is his decision making off the ball as he is always able to find space behind and in between defenders. Lastly, he is also looking increasingly comfortable in combining with his new Celtic teammates as he often drifted into the midfield to open up the play from a deeper position. We think the move to Celtic was a good one, as the physical nature of the Scottish Premiership coupled with more playing time should help Weah get ready to play in one of the top leagues in Europe. His record at Celtic says it all:3 goals and 1 assist in just ~300 minutes played.
3. Weston McKennie — Schalke 04, Bundesliga
The second Bundesliga standout thus far in 2019 is Weston McKennie, who has remained a clear bright spot in an otherwise lackluster Schalke 04 team this year as he is consistently one of the first names on Tedesco’s team sheet. While McKennie has seen playing time in virtually any position this year already (from right back to a forward), his main role has been as the engine in midfield, primarily as a ball distributor and ball-winner. His hallmark qualities this year have included strong tackling abilities, a robust aerial presence and an impressive drive forward in transition play. Moreover, it appears as though McKennie has taken his passing game to the next level, as he’s increasingly stepped in playing the final pass in front of goal, which has already helped him clinch 3 assists this year. McKennie has been our Star of the Week once in 2019.
4. Duane Holmes — Derby County, Championship
Perhaps not on everyone’s radar, but Duane Holmes has been having a fantastic start to the year with Championship side Derby County in England. While he struggled to get consistent minutes for much of the first half of the season, he has cemented himself as a consistent starter since January. At this point, it is difficult to picture Derby’s offense without Holmes’ inspiration for the attack given his blistering speed and a keen eye of open teammates. In fact, for much of 2019, Holmes has been able to impress at taking defenders one-on-one and slotting in teammates that are in open space, contributing to 3 assists already. Moreover, he has proven increasingly versatile in terms of his playing position, often drifting into the middle of the pitch and taking on the role of an attacking center mid at times — which could make Holmes even more valuable for Gregg Berhalter and the USMNT. Holmes has been named among OneGoal’s notable performers 4 times, the most out of any player this year.
5. John Anthony Brooks — VFL Wolfsburg, Bundesliga
Another Bundesliga player in our top six, John Anthony Brooks has found his way back to consistency with VFL Wolfsburg in Germany this year following a few injury-plagued seasons prior. Brooks has been the clear commander of Wolfsburg’s back-line under Coach Labbadia, which has been standing rock-solid for much of early 2019, despite facing some quality opponents in the Bundesliga in recent weeks such as 3rd place Gladbach. His aerial abilities are second to none given his physical presence and Brooks has taken significant strides forward in his ability to play out of the back, underscored by consistent pass completion rates in the mid to upper 80% range. Brooks has been our Star of the Week once this year and has been named a notable player once.
6. Ethan Horvath — Club Brugge, Belgian First Division A
Our last name on the list is Club Brugge’s first choice goalkeeper, Ethan Horvath, who has come up with a few critical saves early this year for the top Belgian side. In fact, his strong reflexes in the line kept Brugge in the game against a top-match against Gent (1–1) and also came up big in Brugge’s Europe league matchup vs. Salzburg. Addressing the Europa League, despite an early slip in the first leg matchup that led to a goal concession, Horvath remained composed for the remainder of the game and came up with several important saves, underscoring his ability to perform in big games. While we think Zack Steffen is the frontrunner for the starting spot in the goal, Ethan Horvath could give him a real run for his money. Horvath has not yet been named a Star of the Week, though he has been a notable performer twice and has started every competitive match for Club Brugge thus far.