American Exports: Brooks set to learn by fire in Bundesliga while Jermaine Jones, Schalke target CL
AMSTERDAM – The Bundesliga opened for business last weekend, but it's not too late to give the rundown on season prospects for the Americans employed by its storied clubs.
THE KEY COGS
Jermaine Jones of Schalke is the lone regular expected to help his side claim a top-four finish and the Champions League berth that comes with it.
The midfielder is an inked-in starter for the Miners, who look loaded in attack. Playing in support of this offensive stable, Jones could outdo his career high of seven assists from last term.
It's also worth remembering that Jones, who recently spoke favorably of the possibility of joining MLS next summer, will run out of contract at season's end.
Elsewhere, stateside eyes will be well-trained on promoted Hertha Berlin, who start recent US debutant John Brooks at left center back. As he continues to gain top-level seasoning during the course of the Bundesliga campaign, the elegant 20-year-old could increasingly hear cries for an inclusion in Jurgen Klinsmann's World Cup squad.
Brooks already scored in a winning league debut that sent Hertha directly to the top of the table after round one. It won't always go so smoothly this season, but he and his teammates have enough to be clear of the relegation trap door come May.
Of course, Steve Cherundolo remains the skipper at Hannover 96, who should be expected to compete for a Europa League spot. The recovering US right back should soon be back to training after minor knee surgery, but will likely face competition at some point from young Japan international Hiroki Sakai.
The veteran is another US player with a contract set to expire next June. Cherundolo stated last fall that he would love to make his first move to Major League Soccer after the 2014 World Cup.
Looking to the south, Fabian Johnson will probably see more time up the field in attack after spending most of last season's harrowing relegation escape at left back for Hoffenheim. With a handful of newcomers led by German-American left back hotshot Jeremy Toljan and creative attacker Tarik Elyounoussi on board, the club look capable of steering clear of such relegation drama this time around.
The other Johnson story to watch is his contract status. With his Hoffenheim deal set to expire at year's end, there are surely several European clubs monitoring the US international these days.
Meanwhile, a pair of US right backs face challenges with potential drop candidates Augsburg and FC Nürnberg. Both Timothy Chandler and Michael Parkhurst provided less than advertised last season, but each can provide a big boost to survival hopes with a resurgent season at their respective clubs.
Chandler can play anywhere along the right, but has started this campaign in an unusual place: the FC Nürnberg bench. Midfielder Markus Feulner started the season opener at right back, which was a stern message that the American needs to come out of his prolonged struggle with form.
As for his team, Nürnberg could be slightly weaker than last season, when they finished a comfortable 13 points above the trouble zone despite clinching safety with just two games to spare.
Parkhurst is back at Augsburg for another shot at claiming a spot in the lineup. He's up against somewhat injury-prone captain Paul Verhaegh for the right back post, but both can be used at other positions.
After a consecutive scrapes with the bottom three and only one noteworthy addition in veteran winger Halil Altintop, Augsburg again look set to spend a season sweating the drop.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
David Yelldell is with Champions League group stage invitees Bayer Leverkusen, but will enter the final season on his contract as their third goalkeeper.
DOWN ON THE FARM
In the reserve ranks of Bundesliga sides, there are several young Americans that could play their way into knocking on the senior team's door.
Under-20 World Cup attacker Mario Rodriguez is getting sub minutes on arrival at Borussia Mönchengladbach II, who play in the toughest of Germany's half-dozen leagues in the fourth flight.
Bayern Munich wing prodigy Julian Green is likely set for an international tug-of-war between the United States and Germany one day soon, but for now he'll be trying to figure out some way to crack the treble holders' first-team rotation.
Over at Hoffenheim II, both Joseph Gyau and Fabian Hürzeler are getting early-season starts. Caleb Stanko should see plenty of time in either midfield or defense for Freiburg II, while Jerome Kiesewatter aims to establish himself with Stuttgart's reserves in the 3.Liga.