American Exports: Who are the next young Yanks to break through in Europe?
AMSTERDAM – With another quick slate of 2014 World Cup qualifying matches out of the way, we go down on the farm for a report on American prospects playing in European reserve teams that could enter the US national team conversation when the 2018 edition rolls around.
The Shooting Starlets
Before the season, MLSsoccer.com reported that West Ham United playmaker Sebastian Lleget was the closest to reaching his club's first team. He's only gotten closer to a breakthrough since then.
Lletget (above), who turned 21 last week, dressed but did not appear for the Hammers in a late August Capital One Cup win. It seems reasonable to hope he can make a senior debut when they host Cardiff City in the next round on Sept. 24.
For now, he's busy tearing it up for West Ham's reserve side, which is currently in fourth in the Under-21 Premier League through four games. Lletget netted a goal in each of the first three matches, then settled for an assist as he helped the junior Irons rally from three down after 11 minutes to win 5-4 at Newcastle.
When last we reported on the Bayern Munich II wing prodigy Julian Green, he was off to a very warm start. Now, with 10 goals and three assists in 10 games for the reserves, he is positively scorching.
The 18-year-old Tampa native hit his first hat trick at Schweinfurt last week, giving him five goals and an assist in his last two games. Playing in an attack position adds to the distance he must travel for a debut with the European treble holders, but Green is certainly making a chase of it with roadrunner's pace. And let's not forget that Bayern boss Pep Guardiola loves a Pedro Rodríguez type on the wing.
Of course, Green remains on the international fence, with his last US appearance coming with the U-18s a year ago (he scored in a 4-2 win at the Netherlands). Last week, he managed just 30 minutes in two friendlies for Germany's U-19s.
Keep in mind: The flank terror has never played a competitive match for either program, meaning he requires no FIFA allegiance switch to commit to either.
The Recovery Crew
The news is very good for a pair of young Americans nearing fitness in England after long rehabs from nightmare injuries suffered last winter.
Birmingham City defensive handyman Will Packwood (at right), who broke his leg in two places against Leeds United in January, is on the verge of returning to manager Lee Clark's selection. Last week, he worked a total of 105 minutes in two reserve matches five days apart.
"He did so well on Monday at Barnsley, I went up to watch that game to specifically see how he got on," Clark told the club website. "He was desperate to stay on for longer. We had to drag him off. Then he played at Forest.
"We’ve got to be careful with that and hold him back. ... But we are absolutely delighted for the kid that he’s back because he’s a brilliant boy."
To the north in Liverpool, Marc Pelosi is still waiting to train with a ball, but the club is hopeful he will be back by the end of the year. The 19-year-old left-sider – who suffered a broken leg in February, just as he'd made the Reds' registered Europa League roster – is progressing well ahead of the original recovery schedule.
"We would hope that he would back before Christmas," Liverpool academy director Frank McParland recently told Goal.com. "He is champing at the bit and I don’t think it’ll be too long before he’s training with the squad. He’s actually already weight-bearing and running, so he’s certainly on the way back."
The U-20 World Cup Boys
Germany has certainly proven itself as a prime breeding ground for American players, and several more are currently on the Bundesliga path. One who has entrenched himself in the reserve-team lineup is Freiburg's Caleb Stanko (at right).
Freiburg II have lost just once in his seven starts to put themselves in the early Regionalliga Südwest promotion race. Though the 20-year-old Michigan native played in central defense for Tab Ramos' U-20 side in Turkey this past summer, he has become a midfield ace with his club. On the final day of August, Stanko buried his first goal to kick-start a 2-1 win over Baunatal.
Over in the Regionalliga West, Mario Rodriguez is consistently getting minutes for Borussia Mönchengladbach II. The 19-year-old forward made his first start in a scoreless draw at Wiedenbrück last month.