As 2021 promises to be a thrilling year for the Americans currently playing their soccer across the pond, it only seems fitting, fun and quite possibly foolish to play the game of predicting what they might get up to on their adventures.
Of course, a lot can change over the course of 12 months. Players can pick up injuries or fall into the doghouse. They can switch clubs or see stars arrive to offer unforeseen competition for playing time. These are just a few of the monkey wrenches that could potentially limit chances to rack up achievements. That's what makes this game tough, but here we are undeterred, ready to lay chips on the table.
Let's get started with the easiest call of the bunch and gradually raise the stakes until we reach the riskiest and most potentially exciting prediction.
Juventus will take up Weston McKennie's buy option
Truth be told, I'm quite surprised this hasn't happened already. Buzz started floating around Turin the Bianconeri were eager to make McKennie's loan move permanent, so they're likely already working on this. Perhaps they're trying to negotiate a "COVID discount" because of how soccer revenue streams changed in 2020, or perhaps they're trying to get some other duck in its row.
Whatever the case, this happening looks like a lock. The reigning US Soccer Player of the Year has almost instantly become a key figure for Juventus boss Andrea Pirlo, with 12 starts from 20 appearances in Serie A and the Champions League.
Giovanni Reyna will set a new American exports assist record
This may come as a shock — or, hell, maybe not — but there has never been an American player that hit double figures in helpers for a single European top flight campaign (as in across all competitions). Sacha Kljestan came close at Anderlecht. Fabian Johnson flirted with the milestone a couple of times. And yet, at the moment, the record-holder is one-time Chivas USA forward Cesar Romero, who notched nine during his Armenian Premier League Golden Boot season of 2014-15.
Well, that whole "never happened before" thing will soon be gone if Reyna stays fit. The Borussia Dortmund rookie (yes, I know Germans don't use this term, but we do) has six assists at about the midway point of the German giant's '20-'21 schedule. And until missing Saturday's game with an infection, he'd gone the full 90 in six straight Bundesliga tilts. The 19-year-old is becoming more routinely involved, and thus more seasoned quicker as the campaign progresses. As BvB are still fighting for three titles, there should more than enough matches left for him to hit or exceed the historic number of 10 in this set-up category.
9 Americans' clubs will earn automatic Champions League group stage pass
Much was made of the fact nine of our boys saw action in the Champions League proper this term, and rightfully so. That total didn't just set a new record, it smashed the old one. For the foreseeable future, however, that sum may actually become the bare minimum baseline for American participation in Europe's big dance.
For the record, the group of Americans I'm banking on to bypass the qualification route to this coming fall's Champions League group phase includes: McKennie, Reyna, Barcelona's Sergino Dest and Konrad de la Fuente, Manchester City's Zack Steffen, RB Leipzig's Tyler Adams, Bayern Munich's Chris Richards, Lille's Timothy Weah and either Ethan Horvath of Club Brugge or new Genk defender Mark McKenzie.
At least six Americans will celebrate top flight titles
I suppose you can consider this an annex prediction to the last one, but with a slightly higher degree of difficulty. How do I figure we'll see no less than a half-dozen of our exports wearing a crown this spring? Let's begin with former USL netminder Josh Cohen of Maccabi Haifa, who look like they could pull away as leaders in Israel. I'm thinking Jordan Siebatcheu's Young Boys Bern could do the same in Switzerland. Pick one of Horvath and McKenzie. Then pick one out of Richards, Adams and Reyna. I'm also betting on Brenden Aaronson and Jesse Marsch (yep, I'm counting managers here) of Red Bull Salzburg, who actually have a race on their hands for once.
Just to be clear, as with the entry directly above, I'm not counting any players still working toward a senior team debut (such as Alex Mendez of Ajax). On top of that caveat, the likes of McKennie, Steffen, Weah and young Ben Lederman of upstart Polish Ekstraklasa contenders Rakow Czestochow are in with a fair shot at league title glory. In other words, the estimate above could turn out to have been incredibly conservative once all is said and done with the current season.
Haji Wright will bag 20 goals
To date, only four Americans have ever reached that classic striker's target in a single campaign while playing in a European honor division: Romero, Jozy Altidore, Terrence Boyd and Aron Johannsson. My money says LA Galaxy academy product Wright is en route to give them company.
The SonderjyskE power forward has hit seven times in his first 12 Superliga matches, plus once in Danish Cup play. His club still have 23 league contests remaining, and are through to the cup quarterfinals. Defenders in Denmark have yet to display the ability to contain Wright physically, and the club have added a troublesome winger capable of increasing the American's space and service during the winter window.
Not only could Wright breach the ultra-exclusive 20-goal club, but as he currently stands one of the league lead, the 22-year-old could also become the first American to bring home a Golden Boot from one of Europe's top 15 leagues.
An American will play in the Champions League final for the first time
I have only attempted this particular American Exports exercise on the record once, back in late 2009. That time, my diciest prediction was an American would start the Europa League final. That call didn't quite hit, but it was as near as a near miss on a wild prediction can be because Clint Dempsey came off the bench for Fulham in their title game loss to Atletico Madrid. This time, let's take it up a notch.
This is a risky play, but it's not an unreasonable one. Seven of the eight Round of 16 match-ups feature a club boasting an American on the roster. Each of those teams have at least a puncher's chance of reaching the final. Five of them (Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea, Juventus and RB Leipzig) have an American that qualifies as a regular. All in all, my chances aren't half bad with this one.