During the last decade, Germany has replaced England as the primary land of opportunity for the best young American soccer players. To find out why—and to learn more about the experiences of German-based USMNT stars Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie—I recently went on a week-long road trip for the new half-hour SI TV episode of Exploring Planet Fútbol: Germany.
Americans have been playing in the Bundesliga for years, but the young wave of Yanks there now say that a few factors have played into Germany’s favor. One is the example set by Pulisic, who joined Borussia Dortmund at age 15 and emerged as one of Europe’s top prospects, eventually earning a U.S.-record $73 million transfer to Chelsea. Another is the increased playing opportunities given these days in Germany over England to players–of any nationality–in their teens and early 20s. Third is the consistently high level of play in the Bundesliga. And fourth is the fact that Germany doesn’t require work permits as England does.
As Schalke’s McKennie says: “You get guys coming into the national team camp, such as Tyler or Josh [Sargent, at Werder Bremen], that have asked me about it. ‘How is it over there? How’s the culture? How’s the soccer?’ I tell them: ‘Dude, it’s amazing. If you want to go somewhere, I’d come to Germany. Because it’s true. You get opportunity. You get people that don’t just buy you because of your name or what you’ve done already. They buy you because they actually see potential in you.’”
McKennie laughs and adds: “I also told them it’s a lot of running and tactics too. Because it is. So much running and so much tactics.”
McKennie and Pulisic have already gotten plenty of experience in the UEFA Champions League, and Adams is set to next season for RB Leipzig. The three players, all just 20 years old, will likely form the backbone of the USMNT for years to come.
But they aren’t the only people I visited in Germany. Chris Richards, an American defender for Bayern Munich’s Under-19 team, is at a different stage of his development than the other three, and he faces the same challenge that Pulisic and McKennie had to graduate to the first team.
I also meet with Jesse Marsch, the former New York Red Bulls coach who’s trying to rise through the ranks of managers in Europe. We talk about the season that he has spent as an assistant at Leipzig, working for part of it with Adams. Marsch is already on the path. He was recently named the head coach for next season at Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg, which will participate in the UEFA Champions League, having qualified directly for the group stage.
In every one of the episodes of Exploring Planet Fútbol—whether it’s Germany, Iceland or soon-to-be-released Japan and Argentina—we try to approach it as half travel show, half soccer show. That means showing you eye-popping visuals that may make you want to visit the country, and it also means telling the story of what makes that country’s soccer culture special. And so we also spend time in the gloriously international city of Berlin with Musa Okwonga, a soccer writer, musician and poet who has been living there in recent years.
The result is an episode that should be appealing to anyone who considers themselves a fan of the USMNT, of soccer and of travel itself.