As an American it pains me to say this but, throughout football history, Americans have struggled abroad. How many times have you hung your head over a good old yank being transferred back to MLS after playing the loan game in Europe for a few years? Or how many times have you cringed watching Jozy Altidore sky one over an open net (pour one out)? Yes, there are of course outliers, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard (eventually), Fabian Johnson (finally), etc. but overall the picture painted is this; most of the time the competitiveness, language barrier, style of play, and expectations of foreign leagues prove too much for American players to flourish. Fast forward to today though, and there is a whole new generation of American youth coming abroad at the earliest possible age, or even being raised abroad, who are making a lot of positive headway in Europe. And luckily for Borussia Dortmund fans, they have three, top-notch, young Americans who are developing and fighting for a first team place at the Westfalenstadion.
Of course the road to the first team isn't a cakewalk, and with youth teams brimming with talent, our three heroes will find a tough journey ahead of them. So the question is, which, if any, have what it takes to eventually find a consistent place among Thomas Tuchel's first team?
Storming down the touchline, our first American is an out and out winger with a tragic but hopeful tale. Joe Gayu, 23, is a very entertaining player to watch. His acceleration is jaw-dropping at times, and he's definitely read the Winger's Guide to Leaving Full-backs on Their Asses using his short height and strength to maraud through defences, but Gyau is more than that, he's the full package. Upon joining Dortmund from TSG Hoffenheim in July 2014, he had already been playing in the German lower divisions for three years, had made his Bundesliga debut and had a good grasp on the language. This experience allowed him to hit the ground running, and by the end of September of his first season he was handed a first team debut by admirer Jurgen Klopp. But the celebration ended all too soon.
In the form of his life, Gyau was handed two senior international starts by Jurgen Klinsmann, and during the second game in December, a friendly against Ecuador, he suffered a torn meniscus and some minor cartilage damage that would turn out to be anything but. After an operation and a quick recovery, he was back in training when the pain returned, another cartilage problem behind Gyau's kneecap. The operation and recovery for this injury has kept him off the field for around a year now and he only recently shed his crutches and tweeted that he could return to light training soon.
Hand eye coordination drills... Light work... Almost back pic.twitter.com/sLCDTDExH3— Joe Gyau (@36finest) December 18, 2015
What Gyau has going for him is his experience, his obvious quality as a winger, and his contract. Although his current contract ends in June, his agent, Christian Rapp, has told MLSsoccer.com that Gyau is in talks for a one-year extension, enough to see him past his injury and give him time to prove himself to a new manager.
Junior Flores? I'll let this clip do the introduction, he's wearing the #10.
That cut, that pass, that finish. He's a number #10 alright. Junior Flores, 19, joined Borussia Dortmund's U19 team in July 2014. He played every game in the 2014/15 season, scoring five and assisting one, before being promoted to the second team for the 2015/16 season where he has become a bit-part player, still adjusting to the new division and fight for a starting place, only making six appearances. On the national side, he has twice turned down invitations from El Salvador's senior national team after shining brightly for USA's U-17 team (see video). Recently, he was promoted to the U-20 team, playing a part in the CONCACAF Championships, helping the US qualify for the U-20 World Cup.
Although he was snubbed for the U-20 World Cup in the end, Coach Tab Ramos sighting better options in the #10 role and lack of playing time with Dortmund's second team, Flores is still young, still adjusting, still undoubtedly talented, and definitely not finished yet.
Ah, at last, we come to the prodigal son. The hype surrounding Christian Pulisic, 17, after his recent promotion from Dortmund's U-19s straight to first team training has been well earned. Pulisic is a pleasure to watch. He's got technical skill (when was the last time you saw an American U-17 pull off an Elastico for a nutmeg), his vision and awareness are beyond his years, and his eye for goal is the ultimate crowd pleaser. Don't believe me, look at his numbers for Dortmund's youth teams; In 19 appearances overall for the U-17 and U-19 teams, he has scored 11 goals, and assisted 10. No wonder Tuchel decided to take Pulisic to Dubai over winter break! His form for the USA U-17s has been no different, scoring 18 goals in 27 appearances. And to cap all that off, last year Pulisic was ranked in the Guardian's Next Generation 2015: 50 of the best young talents in world football, the only American player on that list.
Pulisic's personal life is also flourishing in Germany, hes taken to German school and the language easier than he thought, he told ESPN's Jeff Carlisle, something equally important for a youth adapting to a new club and new way of life.
As of right now, Christian Pulisic has the greatest chance of making a first team appearance next for Dortmund. He's got the skill, he's got the hype, he's training with the first team, and his chances are helped by the setbacks of our other two Americans in Dortmund. Joe Gyau, although he has already debuted for the first team, is coming off a long term injury that could very well have an effect on his most valued asset, his speed. Not to mention he is entirely unproven under Tuchel and will have to work his way through the ranks when he does return. On the other hand, Junior Flores is a raw product to say the least. He is young and talented, not to mention he has a year and half left on his contract, which gives him ample time to prove himself.