By Daniel Rubens
With the start of most European league seasons just around the corner, American players all over the continent are gearing up for competitive matches by getting their final preseason minutes in. It was another regular-season week for the Americans hard at work in the Nordic leagues, however, as well as a few whose seasons have already begun on the continent.
But the biggest news for an American in Europe this week was for Aron Johannsson. After making his season debut for AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League playoff round Thursday, coming off the bench in a 2-0 win over Istanbul Basaksehir, rumors began swirling that Johannsson was a target for Bundesliga club Werder Bremen.
Alkmaar’s technical director told MLSSoccer.com on Monday that the club had declined an initial bid from Bremen for the striker’s services, but that AZ was bracing for another. That
In other important news, an American keeper continues to impress in the Champions League qualifying rounds. Colorado native Ethan Horvath backstopped Molde to a 5-0 first-leg victory over FC Pyunik in the second qualifying round of the Champions League on July 14, and the 20-year-old returned to the net for the first leg of his side’s third playoff round matchup against Dinamo Zagreb. Horvath conceded in the 18th minute on an unsaveable header from Angelo Henriquez, but his side responded to draw level moments later, and Horvath held firm at the back to preserve a 1-1 away draw. Molde return home for Tuesday’s second leg with an away goal advantage in tow, and Horvath will be counted on to keep Zagreb off the scoresheet.
Horvath is the only American involved in the Champions League at the moment (though Fabian Johnson will enter the group stage with Monchengladbach), but he is by no means the only one involved in competitive fixtures. A handful of players featured in league matches in the Nordic region, as well as the German lower divisions, with varying levels of success last week.
In Norway, it was a quiet week for American players, as only two were named to their side’s matchday squads. Both started, with Cole Grossman and Alex De John each putting in 90 minute shifts for Stabaek and Start, respectively. But while Grossman shined in a 2-0 win over Valerenga, De John struggled in a 2-0 loss to Aalesund. After a decent first-half performance, De John had trouble finding his footing after the break, as his side conceded twice to fall to a third straight defeat.
Meanwhile, Grossman was terrific for Bob Bradley’s Stabaek side, which jumped over Valerenga with the victory over their rivals. The 26-year-old midfielder continued his impressive season by helping Stabaek dominate possession and the shot chart, and he nearly scored himself but was denied by a terrific save from the opposing keeper. With the win, Stabaek vaulted back into second place in the Tippeligaen, seven points behind Rosenborg.
There weren’t any Americans busy this weekend in Finland, but one was unexpectedly needed in Sweden. Goalkeeper Matt Pyzdrowski came off the bench for Helsingborg against Kalmar, but his team slumped to a 2-1 defeat to fall to eighth place in the Allsvenskan. It was only Pyzdrowski’s second appearance of the season, but the 28-year-old Illinois native could be in line for a game if the starter is unavailable this weekend.
Heading to Germany, a bunch of Americans were involved in lower league fixtures, including a few big names. Most recognizable among these is Julian Green, Bayern Munich’s young winger, who made his season debut with Bayern II last Wednesday in a 1-1 draw with Illertissen. Green played 69 minutes in the contest, but the more important news for the yank came the following day, when his agent confirmed to media that Green would remain at Bayern this season rather than go on loan. The 20-year-old Green had already stated his desire to stay in Munich and
Also in Germany, USMNT U-20 World Cup starting keeper Zack Steffen led Freiburg II to a scoreless draw against Saarbrucken. The former University of Maryland standout is looking to break into Freiburg’s squad this season, and performances like this one will only help.
The most interesting contest involving Americans in Germany occurred Sunday in the 2. Bundesliga, with Bobby Wood’s Union Berlin side taking on Sandhausen. However, it was an unheralded American who stole Wood’s headlines, as Sandhausen’s Andrew Wooten notched a brace to lead his side to a 4-3 win. Wooten scored the game’s first goal in the 21st minute, then tied the contest at two with a 70th-minute tally. However, seconds later, Wood earned his first Union Berlin assist, setting up Damir Kreilach’s second of the game to make it 3-2. Wood was substituted shortly thereafter, and Sandhausen hit twice in the final 10 minutes before Wooten also came off in stoppage time in a wild one in Southwest Germany.
Speaking of which, with the summer coming to an end, we’re going to wish most of our Nordic players goodbye and good luck. Next week, we’ll be reverting to the format we used in this section last season, a list of the USMNT players on first division teams, as well as a others on the periphery. We’ll be back next Tuesday with an updated list of Americans we’ll be following in the upcoming season, which will include players we followed last season and some new names as well who are looking to impress Jurgen Klinsmann in the coming months.