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After missing World Cup, top U.S. soccer players abroad mostly stay put

The Washington Post

This was supposed to be the summer for U.S. soccer players to perform in front of a global audience at the World Cup, to spend a few weeks in Russia not only elevating the men's national team but proving their individual value to European clubs appraising the international market ahead of training camp.

The inability to qualify, however, set back the U.S. program at large and prevented players from stepping onto the sport's preeminent platform.

Out of sight, largely out of mind.

And so, a month after watching, not playing in, the World Cup, the U.S. talent pool employed overseas is back at work, burdened to some extent by last fall's qualifying failure but buoyed by a fresh season.

In the absence of a summer showcase, most player movement was kept to parallel transfers and new loan assignments. There was no World Cup bump for the Americans.

The focus will remain on three teenagers returning - for now, at least - to their first-tier clubs: German-based Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund) and Weston McKennie (Schalke), and French-connected Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain).

Despite the World Cup shortfall, Pulisic, 19, reportedly continues to draw attention from some of the biggest names in Europe: Liverpool, Chelsea and Bayern Munich. Dortmund's asking price is close to $80 million - an extraordinary figure for any player, let alone an American. The record for a U.S. player is $23 million paid by Wolfsburg to Hertha Berlin last year for defender John Brooks.

Liverpool seems most keen on Pulisic. After all, Reds Manager Jurgen Klopp was in charge at Dortmund when the American winger was rising through the youth ranks.

With Pulisic's contract running through the 2019-20 season, Dortmund might end up waiting until at least this winter's transfer window before selling him.

For the time being, the Hershey, Pennsylvania, native will feature prominently for the Bundesliga titans, who finished a disappointing fourth last season but still qualified for the UEFA Champions League. After friendlies against Italy's Napoli and Lazio this week, Dortmund will enter German Cup play Aug. 20 at second-tier Gruether Fuerth (which has U.S. forward Julian Green) and host RB Leipzig in the league opener six days later.

McKennie, a 19-year-old central midfielder, enters his second season on Schalke's first team after starting 13 Bundesliga matches in 2017-18. By finishing second, his club also will participate in the Champions League, the ultimate proving ground on the club level.

McKennie and Pulisic will be joined there by Weah, an 18-year-old attacker with electrifying skills who broke through with French champion PSG last spring and gained extensive playing time against major competition this preseason. He scored against Bayern Munich and, in the first serious match of the campaign, added a second-half goal against Monaco in the Trophee des Champions on Saturday. The Ligue 1 opener is Sunday against visiting Caen.

Defender Geoff Cameron's relegation with Stoke City to the English Championship leaves Newcastle defender DeAndre Yedlin as the most experienced American in the Premier League, which kicks off this weekend. Midfielder Danny Williams enters his second season with Huddersfield Town.

Defender Tim Ream, Fulham's player of the season in 2017-18, rises to the Premier League after the Cottagers gained promotion in the spring. Midfield prospect Luca de la Torre, 20, is also in the mix. Defender Cameron Carter-Vickers, 20, is aiming for playing time with Tottenham Hotspur, which qualified for the Champions League.

In England's second tier, defender Eric Lichaj moved to Hull City from Nottingham Forest, and Everton-owned defender Antonee Robinson joined Wigan after serving on loan with Bolton last year.

New loan assignments promise to help the careers of three young players: Manchester City defender Erik Palmer-Brown, 21, went from the Belgian league to the Dutch circuit (NAC Breda); Chelsea defender Matt Miazga, 23, moved from the Dutch league to France's top tier (Nantes); and Reading forward Andrija Novakovich, 21, jumped to the Dutch Eredivisie (Fortuna Sittard) from the second division.

The most Americans compete in Germany: 32 are affiliated with clubs in the top three flights.

Forward Bobby Wood will remain in the Bundesliga after moving to Hannover from relegated Hamburg. Josh Sargent - an 18-year-old forward who has excelled with youth national teams and scored for the senior squad in May - is eligible for Werder Bremen after turning down MLS overtures. Midfielder Alfredo Morales is back in the top tier, leaving second-division Ingolstadt to join promoted Fortuna Düsseldorf.

Joseph Gyau, a 25-year-old winger who grew up in Silver Spring, will continue his comeback from a career-threatening knee injury with second-division Duisburg. He was with third-level Sonnenhof for 1 1/2 seasons.

Two goalkeepers might exchange continents: Former D.C. United star Bill Hamid is not playing much for Danish club Midtjylland and could return to Washington, while the Columbus Crew's Zack Steffen, a former Maryland Terrapin who at 23 is primed to become the national team's starter, is drawing interest from abroad. The Crew last month rejected a $3.9 million offer from Bristol City in England's second flight.

Originally published in The Washington Post.

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