|Giovanni Reyna.||Photo: Marco Verch, CC BY-SA 2.0|
The "New Cast"
One of football's great joys remains watching unfamiliar names break into the senior squad ranks over the course of a season. For all of the well-informed pre-season prognostications currently circulating on the web, no one--not even the most wonkish of football experts--can correctly anticipate which these names shall be. This analysis cannot purport to either.
There shall be players who fight their way into the limelight from total obscurity; possibly even another American or two not covered in this article. Sergino Dest may even find his way to the Bundesliga. For the time being, we'll identify five figures most likely to factor into the 2020/21 Bundesliga campaign. Expectations of seeing this quintet should be considered high.
Pellegrino Matarazzo, VfB Stuttgart (Trainer)
We'll begin with a name guaranteed to soon be a household one. History beckons for the 42-year-old from New Jersey. When the Badeners kick off against SC Freiburg on Saturday, Matarazzo will become the first ever American coach to lead a team in Germany's elite footballing division.
Brought in by the Baden-Württemberg club last Christmas, the Italian-American has already received a enormous amount of coverage in the German media. He ran both the 1. FC Nürnberg and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim youth squads before accepting the appointment to lead a Southwest German powerhouse--league champions as recently as 2007--back to glory.
Matarazzo has earned legitimate praise for two effectively managed transfer windows and breathing new life into veteran players such as Waturu Endo, Gonzalo Castro, Holger Badstuber and Philip Klement with deft and disciplined tactical constructs. He also successfully oversaw the last hurrah of German national team striker Mario Gomez in his final days playing professional football.
2020/21 Campaign Prospects
Like any other coach of a newly promoted club, Materazzo's fate is exclusively tied to the results generated by his squad in the early stages of the season. The American appears to have strengthened his roster adequately for the tougher fights ahead. The acquisitions of flexible defender Waldemar Anton and young Greek center-back Konstantinos Mavropanos likely shore up the defense enough to keep the team competitive.
For a time it looked as if a slew of injuries would spoil his Bundesliga debut. Materazzo carried as many as ten hurt players on his roster during certain stages of the pre-season. With it now looking as Mavropanos, Mateo Klimowicz, and Borno Sosa will make it back in time for the opener, the coach should have enough to work with in the initial weeks.
The Swabians still must contend with a depleted roster. Projected key contributors like Nicolas Gonzalez, Clinton Mola, and Erik Thommy remain out for the long-term. Materazzo will take his fair share of knocks in the first few months. Nevertheless, a rather large contingent of thin teams in the Bundesliga--FSV Mainz 05, 1. FC Union Berlin, SV Werder Bremen, Armenia Bielefeld, SC Freiburg, 1. FC Köln, FC Augsburg, and even Schalke 04--mean that the new trainer shall receive plenty of help in his quest to keep VfB above the relegation zone.
Chris Richards, FC Bayern München (CB)
Recently tapped by USMNT head-coach Gregg Berhalter as one of his potential "future center-backs", the 20-year-old Richards remains on Hans Dieter Flick's active roster entering the season. Whether or not he shall get the chance to make his second senior appearance for the club anytime soon remains debatable.
The club has officially purchased his contract yet. Moreover, if there's one thing Bayern have a surplus of at the moment, it's defenders. Richards' development path has not seen him stray from a position in central defense, rendering an audition at Bayern's leanest defensive spot--right fullback--extremely unlikely.
2020/21 Campaign Prospects
Another year at FC Bayern II strikes one as the most likely scenario. Richards generated some loan interest earlier in the summer, most notably from Union Berlin, but activity dried over the course of the last month. Bayern have already loaned out their other main prospect at Richards' position, sending Lars Lukas Mal over to SV Darmstadt 98 in late July.
Now that loan destinations for Sarpreet Singh and Olivia Batista Meier are secured, it's possible that the FCB may expend some energy on locating a place for Richards. It seems likelier, however, that most of the administrative vigor will be reserved for completing a Leon Dajaku loan deal.
Nick Taitague, FC Schalke 04 (ATTM)
We arrive at one of the first names few will have heard of. Schalke trainer David Wagner quietly called the 21-year-old Virginian up to his roster last spring amid the club's injury-riddled late-season collapse. On July 1st of this year, the first day of administrative moves for the arriving season, the club purchased his contract from FC Schalke II.
Taitague caught the eye of club scouts when he scored eight goals in an 11-cap run for the United States U18 squad in 2016. He committed to the Königsblauen two months into 2017, approximately six months after American compatriots Weston McKennie and Haji Wright arrived in Gelsenkirchen.
Taitigue has encountered injury problems in his three-plus-year-run in the club's youth system. He still awaits his debut with the club's senior side.
2020/21 Campaign Prospects
With respect to Schalke, literally just about anything remains possible this season. Recent moves to acquire striker Vedad Ibisevic on a free and snatch Goncalo Paciencia on a cheap loan fail to impress the experts. Despite the fact that die Knappen have just acquired two strikers, many handicappers still pick them to dwell near the bottom of the table.
One reason many pick Taitague's club to contest the relegation race relates to an entirely foreseeable fan revolt that could lead to an implosion. Schalke attempted to pass the cost of its COVID-induced pain onto its supporters, delaying refunds for season-ticket holders until January 2022. Those seeking the paltry sum of some €75 earlier had to fill out a "hardship application."
Supporters managed to get hated chair Clemens Tönnies out of the club, but remain far from finished with their coordinated protest actions. Such an unstable atmosphere, to reiterate, means that anything is possible this year. If Amine Harit is sold, Taitigue could even be a regular in the starting XI by Christmas.
Lennard Maloney, Borussia Dortmund (CB)
Another name few will have heard of. The 20-year-old central defender might have received more attention had the "Germerican Focus" of the Jürgen Klinsmann-Andreas Herzog-Berti Vogts Regime lived longer at the USMNT. The dual-heritage Maloney began his international youth career with the German U18s before switching over the US U20s in 2018. He's publicly committed to playing for the States should they call again.
Maloney's 2019/20 campaign turned out to be a textbook case of player mismanagement. His parent club of 1. FC Union Berlin, as many newly promoted clubs tend to do, did an exceedingly poor job of trimming their bloated roster in the run up to the new season. The Berliner thus sat on an entirely too large ledger and didn't even make a single bench squad. This occurred despite the fact that many lower-tier sides had expressed an interest in him.
Eventually, Union were able to conclude a loan for him in January. He would make eight appearances for third division side Chemnitzer FC in the second half of the season. The exposure proved enough for Dortmund to invite him for a workout. He impressed enough for the BVB to sign him to the reserves.
2020/21 Campaign Prospects
One finds oneself happy that a talented youngster with a nice overall skill set finally found a platform to showcase them. Chances of appearing for the Schwarzgelben this year effectively stand at zero, but the youngster could make great strides in working his way up this season. BVB II looks to build a star center back pairing featuring Maloney and newly acquired fellow youngster Niklas Dams.
Joe Scally, Borussia Mönchengladbach (RB)
Very little to note here other than the fact that one will have to wait until January to see the buccaneering full back. He'll suit up for the foals in 2021. MLS watchers will want to keep an eye on his for NYCFC form in the lead up to the transfer. Marco Rose and Rene Maric knew full well what they were doing when convinced the Gladbach board to shell out nearly €2 million for a 16-year-old late last year. A very worthy phenom serves as something to look forward to in the New Year.
The "Returning Actors"
With the "soft-opening" of the initial DFB-Pokal round complete, we've gotten our first look at how Bundesliga trainers wish to shape their squads in the highly intriguing weeks ahead. Having already given the performance of all these US internationals in previous campaign extensive coverage, it's now time to engage in the immensely fun task of speculating how they will be used this season.
This section shall use what information we've gleaned from the summer transfers and Pokal Round to scout some potential tactics.
Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig
Julian Nagelsmann handed the New Yorker a surprising assignment in the 3-0 victory over 1. FC Nürnberg. Dayot Upamecano shifted right while the American ran pivot. Defensive cycling meant that Adams spent some time at right back. The basic constellation nevertheless kept this American central.
Lineup—RB Leipzig—DFB Pokal (3-4-3)
Early Tactical Prognosis
With another natural striker scheduled to arrive within days, one assumes that Nagelsmann's plans revolve around a 3-4-3 that quickly transitions to a 4-2-2-2 in attack; not entirely unlike what one witnessed last season. Dani Olmo moves center to the ten-spot behind Alexander Sørloth and Hee-Chan Hwang, one of the two taking Timo Werner's place on the left.
In terms of the defensive set-up, Upamecano moves center to serve as the driving pivot, likely flanked by Marcel Halstenberg on the left and Lukas Klostermann on the right. At this juncture, the biggest question mark concerns who will serve as the right-winger. Marcel Sabitzer can play there, but does better work in the middle of the park. Benjamin Henrichs may be the long-term solution. Adams may start there first.
Sabitzer's partner constitutes another mystery. With Konrad Laimer out for weeks, it will be either Adams or Kevin Kampl. Adams can also work well deployed directly behind Kampl, as evidenced by a unique 3-3-4 construct in last season's 30th round. Either way, this American looks to be a regular fixture in the starting XI. Nagelsmann will move him, but should always use him.
Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund
How precisely Lucien Favre will line up his "Wunderkinder" against Borussia Mönchengladbach in this weekend's marquee match-up is the biggest question on every Bundesliga lover's mind. The amount of obscenely talented teenagers he currently has at his disposal borders on the ridiculous. One wonders if there might even be place in his XI for last year's prized acquisitions Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard.
The American in question here played as a ten in the most recent fixture.
Lineup—Borussia Dortmund—DFB Pokal (3-4-3)
Early Tactical Prognosis
At present, Favre's plans aren't exactly opaque. One knows that he favors a back-three. We know that he now believes Jude Bellingham to be the best choice as Axel Witsel's midfield partner. A slightly more theoretical deduction holds that he no longer wishes to place Erling Haaland alone up front.
The last concept reaches a bit. Haaland excels as a lone center-forward and Jadon Sancho plays far better on the wing. In time, Reyna may come to master the ten-spot. At the moment, a healthy Marco Reus would appear to be the safer option. The American, poised as he is, isn't ready to displace Jadon Sancho on the right as he did in the final two matches last season.
It is such that one actually sees Reyna coming off the bench in the initial stages of the season. Haaland pushes back up to his lead striker role. Sancho and Hazard work slightly behind him on the right and left respectively. Raphäel Guerreiro takes the left wing while Renier gets an audition on the right. Reyna works his regular role as the "joker" for a while.
Josh Sargent, SV Werder Bremen
The signs from the Werder training camp could not be more hopeful for the young Missouri marvel. Florian Kohfeldt has publicly praised the progress of his young American striker. German footballing magazine Kicker selected Sargent as Werder's best pre-season player.
It shapes up to be a fantastic new beginning this season for this American, who also tallied in the Pokal Round.
Lineup—SV Werder Bremen—DFB Pokal (4-4-1-1)
Early Tactical Prognosis
Unsatisfied as the head coach may have been, the Hanseaten managed to look more consistently organized than in most any fixture last season. Though sometimes lacking ideas during the first half, Sargent put in solid work as a short-striker slanted behind Davie Selke. His headed finish in the 49th was very precise. He also outmuscled two defenders and timed his jump perfectly.
We'll likely something very different from Werder in the opening round this weekend. Davy Klaasen will join Maximillian Eggestein to run the midfield. Niclas Füllkrug should start over Selke. Leonardo Bittencourt, if he plays, will probably be a ten. Toprak is hurt. Either Rashica or Tahith Chong will work the left.
It seems a reasonable hypothesis to place Sargent in the short-striker role so long as he plays effectively there. It's interesting to note that he never even came close to filling that position last season. This American evidently picked up a new skill over the summer.
John Anthony Brooks, VfL Wolfsburg
Brooks did not feature in the VfL's 4-1 Pokal victory over Union-Fürstenwalde. Instead, captain Joshua Guilavogui filled in at center-back alongside new acquisition Maxence Lacroix. This might actually be Galsner's intended center half partnership this season. Some may have forgotten that the versatile Guilavogui actually began his career that far back. It seems as if the French international has played in midfield for an eternity, but its only been 18 months.
In any event, Guilavogui will be ineligible for Wolfsburg's opener because of a red card incurred in last season's 34th round. This makes a Brooks start highly likely. Prospects for a successful match, however, remain dim. Brooks will be forced into a "cold start" with a partner he's never worked with before. Partnerships at the back take time to gel in football.
Himself ineligible for the club's Europa League fixture on Thursday, this American may potentially have a shaky day. A Leverkusen side geared toward a dominant possession game can easily tire out players not operating at their full fitness level.
Timothy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt
Chandler only featured for 18 minutes as a sub in the Pokal Round. When he did come on, he assumed a position on the left wing. Continuing a trend established in the latter stages of the previous campaign, Adi Hütter again used Danny da Costa as the right attacking flanker. One can only assume that this constitutes the coach's preferred option, at least until another winger can be procured.
While something resembling last season's anomalous goal-explosion cannot explicitly be ruled out, it doesn't seem very likely at this stage. Fans of "Timmy" can nevertheless rest assured that he will play his heart out every time his hometown club accords him an opportunity.