With Josh Sargent, Leon Bailey and Chris Richards set to make their names better known, it’s time to get clued up on who you should be watching in the
2020/21 Bundesliga season.
- Club: Bayern Munich
- Age: 19
- Position: Left-back/winger
Twelve months ago, few football fans had heard of the jet-heeled Canadian. Now, you’d be hard pushed to find one who hasn’t. Bayern’s “Roadrunner” has had such a whirlwind year that even the Bundesliga’s fastest ever player himself might struggle to keep up. Injury to summer 2019 signing Lucas Hernandez helped Davies’ cause, but once the youngster had a place in Bayern’s first team, he seized the opportunity with both super-talented feet.
“Alphonso has become an integral part of this team,” said sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic. “He’s impressively proven his talent. He’s gone from 0 to 100 thanks to his speed, his love of the game, and his desire to always go forward.”
That Davies, who joined Bayern in January 2019 from Vancouver Whitecaps, settled so quickly is perhaps not so surprising. The Ghana-born son of Liberian refugees who arrived in Canada when Davies was just 5, the Bayern youngster had to grow up quickly.
“We had tough times when I was young, and I’m eternally grateful to my parents,” he explained. “I’m in the happy situation where I can say that I can
enjoy every single day of my life.”
There were plenty of them on the field in the 2019-20 season with Davies one of the stand-out performers as Bayern made a clean sweep of the Bundesliga title, the DFB Cup and the UEFA Champions League to record the club’s second treble, and first since 2013.
After seeing Davies, who made his Vancouver first-team debut aged just 15, perform in the MLS, Zlatan Ibrahimovic — then at Los Angeles Galaxy — said, “Davies is going to becoming an interesting player.” The Swedish superstar had seen exactly what the Bayern powers-that-be had spotted, too.
“We had hoped that he would get to this level, but we didn’t expect him to do it so quickly,” explained Salihamidzic. “His performances this season have been really impressive. It’s not something that happens every day.”
- Club: Werder Bremen
- Age: 20
- Position: Striker
“Even without Max Kruse, Werder have quality up front,” said Germany’s 1990 FIFA World Cup-winning captain Lothar Matthäus. “And I count Josh Sargent among them. For me, he’s not only a young player, but also a top talent. His speed, his robustness and his finishing are a testament to his quality.”
High praise indeed from a genuine football legend, who — widely credited with marking Diego Maradona out of that 1990 showpiece — has played with and against some of the best the game has seen and knows a thing or two about what makes a good attacker.
There is no doubt the pacy Sargent’s career is now picking up speed at the Weserstadion. Following the tentative steps he made in 2018-19, which included scoring with his very first touch on his Bundesliga debut in the Matchday 14 3-1 win over Fortuna Düsseldorf, Sargent has blossomed into a first-team regular. He had just one start in his maiden league campaign in Germany, but the Missouri-born USMNT forward began 15 of the 28 top-flight appearances he made in 2019-20, netting a career-best four goals. He will surely improve on those stats next season having helped Werder remain in the top flight. Three goals in four pre-season games augurs well, although coach Florian Kohfeldt acknowledges Sargent brings so much more to the team.
“He works in an incredibly disciplined way when we don’t have the ball, covers a lot of ‘intensive’ metres and in that way he gets our pressing going and helps win the ball back,” explained Kohfeldt. “What he gets from us is trust, and we show him what he can do better. He’s going to help us a lot more [next
Sargent’s selfless attitude means he will surely also help the USA, for whom he has a healthy five goals in 12 senior caps to date.
“If you move from home to Europe at a young age, you have to grow up much faster,” said USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter.”You’re alone, without your family, and you have to fight for everything at the beginning. That shapes and hardens a player. A good example is Josh Sargent. He didn’t always reach his top level at Werder, but he stuck through it and earned a place on the team.”
Club: RB Leipzig
Position: Defensive midfielder/right-back
“Sitting out and watching was hard.”
Hardly surprising Adams, a bundle of red-and-white energy on the field for Leipzig, struggled during the seven-month layoff with groin problems that soured his maiden season in Germany and meant he could not start his second until just before Christmas. As testing as it was, Adams sought the positives.
“I think for me as a young player, it’s important to have a season like this. It’s going to be good to look back on that and say, ‘That was a tough part of my career, but now I’m entering the best part of my career’.”
And there is no doubt that when he did return to action, he excelled.
“To play like that in an unusual position deserves praise,” said coach Julian Nagelsmann after watching the USMNT defensive midfielder fill in at right-back
— as he has done for his country — in his very first game back and look perfectly at home.
That has been the case in the Bundesliga too, where Adams will surely feature increasingly frequently in Nagelsmann’s starting XI; his boss clearly has faith in him, throwing him on with 18 minutes left of Leipzig’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid in the hope the New York native would have an impact. He did.
Adams scored an 88th-minute winner to take die Roten Bullen — founded just 11 years earlier — into the semi-finals and become the first U.S.-born player to score in the quarter-finals or beyond in Europe’s biggest club competition.
“I’m excited, but these statistics, being the first to do this or first to do that … for me, I want to be the first American to win the Champions League. That’s
something I’ll be excited about,” said Adams, who also has lofty domestic ambitions.
“I think that as a team, we know that our goal is to win the Bundesliga. As an individual, that’s my goal. All I’ve ever wanted to do is win!”
MORE: Bundesliga Matchday 1 fixtures
- Club: Borussia Dortmund
- Age: 17
- Position: Attacking midfielder
The fourth American to pull on the Dortmund shirt could well be the best yet.
After Jovan Kirovski (1996-98), Joe Gyau (2013-15) and, most recently, Pulisic (2016-19), Reyna looks to have the potential to surpass all of their achievements.
“Giovanni is one of the world’s best midfield talents in his age group,” said Lars Ricken, Dortmund’s 1996/97 UEFA Champions League final hero and now the club’s youth coordinator. “He has exceptional technique and is a real team player.”
Promoted to the Dortmund senior side during the 2019/20 winter break after registering four goals and seven assists in 12 outings for the U19s, Reyna — the son of former USMNT midfielder Claudio and ex-USWNT midfielder Danielle Egan Reyna — made the step up effortlessly, taking his own game to a new level.
He became the youngest American debutant in Bundesliga history — and Dortmund’s fifth-youngest overall — when he appeared in the Matchday 18 5-3 win over Augsburg at the age of 17 years, two months and six days, and then also beat Pulisic’s record as the youngest US-born player to feature in the UEFA Champions League.
He even registered an assist — another national record — when he teed up Erling Haaland for die Schwarzgelben’s Round of 16 first-leg win against Paris Saint-Germain.
“I called him ‘the American dream’ before,” Haaland told bundesliga.com of Reyna after seeing the American teenager make his first Bundesliga start in the Matchday 33 defeat of Leipzig. “He’s 17 years old, and what he’s doing on the pitch today is amazing. He has a huge future in front of him.”
A USMNT debut is the next logical step for Reyna, who was born in north-east England while his father was playing in the Premier League for Sunderland. Not that his country of birth have any hope of stealing him away from the Stars and Stripes.
“I’m aware of the rumours, but it’s quite clear for me,” said Reyna, who was named after his father’s former Rangers teammate Giovanni van Bronckhorst. “I only want to play for the United States. That’s my home country.”
- Club: Bayer Leverkusen
- Age: 23
- Position: Left wing/ right wing
Now going into his fourth season in the Bundesliga, Bailey has added consistency to go with his considerable flair. The jet-heeled left-footer is as menacing as they come on his day and would have made many more than 12 league starts in 2019-20 had it not been for injury. Even so, he still chipped in with five goals and three assists as Die Werkself finished fifth to secure a return to UEFA Europa League football.
Comfortable on either flank, the Jamaica international is the definition of a big-game player. Last term he scored a brace in Leverkusen’s 2-1 win away to Bayern Munich, was on target in the 4-3 victory at home to Borussia Dortmund, found the net in the 1-1 draw away to RB Leipzig and also struck a crucial third in the team’s 3-1 triumph away to Rangers in the Europa League last 16.
“I live for these moments, of course,” he told bundesliga.com of his ability to rise to the occasion. “These are moments that young players live to play for. When you have the opportunity I believe you have to take it.”
Fit, healthy and ready to go in 2020/21, Bailey is likely to get plenty more chances to show what he can do, with the summer departures of Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland leaving a void Bailey is well placed to fill.
Also look out for …
- Club: Bayern Munich
- Age: 20
- Position: Centre-back/right-back
Landon Donovan was the first American-born player to play for Bayern when he featured in 2009. And the second? Richards.
The Alabama-born youngster made his Bundesliga debut as a late substitute alongside his idol Jerome Boateng in the 2019/20 champions’ Matchday 33 win over Freiburg. He played just six minutes — enough to collect a league winner’s medal — but there is the likelihood of him spending a lot more time on the field in the first team very soon.
“We’ve only seen the very, very beginning of him,” Dave van den Bergh, who once coached Richards with the USA U19s, told The Guardian. “I think he can be a 10-year Bundesliga player. He can become the next Jerome Boateng if he’s given the opportunity.”
Richards has certainly already made the most of the openings Bayern have given him so far. After initially crossing the Atlantic for a 10-day trial as part of an academy agreement between Bayern and FC Dallas, “Texas” — as Richards is known to his teammates in Germany — has taken every step in the imposing stride of his 6’2″ frame. Now tied to a permanent deal through to 2023, Richards was fundamental to the reserve team’s 3.Liga success last season, and while he climbs the ladder at club level, he is also creeping closer to winning a first senior cap for his country.
“Of course I also am keeping an eye on him,” Berhalter said. “Chris is one of our central defenders for the future. “I’m very happy with his development,
and I think the cooperation and the regular communication between us as an American association and FC Bayern is outstanding.
“We are trying to develop a great player from a great talent together. Bayern has a plan with Chris, he has optimal conditions in Munich, and he’s receiving competitive experience. He will raise his already strong level even further in the new season.”
Be sure to visit bundesliga.com for all the latest news, results and updates from your favorite German clubs.