How Americans abroad will fit with their new teams

Quick Hits
  • It’s been a busy summer transfer window for various U.S. men’s national team players, with more than a few finding new European homes
  • With several major leagues starting this weekend, now is the perfect time to look at how various Americans will fit at their new clubs
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With the World Cup on the horizon and a few seats still open on the United States’ plane to Qatar, a handful of Americans sought new club scenery this summer. Many of those clubs get their domestic league seasons underway as soon as this weekend.

So, now is a better time than any to look at how some of these players will fit at their new clubs.

Brenden Aaronson, Leeds United

Last seen: RB Salzburg

Jesse Marsch took the Leeds United managerial job in February after Marcelo Bielsa was fired. Surviving relegation was a tall task at the time of his appointment, but Marsch kept Leeds in the Premier League by the skin of his teeth on the last day. Decision-makers at Leeds knew, though, that if they had any chance of staying up again, they were going to need major reinforcements.

Enter, Brenden Aaronson, who was announced as the first part of the new cavalry only days after Leeds’ survival.

Aaronson, on paper, is a perfect fit for Marsch’s system. The 21-year-old has experience playing under the American manager at RB Salzburg, he’s an industrious presser, and he addresses a problem Leeds dealt with all of last season: they lacked a player who could link play between the midfield and the forwards.

If Aaronson’s performances in preseason are any evidence, the paper ain’t wrong. 

Leeds United have used a 4-2-3-1 in preseason, with Aaronson starting most of those games as a No. 10 in the middle of the attacking midfield line. He’s largely impressed, pestering the opposition and starting attacks with his quick feet and vision in the final third. 

When an attacker moves to a better league – from the Austrian Bundesliga to the Premier League, in Aaronson’s case – there’s never a guarantee that they’ll transition without many hiccups. With his slender frame, it could take Aaronson time to adjust. But the U.S. international looked at home against Premier League opposition in preseason (Aston Villa and Crystal Palace, specifically) and Marsch seems to have trust in the $30 million man to play a key role this season.

Tyler Adams, Leeds United

Last seen: RB Leipzig

Aaronson wasn’t the only U.S. men’s national team player that Marsch brought in this summer. Leeds United also signed Tyler Adams to address another weak point in the squad.

For years, Leeds relied on Kalvin Phillips to be a transitional destroyer, a player who could break up play while also splitting lines with his passing and dribbling. With Phillips moving to Manchester City this summer, Marsch needed someone (or a couple of someones) to take over that job in his system. To do that, he signed Marc Roca and Tyler Adams. Adams is a vivacious presser and destroyer and he fulfills part of the hole left from Phillips’ departure. 

However, he’s not great at splitting lines and stretching the field. Roca, coming from Bayern Munich, has that skill set to be that last puzzle piece in Marsch’s double pivot.

In the aforementioned 4-2-3-1 that it looks like Marsch is drawn to, Adams and Roca have logged most of the minutes in that defensive midfield pairing. Adams, in particular, has brought exactly what Marsch expects of him. He’s covering ground, he’s winning the ball via hard challenges, and he’s making quick forward passes to help launch attacks. Oh, and he’s making sure to ingratiate himself with English soccer culture. Who says Americans don’t have good cultural literacy?

Like with Aaronson, Adams has unsurprisingly taken to Marsch’s style at Leeds United and all signs point to a long-term starting job for the former Leipzig player. 

Chris Richards, Crystal Palace

Last seen: Hoffenheim (on loan from Bayern Munich)

Miles Robinson’s Achilles injury has left a huge hole next to Walker Zimmerman in the USMNT’s backline. In the next few months before the World Cup, club form could prove pivotal in the race to win both Gregg Berhalter’s favor and a starting center back spot for the United States. Chris Richards, making his move to Crystal Palace, hopes to win that race.

It won’t be easy for Richards, though, as he’s coming into a team with real competition at the center back position. Under Patrick Vieira, the South London club has experienced something of an offensive renaissance. At the core of his attack-minded team is his center back pairing of Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen, two players who established themselves as key performers for Palace last year.

Richards is coming into the club as a depth option at center back in a back four or as a potential starter in a back three if Viera decides to tinker with his team’s shape. As the games go by, Richards will have the chance to prove himself and try to worm his way into Vieira’s starting lineup.

The 22-year-old American’s best shot at usurping Vieira’s current center back duo could be taking the right center back spot from Andersen. The Dane is fantastic at stretching the field in possession and sending balls over the top with his passing, but he can be sluggish and error-prone defensively. 

Richards has his own impressive long passing numbers and is a more athletic option at center back, which could give him an edge.

Jordan Pefok, Union Berlin

Last seen: Young Boys

Jordan Pefok was Jekyll and Hyde for club and country last season. He experienced a wealth of success in the Swiss Super League, earning the competition’s golden boot. With the USMNT, though, he received minimal playing time in World Cup qualifying and didn’t capitalize on his opportunities across three appearances.

In making his move to Union Berlin, Pefok will try to prove himself at a higher level and prove to Berhalter that he has cast his Azteca-related demons to the shadow realm.

Pefok has big shoes to fill in Union Berlin’s starting 11. Taiwo Awoniyi scored 15 goals and was the talisman for Berlin last year. He was a lethal force in Urs Fischer’s counter-attacking 5-3-2, using his quickness to find space between and behind opposing center backs. Awoniyi’s efforts earned him a move to the Premier League at newly promoted Nottingham Forest and Pefok was brought to be his replacement up top. So far this year, Pefok has assumed Awoniyi’s role in the 5-3-2 and he didn’t wait long to snag his first goal for Union Berlin in an official competition. The 26-year-old striker scored an acrobatic goal for his new team in the DFB Pokal on Monday.

But, there are questions about Pefok’s long term fit up top for Union Berlin.

Most of his goals in Switzerland last year came from sustained possession and crosses into the box. In Berlin, Pefok will be tasked with a lot of defending and will get most of his chances on the counter, which doesn’t totally suit his playing style. To succeed, Pefok will have to adapt.

Luca De La Torre, Celta Vigo

Last seen: Heracles Almelo

It didn’t surprise anyone that Luca de la Torre made a big move following Heracles Almelo’s drop to the second tier of Dutch soccer. 

Now at Celta Vigo in La Liga, De la Torre will have a chance to prove himself at a higher level and in a system that better suits his playing style. Under manager Eduardo Coudet, Celta Vigo press relentlessly and like to retain the ball. For De la Torre, who is a dynamic presser and loves to break lines with his dribbling, Celta Vigo is a match made in soccer heaven. 

Let’s not forget, though, when taking a step up on the global soccer ladder, minutes are never guaranteed. 

Along with signing De la Torre, the Spanish club brought in attacking midfielder Oscar Rodriguez on loan and retained Franco Cervi, who started as a left-sided attacking midfielder last season. Luckily for the American, there are three attacking midfield positions he could play in Coudet’s 4-1-3-2 and some of the players who occupied those spots last season were offloaded this summer. Brais Mendez and Nolito left this offseason, while Denis Suarez has been shopped throughout this window. 

The San Diego native isn’t walking into a starting role in Spain, but he’ll get ample opportunities to secure one. Look out for a breakout year for Luca.

Malik Tillman, Rangers (loan)

Last seen: Bayern Munich

After playing sparingly for Bayern Munich last season, Malik Tillman made a needed loan move to Rangers this summer. Tillman, who recently turned 20, only made four appearances for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga last year, so he’s looking for consistent minutes in Scotland.

If the American’s first competitive appearance is any evidence, Rangers’ manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst will grant Tillman his wish. On Saturday, he came off the bench in Rangers’ first domestic game of the season and his manager had some complimentary words after the game about his cameo.

In the match, Tillman played as an attacking midfielder in last season’s “Joe Aribo role”. Van Bronckhorst sees Tillman as a potential replacement for Aribo, who left Rangers for Southampton for $12 million this summer. Aribo primarily played as a No. 10 in a 4-2-3-1 or as one of two attacking midfielders in a 4-3-3 for Van Bronckhorst last season. The Nigerian international is excellent in tight spaces and was an active participant in possession. Aribo also pressed for Rangers and found moments to fire off shots on goal.

Overall, Tillman and Aribo have similar profiles. The 20-year-old is a good dribbler, he has a decent work rate, and his athletic ability fits the bill. As far as how well Tillman will do on loan this year, well, I’m throwing my hands up on that one.

He has such a small sample size against first-tier opponents and although he looks like a promising prospect, there are lots of real questions about how that promise will translate to a competitive atmosphere. For Tillman’s sake, hopefully he’ll get minutes (and patience) during this loan spell.