Following the fortunes of U.S. players in Europe’s best leagues doesn’t take much time these days. Except for the goalkeepers, many of the Americans are spending most of their time on the bench.
Jozy Altidore, the top U.S. forward, hasn’t started any of Sunderland’s seven Premier League games and has appeared in four as a second-half sub. His only starts have been in a pair of League Cup matches, including a Sept. 23 appearance against Stoke in which he scored his first club goal since December.
“If you’re not getting enough playing time, then it’s really difficult to stay sharp, to stay confident and to keep a rhythm,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “Right now, it doesn’t seem that it fits so well there. He’s struggled there, and he’s not the only one. You look at other players coming back from the World Cup, they struggle to get their starting spot right away back.”
Klinsmann sparked a flap with Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber this week when he repeated his view that Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley damaged their careers by leaving European clubs to return to MLS. But Klinsmann also says Americans don’t help themselves if they sign with European clubs and don’t see much action.
Altidore set the record for goals by an American in a European club season with 31 in 2012-13 for the Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, then joined Sunderland. He scored just twice in 39 appearances last season and had only 19 shots in 31 league games.
If he can’t get more playing time, he might look for a move during the January transfer window. But he doesn’t want that to be interpreted by Sunderland as a threat.
“The next four years of the national team is going to be unprecedented: two Gold Cups, Copa America, the Olympics,” Altidore said last week. “I want to be part everything. And to be a part of everything, I have to be playing.”
Eleven of the 23 players on the U.S. World Cup roster are with European clubs this season, and just four have been regular selections.
Tim Howard (Everton) and Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) are their club’s top goalkeepers in the Premier League. Midfielder Mix Diskerud worked his way back into the starting lineup of Norway’s Rosenborg by late summer, and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya has started seven of Nantes’ first nine Ligue 1 games.
Two defenders have seen some playing time in Germany. Fabian Johnson, who missed the U.S. exhibitions in the past week because of an Achilles tendon injury, has made four starts and two substitute appearances in the first seven Bundesliga games of his new club, Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Defender Timothy Chandler, in his first season with Eintracht Frankfurt, has made three league starts and two substitute appearances.
After that, there’s a huge drop-off.
“For MLS players it’s a bit easier to go back in their environment, because they are kind of stars in their teams. They are not really in doubt there,” Klinsmann said. “In Europe it’s a different ballgame.”
Injuries have contributed to decreased playing time.
Forward Aron Johannsson scored 26 goals for AZ Alkmaar last season but hasn’t played this season due to ankle surgery in July and a groin injury last month.
Defender and midfielder Geoff Cameron, who appeared in all but one of Stoke’s Premier League games last year, has made just one appearance for the Potters this season, leaving a League Cup match on Aug. 27 in the 37th minute. He hasn’t played following hernia surgery.
Julian Green, the 19-year-old who scored in overtime in the second-round World Cup loss to Belgium, was loaned from Bayern Munich to Hamburg and made his Bundesliga debut on Sept. 14, when he played the first half at Hannover. He entered as a 75th-minute sub against Bayern six days later and injured a rib, causing him to miss the games against Ecuador and Honduras.
But some are just plain struggling to break through.
Defender John Brooks, who scored the go-ahead goal in the Americans’ World Cup opener against Ghana, made three starts for Hertha Berlin in late August and September, then was demoted to Hertha’s under-23 team.
“They know how much quality he brings to the table, but in his position they’re loaded with four, five guys. So they give him a little signal,” Klinsmann said. “He also has to learn to deal with those moments, not having the feeling ‘I’m guaranteed here.’ … Not in Europe. So that’s what they teach him right now.”
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