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UEFA Champions League

Pulisic, Reyna, McKennie & more: USMNT stars rolling through Champions League in unprecedented numbers

21:00 BST 19/10/2020
McKennie Pulisic Reyna
Americans are represented in force in Europe starting from Tuesday, with the majority of them playing for clubs with legitimate trophy aspirations

For years, it was near impossible to watch a game featuring American soccer's finest playing in the Champions League.

On Tuesday, it will be near impossible to find a game without one.

Of the eight games that will kickstart the competition's group stage, five could feature an American while a sixth, Weston McKennie, would be starting if not for the coronavirus. They range in age from 17 to 25, representing both American soccer's present and, hopefully, its future.

Barcelona. Juventus. Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund. These are some of the world's biggest clubs, true blue bloods, and each features an American as a key contributor.

It is unprecedented and, in some ways, unexpected. It was not supposed to happen this fast.

American soccer's next generation is taking the game a step further than their predecessors. Sure, players such as Tim Howard, Jermaine Jones, DaMarcus Beasley, Sacha Kljestan and Fabian Johnson have played at this level but, for the first time ever, there are Americans at clubs with legitimate hopes of winning Europe's premier club competition.

At just 22, Christian Pulisic has already made more appearances than any other American in the competition's history. His career is just beginning, and, now rocking the No.10 at Chelsea, it seems that better days are ahead for the winger, who should be a key figure in the Blues' new-look attack this season after recently making his return from injury.

The Chelsea star, who could well lead the way in the Blues' clash with last season's Europa League winners Sevilla, set the tone during his time at Borussia Dortmund. He opened a door, and that door has been smashed down.

Weston McKennie's Juventus will begin their first Champions League campaign against Dynamo Kiev, and he will soon have to cope with the pressure that comes with playing for a Cristiano Ronaldo-led team in Europe.

Success at Schalke is vastly different than success with the Bianconeri, where anything less than a trophy lift in May will be deemed a colossal failure.

Like McKennie, Sergino Dest will also need to adjust to serving as part of a superstar's support cast when Barcelona face off with a minnow in Hungarian side Ferencvaros.

After breaking through in this competition with Ajax, Dest is now charged with playing a part in what may just be Lionel Messi's last dance with the Blaugrana after a tumultuous summer.

Gio Reyna is Pulisic's direct descendent, a budding star at Borussia Dortmund alongside Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham. The 17-year-old, who shone against eventual runners-up Paris Saint-Germain in last season's Champions League, is off to an incredible start this season with a goal and three assists in four Bundesliga games ahead of Tuesday's visit to Lazio.

Tyler Adams, unfairly overshadowed by some of his international team-mates, has scored a bigger goal than any of them, having fired RB Leipzig into the Champions League semi-finals last season.

This season's journey, without Timo Werner, begins against Istanbul Basaksehir in their first game in a group of death headlined by PSG and Manchester United.

And then there is Ethan Horvath, a player still hoping to make his mark with the USMNT.

The 25-year-old goalkeeper is set to fill in for former Liverpool No.1 and current Club Brugge star Simon Mignolet after he was diagnosed with coronavirus when the Belgian champions face Zenit.

Five Americans could very well take to the field on Tuesday, and there are more that could still find their way into games this season.

Barcelona teenager Konrad de la Fuente, Bayern Munich's Chris Richards, Ajax youngster Alex Mendez and Manchester City's back-up goalkeeper Zack Steffen could earn some minutes at some point before this is all said and done.

And this rise could not come at a better time.

For Gregg Berhalter's USMNT, World Cup qualifying is right around the corner, and with it comes a chance to distance this current group from the failures of their predecessors.

Having been out of action since February, the USMNT could reportedly reconvene in November for friendlies featuring an entirely European-based squad in response to the coronavirus crisis.

Berhalter, like any follower of the USMNT, will be thrilled what he is seeing.

An unprecedented number of his players are playing at the game's top level, and Berhalter, like many others, will surely be scrambling to set up as many screens as possible while keeping tabs on what is certainly a full slate of Champions League games.

So sit back, fans of American soccer, toss on the TV, grab a beer or two and enjoy. It should be quite a day.