The Bundesliga was the talk of the soccer world on Wednesday, after Germany’s top flight got the green light to become the highest-profile competition to restart after shutting down in March because of the global coronavirus pandemic.
It’s welcome news for those who love the planet’s most popular pastime, fans who will soon have elite live soccer action to watch again after more than two months without it. Wednesday’s development was also celebrated by other leagues, whose executives no doubt see this high-profile reopening as one small step closer to the day when they can follow suit.
Outside of Berlin or Munich, though, it’s possible that nobody is happier about the Bundesliga’s return than supporters of the U.S. men’s national team. No fewer than nine Americans play in Germany’s highest league, which is generally considered the third-strongest in the game after the Premier League in England and La Liga in Spain. That’s more than in any league besides the U.S. and Canadian-based MLS.
There’s Tyler Adams at RB Leipzig. Wolfsburg’s John Brooks. Brooks’ fellow 2014 World Cup veterans Timothy Chandler of Eintracht Frankfurt and Fabian Johnson of Borussia Monchengladbach. Rounding out the list are Weston McKennie (Schalke), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Fortuna Dusseldorf teammates Alfredo Morales and Zack Steffen and 17-year-old Giovanni Reyna, who has appeared in each of Borussia Dortmund matches so far in 2020 after making his debut in January.
Another six Yanks, including USMNT vets Julian Green and Bobby Wood, compete in Germany’s second tier, which will also resume its season as soon as next week. (Canada’s top player, 19-year-old former Vancouver Whitecaps winger Alphonso Davies, starts for Bundesliga leader and seven-time defending champion Bayern Munich.)
Many of those men would’ve been on U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter’s roster for a pair of late-March friendlies that were cancelled because of COVID-19. Reyna, the son of longtime U.S. captain Claudio Reyna, was expected to make his debut with the senior squad. Still, returning to the field before many of their international foes do could give them all a significant advantage in fitness and sharpness whenever international play returns.
Even without fans in the stadiums, a lot more eyeballs than usual will be on those Americans in the absence of other live sports. Not only will the Bundesliga instantly become the most-watched soccer league on the planet, it will have a rare opportunity to bolster its visibility in the U.S., where it lags well behind the Premier League, Barcelona- and Real Madrid-driven La Liga and even Mexico’s Liga MX, which draws the highest television ratings of all, in popularity.
The Americans players will get the chance to impress — and in some cases, introduce themselves to — a far wider audience back home than they normally would. Fox’s over-the-air network was already showing some marquee Bundesliga games even before the health crisis hit. That exposure only figures to increase as programmers scramble to fill airtime with original content. (Ironically, the Bundesliga wont be on terrestrial TV much if at all from next season, when the U.S. rights transfer to steaming service ESPN+.)
You can be sure that Berhalter will be watching closely, too. The former Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich defender spent seven years in Germany during his playing days, and he’s traveled there frequently since being named U.S. boss in 2018. During a conversation with Yahoo Sports last month, shortly after Bundesliga teams returned to training in small groups in preparation for the restart, he said he wasn’t surprised that the country was closer to a return to sports than many other nations.
“Germany has a very organized healthcare system, and they've been able to test a lot of people,” said Berhalter, who has stayed in close contact with his players and their clubs.
“I know the teams have been tested as well,” he added. “I think that if they feel the situation is stable there, and safe, and they can restart, then that's what we're all looking for.”
His countrymen especially.
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