John Brooks enters the new Bundesliga season after a strong performance at this summer’s Copa America Centenario, where he sat at the heart of the USA back line en route to a fourth-place finish. Having extended his contract with his home-town club Die Blau-Weißen through 2019, Brooks will be expected to assume a greater leadership role as an anchor on the Hertha backline for second-year coach Pál Dárdai.
The 23-year-old center back helped keep 10 cleans sheets in 20 starts in the league last year, earning a UEFA Europa League Qualifying place as well as a semifinal appearance in the DFB Pokal. Though Hertha sputtered in their Europa League Qualifying tie with Brondby earlier this month, the side started off its local campaign with a shootout win against Jan Regensberg in the opening round of the DFB Pokal this past weekend.
Brooks and Hertha turn their sights to a visit from SC Freiburg on Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET – FS1), with an eye towards improving upon their seventh-place finish last season.
Fabian Johnson – Borussia Moenchengladbach
Fabian Johnson played a huge role in Borussia Moenchengladbach’s third-place finish in the Bundesliga last year. For the club, one might be forgiven for being surprised at the outcome having watched the start of their season.
After helping the Foals reach Champions League football during the previous season, ‘Gladbach began the 2015-16 campaign with five straight defeats, leading to manager Lucien Favre’s ouster. Replaced by Andre Schubert, Moenchengladbach went on to win its next six league matches and pushed all the way up to a third-place finish in the Bundesliga. Johnson played his part in the turnaround, appearing in 26 matches and providing six goals and four assists, usually playing in a left midfield role.
‘Gladbach has focused its efforts on shoring up its central midfield and back line which conceded 50 goals in 34 matches last season with the reacquisition of German international Christoph Kramer and signing of Danish international Jannik Vestergaard, which should allow Johnson and the club’s other attacking players to focus more on going forward.
Moenchengladbach is back in the UEFA Champions League after seeing off BSC Young Boys 6-1 in the second leg of their qualifying tie this past week (9-2 on aggregate), and opens up the Bundesliga season Saturday by welcoming Bayer Leverkusen to Borussia Park (12:30 p.m. ET – FOX).
Bobby Wood – Hamburg
Bobby Wood’s stock has been on the rise ever since scoring back-to-back game winners for the MNT on the road against then sixth-ranked Netherlands and defending World Cup champion Germany in June 2015. An offseason move to Second Bundesliga side Union Berlin last summer witnessed the emergence of Wood as a goalscoring force when he bagged 17 goals in 31 appearances, good enough to finish third on the league scoring chart while setting a record for a U.S. international in Germany.
After a single season with Union Berlin, Wood moved up to the Bundesliga when he inked a four-year deal with Hamburg, which is the only club in Germany to be a part of the top division since its inception in 1963. After being granted a late arrival into preseason following Copa America Centenario, Wood has worked towards full match fitness by starting each of the club’s last four matches, including the full 90 minutes in the club’s 1-0 win against Zwickau in Monday’s DFB Pokal opener.
Wood and Hamburg get things underway when they welcome Alfredo Morales and FC Ingolstadt Saturday (9:30 a.m. ET – Fox Soccer Plus).
Christian Pulisic – Borussia Dortmund
Perhaps no player has American soccer fans more excited than Borussia Dortmund youngster Christian Pulisic. As a 17-year-old, the midfielder became the youngest foreigner to score a goal in the Bundesliga, and later on the youngest to score two goals in the famed German league.
His run with Dortmund was enough to earn his MNT debut in a 4-0 World Cup Qualifying win against Guatemala in March, as well as a place on the USA’s Copa America Centenario roster. Prior to helping the United States to a fourth-place finish, the Hershey, Penn., native became the youngest player in MNT history to score a goal, tallying late in a 4-0 friendly win against Bolivia.
With international seasoning under his belt, Pulisic has continued to play a role for Dortmund in preseason, tallying in a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw against Manchester City and a goal this week in the club’s final warm-up match, a 3-0 victory against Hallescher.
Set to turn 18 next month, Pulisic will have to fight for time on the field on the star-studded team of head coach Thomas Tuchel’s side as Dortmund looks to challenge Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga crown this season. He and Die Borussen get things underway Saturday by welcoming Mainz to the Westfalenstadion (9:30 a.m. ET – FS2).
Julian Green – Bayern Munich
After some time away from the MNT, Julian Green returned for a pre-Copa America friendly at Puerto Rico last May. That small taste of the National Team seems to have sparked the young Bayern Munich attacker, who performed well throughout the preseason under new manager Carlo Ancelotti, most notably scoring a hat trick in a friendly against Inter Milan earlier this month.
The Italian manager has spoken highly of the pacey American thus far, promoting him to the first-team roster. That lift will raise hopes that the 21-year-old will make his league debut and continue to learn from some of the most prized attacking players in the world.
Having played 24 minutes in the club’s 5-0 DFB Pokal win against Carl Zeiss Jena last Friday, Bayern Munich begin the quest for their fifth-straight Bundesliga title as they host Aron Johannsson and Werder Bremen at Allianz Arena on Friday (2:30 p.m. ET – FS1).
Alfredo Morales – Ingolstadt
Alfredo Morales begins his fourth season with Ingolstadt and second in the Bundesliga with a visit to take on Bobby Wood and Hamburg on Saturday (9:30 a.m. ET – Fox Soccer Plus).
A regular in Die Schanzer lineup, the right winger appeared in 24 matches, tallying a goal and assist for the club as it avoided relegation in its first Bundesliga season. With the club finding itself under the new guidance of Markus Kauczinski, Morales will have to prove himself once again, but seems set to receive a similar amount of playing time after playing an active role during the side’s preseason campaign.
Aron Johannsson – Werder Bremen
Following a big move from AZ Alkmaar to the Bundesliga’s Werder Bremen last season, things were looking up for Aron Johannsson. After playing six matches for his club, Johannsson suffered a hip injury in September and had an operation to repair it the following month with hopes of returning in the second half of the Bundesliga season.
Setbacks in rehab didn’t allow for it, and nerve irritation in June seemed to put in doubt his ability to train in preseason. Though not there from the start, Johannsson has made two preseason appearances for Bremen this month and will have hopes of a full first team return soon.
Also of note in Germany is forward Terrence Boyd, who after an even longer injury layoff than Johannsson seems close to coming back with newly-promoted RB Leipzig. In the Second Bundesliga, Fafa Picault has already started to build off his MNT debut back in May, appearing both of FC St. Pauli’s matches to start the young season.