With so many U.S. nationals playing abroad these days, it’s easy to forget that the process of earning respect and those opportunities has been a long road paved through decades. While players are now spread out across of a multitude of countries and leagues, a handful of clubs have shown a particular faith and affinity for the American professionals.
Over the next week, we’ll take a look at clubs where U.S. players have made a particularly strong impact in numbers and performance through the years. On Monday, we looked at English Premier League club Everton FC, and today we’ll move to the German Bundesliga with VfL Wolfsburg.
In a city known best as the home of current U.S. Soccer presenting partner Volkswagen, it’s perhaps fitting that no less than eight USMNT players have worn the green and white of Wolfsburg.
Before he became the first American male to score in multiple FIFA World Cups, current USMNT general manager Brian McBride began his professional career with Die Wölfe in 1994. The budding young striker earned an early career highlight when his 70th minute bicycle kick triggered a 2-1 comeback victory against Bayern Munich II in the quarterfinals of the 1994-95 DFB Pokal, pushing the club to a runner-up finish in the German Cup that season.
McBride was joined at the club that season by defender Mike Lapper. The defender had just come off being part of the USA roster at the 1994 FIFA World Cup and even scored in his Wolfsburg debut, tallying the opening goal in a 3-0 victory against Fortuna Köln on Sept. 25, 1994. [WATCH]
Having bounced around Germany for much of the early 1990s, midfielder Chad Deering found a home at Wolfsburg in 1996, as did future USMNT captain Claudio Reyna the following season.
Though a defensive midfielder, Deering made headlines at the club when he recorded a rare hat trick, scoring three goals in a 5-1 victory against Rot-Weiss Essen on March 23, 1997.
Michael Ballack of Kaiserslautern, Claudio Reyna of Wolfsburg pic.twitter.com/Qg1KA3H52D— The League Magazine (@Theleaguemag) September 22, 2013
Joining the club on loan after a frustrating time at Bayer Leverkusen, Reyna at times partnered in midfield with Deering during the 1997-98 season, and notably scored in both of the club’s league matches against Bayern Munich that campaign.
Most importantly, the time spent at Wolfsburg helped the budding midfielder fully establish himself abroad and even went on become the first American to captain a European club before moving to another side we’ll feature later in the week…
In more recent years, twice-capped forward Kamani Hill earned time with the Wolves from 2006-09, while midfielder/defender Fabian Johnson also made a stop there from 2009-2011.
John Brooks made big waves when he arrived at the Volkswagen Arena in 2017, moving to the club for $22.4 million – then a record for a U.S. player and only surpassed by Christian Pulisic’s 2019 transfer to Chelsea. Anchoring the backline in his third season with the club, Brooks is joined there by young U.S. forward Ulysses Llanez.
JOHN BROOKS 💪🇺🇸— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 22, 2019
He ties the game for Wolfsburg in the 90th minute and picks up his 3rd goal of the season. pic.twitter.com/ghbCmFK2Jk
After a great run in the U-19 Bundesliga earlier this season, Llanez went on to score in his USMNT debut during the 1-0 win vs. Costa Rica on Feb. 1 and was recently promoted to the club’s first team. With the Bundesliga moving towards a return to play in May, Llanez will hope to register his first-team debut before the end of the campaign.