The USMNT look to be on the cusp of a golden generation in good time for the United 2026 World Cup. From Christian Pulisic to Gio Reyna and beyond, American soccer owes a debt of gratitude to the Bundesliga…
That's right, the USMNT's prospects have rarely looked as rosy as they do right now, and that is down to the growing wealth of talent emigrating to and emerging from Germany.
Christian Pulisic can be regarded as a trend-setter in that regard, and his generation look on course to benefit from the Pennsylvania native's courageous yet calculated leap across the Atlantic at the age of 16. When he considered how to make it big in the world of football, Borussia Dortmund were the one club able to paint the pathway for him – and it had Bundesliga in big letters.
Watch: Pulisic, Made in the Bundesliga
Sure, it took guts to leave the family home and friends behind and land up in an academy where the majority spoke a different language, but Pulisic knew it was the only way to bring his full talent to fruition – and it was something that could not wait. "From a developmental perspective, it’s almost like this sweet spot, where a player’s growth and skill sort of intersect, in just the right way – where a player can make their biggest leap in development by far," he told The Players' Tribune in 2017. "For a soccer player, those years are everything."
Thrust into his Bundesliga debut at the age of 17, Pulisic soon realised he had made the right choice. In the age of online news and social media, it did not take long for that message to reach back home. It arrived even quicker, and much more personally, to Pulisic's close friend Weston McKennie. "I've known him since I was like 13 or 14 years old. So we've kind of grown up in the system together," said the Schalke midfielder in The Athletic. Quicker than his cell phone could vibrate, he was swapping Dallas for Schalke.
"I made the right decision and I don't regret it at all," McKennie said. "It wasn't easy for me to let go of FC Dallas. But you've got to think, will I look back in 10 years and wish I could've gone over to Europe? I feel like if you can make it there, you can come back over here and play at a high level. But if as a kid you go into MLS and then try to come over to Europe, you might not be ready."
Watch: Weston McKennie's roots
The allure was there for all to see: strong, well-managed clubs with established structures enabling players as young as 15 to see a clearly defined, feasible route to first-team football. Thanks to Pulisic and McKennie, the gates were flung wide open and a growing flow east over the Atlantic is set to flood back in the form of the strongest ever national team the USA has ever known.
The USMNT never had it so good.
Timing is important too and with the FIFA 2026 World Cup now under six years away, an exodus which may account for 10 of the 11 potential starters on home soil in 2026 could hardly have been timed any better.
By the time the 2026 World Cup rolls around, Pulisic will be 27, at the top of his game. No great leap of imagination is required to predict that he will be the USA's star man, given that he has already established himself as the most talented player of his generation before the age of 20. McKennie is not far behind, and their footsteps have enticed many to follow, such as Werder Bremen's Josh Sargent.
Like McKennie, he scored on his senior USA debut having polished his game first in Bremen's U23s, before marking his Bundesliga debut in the best possible fashion: scoring with his first touch. With such illustrious examples, what initially took courage and appeared to be a leap into the unknown is now a no-brainer. Thanks to the Bundesliga, more and more US-born soccer players who perhaps had the talent, but lacked the guidance and management they needed, are realising their potential.
Just last season, Gio Reyna brought forth the latest evidence – if any more were needed – of how hard work in a German club academy pays off. After dazzling in the club's U19 side in the first half of the season he was promoted to the BVB first team on a permanent basis during the winter break, scoring his first senior goal in the DFB Cup and marking his UEFA Champions League debut with an assist against Paris Saint-Germain.
The Champions League is the undisputed zenith of continental club football and any experience in that competition is worth its weight in gold. Tyler Adams knows a thing or two about that too, as he and RB Leipzig scaled the dizzy heights among the final eight clubs in the competition in 2019/20. With that already in the bank, at just 21, the midfielder has plenty to build on and refine for both club and country.
Watch: Gio Reyna living the dream
The backbone to the USMNT team of the near future is therefore already looking strong, thanks to its Bundesliga influence, but it does not end there. Right at the back, goalkeeper Zack Steffen won plenty of admirers for his performances in the Fortuna Düsseldorf goal, and last season perhaps may not have ended in relegation for Die Flingeraner had the on-loan Manchester City custodian not spent much of the campaign sidelined by injury.
John Brooks may be 33 when the 2026 World Cup comes around, but with almost two decades of Bundesliga experience to draw on, the only tooth he will be long in will be that of wisdom. That is something he can pass on to Chris Richards, who is on the verge of making the breakthrough at Bayern Munich after convincing Hansi Flick first to give him his Bundesliga debut, and then to include him in their squad for the final eight of the 2019/10 Champions League.
Further branches are also flourishing off that Bundesliga backbone, with Wolfsburg's Ulysses Llanez showing he had read his peers' script by scoring on his USMNT senior debut. He may not yet have made his first-team debut for the Wolves, but he is following the right steps by making a name for himself in their U19s and being part of the first-team squad towards the end of last season. It should not be long before Wolfsburg and Bundesliga fans get to see his dizzying dribbling skills, and provide plenty of goalscoring ammunition for club and country.
With rookie goalkeeper Brady Scott coming through the ranks at Cologne, Malik Tillman also making it onto Bayern's Champions League squad and Chris Gloster earning early stripes at Hannover, the list continues of players – perhaps inspired by Pulisic's fairy tale – choosing the Bundesliga for their formation, and the USMNT only stands to benefit from this golden, Germany-grown generation.