Germany has been a hotbed for top American talent down the years, with the likes of Steve Cherundolo, Christian Pulisic and the father and son combination of Claudio and Gio Reyna all starring in the Bundesliga.
bundesliga.com runs through 10 of the best red, white and blue stars to feature in the German top flight...
Nicknamed the 'Mayor of Hanover', 'Dolo' is a Bundesliga legend who left an imprint on German football like few foreign-born players have. His 302 Bundesliga appearances remain a club record for Hannover, where Cherundolo experienced promotion from Bundesliga 2 to the Bundesliga promised land, played in the UEFA Europa League and proudly donned the captain's armband on 96 occasions. The right-back spent his entire professional playing career at Hannover before a chronic knee injury ended his playing days, but not his time in Lower Saxony. He went on to coach the Hannover U15s, U17s, U19s and briefly worked as assistant first-team coach.
"He's practically an emblem of Hannover," recalled former club president Martin Kind of the 87-cap former USA international. When he eventually departed in 2018, Cherundolo himself said of his time at his adopted home: "I've spent half my life at Hannover – my entire career as a pro and also my first steps as a coach. I owe the club a great deal. I'm leaving with countless memories that will stay with me forever... We always worked together at 96 and I really hope it stays that way at the club. There's no question that Hannover will always have a big place in my heart."
Pulisic developed into a world-class talent at Borussia Dortmund, whom he joined as a 16-year-old in February 2015 - a move made possible at the time thanks to obtaining an EU passport through his Croatian grandfather. It didn’t take long for Pulisic’s obvious talent to shine through at youth level in Germany, and by January 2016 Dortmund had the wiry winger primed for a Bundesliga debut. Then 17, he came on as a substitute in a 2-0 win over Ingolstadt, and went on to become the youngest American and youngest Dortmund player to ever play in the UEFA Champions League.
Watch: Christian Pulisic, made in the Bundesliga
DFB Cup glory came at the end of the 2016/17 campaign, with Pulisic also named U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of Year for 2017. The Pennsylvania native eventually made 90 Bundesliga appearances for BVB and 127 in all competitions, scoring 19 times for the club in the process. "I would not be where I am today without the club and their belief in giving young players a chance,” Pulisic wrote in an open letter to fans upon his summer 2019 departure to Chelsea. "It’s been an honour and a dream to pull on the black-and-yellow in front of the Südtribüne.” He added to Ruhr Nachrichten: "It’s the best stadium I’ve ever played in. I’m going to miss that atmosphere… most of all, though, I’ll miss the people in Dortmund. It was the best five years of my life."
Similarly to Pulisic, McKennie established himself as one of the most exciting players on the planet but, although now known as a metronomic midfielder, young Weston may never have played the game had it not been for his father John's job in the US military. That not only took the entire McKennie family to the town of Otterbach near the Ramstein Air Base in 2004, but ultimately shaped a young boy's future. "I started playing American football, the earliest age I remember is when I was four," he later told bundesliga.com. "And then I moved over to Germany and I couldn't find a league or anything that had American football for my age group at that time, so I picked up soccer."
Watch: Weston McKennie's roots
McKennie later returned to Germany in August 2016, penning terms with Schalke. Then 18, the future U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year (2020) was soon rocketed into the first team reckoning in Gelsenkirchen and he was handed a professional debut on the final day of the 2016/17 campaign. The teenager was soon a senior regular with Schalke, going on to feature 91 times in their famous royal blue colours before being snapped up by Italian giants Juventus in 2020 and then having a spell on loan at Leeds United. "Schalke were the ones that gave me an opportunity and believed in me when others didn't," said McKennie. "I owe them a lot."
Just a year younger than his two international teammates directly above him on this list, Adams is one of a group of generational US talents that blossomed in the Bundesliga. For Adams, it was RB Leipzig that gave the versatile midfielder the platform to shine in Europe. He had already shown his ability at sister club New York Red Bulls before moving to Leipzig’s Red Bull Arena in January 2019, which led to a four-year stint at the club. During his time at Leipzig, Adams made more than 100 appearances, captained his country (including at the 2022 FIFA World Cup) and helped Die Roten Bullen lift a first major trophy in their history as they claimed DFB Cup glory in 2022.
That was an impressive final contribution in a Leipzig shirt and, thanks to his time in Germany, Adams is sure he left a far better player, having learned under the likes of Ralf Rangnick and Julian Nagelsmann. "Now, I am able to slot into different positions and always understand my role," Adams told Sky Sports while playing under Nagelsmann. "Whether it is playing out wide with my back to the touchline or playing as a hybrid number six or eight, it has really helped me tactically to understand the game at a different level."
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Position: Attacking midfield
Bundesliga appearances: 80
Nicknamed the “American Dream” by former teammate Erling Haaland, Reyna was destined for greatness from birth as the son of former US internationals Claudio and Danielle Reyna. He was even named after Dutch footballer-turned-coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst. Still only 20 as of summer 2023, he’s certainly showed he can live up to expectations following his 2019 move from New York City FC to Dortmund. "He's an absolute success story, and we want to continue writing it," commented Dortmund's sporting director Michael Zorc in reaction to Reyna's first-team breakthrough.
Watch: All of Reyna's Bundesliga goals and assists
It felt like Reyna was rewriting the record books every time he stepped onto a pitch, following in famous footsteps. He broke Pulisic’s record as the youngest American to appear in the Bundesliga, aged 17 years and 66 days. He became Dortmund’s youngest scorer in the DFB Cup at the time of his strike against Werder Bremen in February 2020. He was the youngest American go get an assist in the UEFA Champions League, when teeing up Haaland against Paris Saint-Germain in the same month. In August of that year, he became the youngest player at the time to reach 50 Bundesliga appearances. And in that October, he got a hat-trick of assists in a Bundesliga win over Freiburg – the youngest American to set up three goals in a game in one of Europe’s top five leagues and the first US player since Cherundolo for Hannover in March 2008. The question now is simply how many more records will Reyna set over his career with BVB?
The Reyna family is steeped in football heritage, with Gio learning from his father Claudio, who himself picked up the game from his father Miguel, a former professional in Argentina who moved to the US in 1968. After being named in the USMNT roster for the home World Cup in 1994 – the first of four World Cups he would go to – Claudio made his professional breakthrough in Germany at Bayer Leverkusen and would make a total of 74 appearances for Die Werkself and Wolfsburg. It was with the Wolves that he truly established himself as a creative player and would even become the first American to captain a European team in a major league.
Nicknamed ‘Captain America’ during subsequent stints at Rangers, Sunderland and Manchester City thanks to his status as captain of the US national team, including skippering the country at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Reyna undoubtedly goes down as one of the finest players ever produced in the States. He boasts 111 caps, appearances at the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, was the first American alongside Landon Donovan (another former Leverkusen and Bayern Munich player) to be named in a World Cup All-Star Team in 2002, and has a place in the National Soccer Hall of Fame
Clubs: Homburg, Kaiserslautern, Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke
Bundesliga appearances: 199
Dooley was one of the first of the generation of German-Americans to emerge in football, as the son of a German mother and US serviceman father serving in the country, but whom he never met. The defensive specialist was born and raised in Germany and would go on to play a part in a number of notable sporting moments. Dooley was a key member of the Homburg side that first gained promotion to the Bundesliga, before joining Kaiserslautern and helping them to 1990 DFB Cup and 1991 Bundesliga titles. After a one-year spell with Leverkusen, he signed for Schalke, who won the 1997 UEFA Cup during his two-year stay in Gelsenkirchen, before departing for Major League Soccer after a total of 199 Bundesliga appearances.
Such was Dooley’s standing, he became a regular for the US almost immediately following his naturalisation – which included learning English – and later debut in 1993, playing every minute at the 1994 World Cup on his adopted home soil and then captaining the country at the 1998 edition in France. He would talk in a 2010 interview with ussoccerplayers.com ahead of his induction into the US Soccer Hall of Fame about how growing up in the Bundesliga had taught him to deal with pressure from fans, media and opponents – more so than his US-based teammates were used to.
Brooks is among the current ranks of Deutschamerikaner plying their trade in the Bundesliga, having been born in Berlin to a German mother and an American serviceman father from Chicago. As a result, he boasts tattoos of maps of both Illinois and Berlin on his elbows. Having reportedly turned down an offer from Bayern, the big centre-back – nicknamed the Wall of Brooks, in reference to the landmark of his hometown – broke through at boyhood club Hertha Berlin following their relegation to the second tier. Despite never playing in the Bundesliga, he was given his first senior cap for the US by Jürgen Klinsmann in summer 2013, having represented both the Stars and Stripes and Germany at youth level.
A record fee for an American (prior to Pulisic’s move to Chelsea) saw the hulking 6’4’’ centre-back leave home for Wolfsburg in 2017, where he’d spend five years before a move to Benfica. However, he was back in Germany by January 2023 with Hoffenheim, when managing director Alexander Rosen highlighted the defender’s – known affectionately as ‘Jay’ – “experience, tackling and heading abilities”. He has made 231 Bundesliga appearances as of the end of 2022/23, which ranks him third for games by Americans after Timothy Chandler (253) and Cherundolo (302).
“He’s really gone from zero to 100,” said Borussia Mönchengladbach sporting director Roland Virkus of Scally’s career. He’s absolutely right. The New York native became the second youngest professional player in US football history, after Freddy Adu, when he signed pro terms with New York City at the age of 15 in 2018. He was competing with players three years his senior in the US U17s, before Gladbach announced in November 2019 he would join them on 1 January 2021, the day after his 18th birthday.
Watch: Joe Scally launches Common Ground in New York City
After half a season settling in with the reserves, he was given a baptism of fire in the opening match of the 2021/22 season with a senior debut against Bayern. The young full-back impressed in a 1-1 draw, with USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter stating: “When we see him going against [Leroy] Sane or Alphonso Davies on the side and he's being tested, he's standing up to these tests.” Berhalter would hand Scally his international debut in June 2022 and take him to the World Cup in Qatar. With over 60 Bundesliga appearances under his belt, he’s already surpassed Eric Wynalda’s total.
Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach
Bundesliga appearances: 78
Keller has had a song written about him, has had a street named after him in his hometown, and even lived in the 1,000-year-old castle Haus Donk during his two-and-a-half years playing at Gladbach. He was the first American goalkeeper to grace the Bundesliga – and still one of only two, alongside Zack Steffen – after his January 2005 arrival at Borussia-Park. He played every minute in the Rückrunde to help keep the Foals up and was then named by his teammates as captain in 2006/07 – following Reyna as the second American to lead a German team.
The Washington state native earned the nickname ‘The Wall’ from Borussia supporters over the course of his 78-game Bundesliga career, during which he also represented the US at the World Cup in Germany – one of four tournaments he went to with the national team, having first gone to Italia ‘90. He retired in 2011 at the Seattle Sounders, having earned 103 caps, a national record 47 clean sheets, three U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year awards, and praise from Brazilian great Romario for “the best performance by a goalkeeper I’ve ever seen” after helping the US to a 1-0 win over the Selecao in 1998.
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