American Players Who Have Signed for Elite European Clubs

Sergino Dest
Sergino Dest is now a Barcelona player | TF-Images/Getty Images

Barcelona have paid €21m, potentially rising to €26m, to sign Ajax full-back Sergino Dest and in the process have made the 19-year-old the first American player ever to join the club.

American players have become increasingly common throughout European leagues over the last 30 years as Major League Soccer grows and clubs extend their scouring operations to the other side of the Atlantic.

With Dest the latest addition, here’s a closer look at him and several other American players who have signed for elite European clubs.

Brad Friedel (Liverpool)

Liverpool goalkeeper Brad Friedel
Liverpool were Brad Friedel's first English club | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Brad Friedel saw two attempts to move to England scuppered in the 1990s when he was denied a work permit to join Nottingham Forest and later Newcastle.

Having also tried to join Sunderland, Friedel’s move to Liverpool in 1997 was his fourth try at playing in England – and even that was only secured after a work permit appeal.

The goalkeeper ultimately played only 31 times for Liverpool, but went on to establish himself as a Premier League mainstay with Blackburn, Aston Villa and Tottenham.

Only six goalkeepers have kept more clean sheets in Premier League history than Friedel (132).

Jonathan Spector (Man Utd)

Jonathen Spector
Jonathan Spector was spotted by Man Utd at 17 | Phil Cole/Getty Images

European heritage allowed Jonathan Spector to join Manchester United without a work permit at the age of just 17 in the summer of 2003, having been scouted at a youth tournament.

A versatile defender hailing from suburban Chicago, Spector went on to play eight times for the United first-team in his second year in England. But he failed to make a permanent breakthrough.

He spent several years each at both West Ham and Birmingham thereafter in the Premier League and Championship respectively, as well as playing for Orlando City back stateside.

Matt Miazga (Chelsea)

Chelsea v Manchester City - The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round
Matt Miazga joined Chelsea from New York Red Bulls | Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Chelsea saw fit to offer emerging New York Red Bulls centre-back Matt Miazga a long-term contract when they signed him in January 2016 off the back of a breakout MLS season.

Although a full United States international, Miazga has only played twice for Chelsea and not at all since 2016. Instead his career has become a series of loans to various clubs.

The American defender initially joined Chelsea’s partner club Vitesse Arnhem for two seasons, before a spell in France with Nantes and then 18 months back in England at Reading.

Chris Richards (Bayern Munich)

Chris Richards is the latest emerging star at Bayern Munich | SVEN HOPPE/Getty Images

Bayern Munich’s North American operations drew them to FC Dallas prospect Chris Richards in 2018, offering the young defender a trial and then one-year loan in Bavaria.

That deal was made permanent for $1.5m in January 2019 and Richards began 2019/20 as a member of the Bayern Munich II squad. By the end of the season, he had debuted in the Bundesliga.

Still only 20, the tall Alabama-born player has played twice more for the Bayern first-team in the early stages of this season and has at least been named on the bench for every game.

Zack Steffen (Man City)

Zack Steffen
Zack Steffen is Man City's number two goalkeeper | Pool/Getty Images

Zack Steffen joined Manchester City for $7m in the summer of 2019, midway through the MLS season and off the back of being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2018.

He was the first American to sign since Sheikh Mansour’s investment took the club to new heights, although he initially had to wait for his chance and was loaned to Fortuna Dusseldorf.

This season, following Claudio Bravo’s departure, Steffen has been installed as the new understudy to first choice Ederson and has already played in City’s Carabao Cup ties.

Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)

Giovanni Reyna
Giovanni Reyna made his Dortmund debut at 17 | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Giovanni Reyna was actually born in Sunderland when his father, Claudio, was a player there, but the family returned to the United States a few years later and he grew up in New York.

It was with New York City that Reyna Jr., started his soccer career. But soon after joining Borussia Dortmund he made his Bundesliga debut at the age of just 17 years and 66 days.

The teenage talent, who won’t turn 18 until November, has remained part of Dortmund’s first-team squad and already has more than 20 senior appearances under his belt.

Weston McKennie (Juventus)

Weston McKennie
Weston McKennie is the first American to play for Juventus | Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

The versatile Weston McKennie became the first American player to join Juventus when he completed a loan switch to Turin from German club Schalke.

McKennie had been at Schalke for three years after starting out at FC Dallas and is already a well established USMNT player after making his senior international debut in 2017.

The 22-year-old started both of Juve’s first two Serie A games of the new season, replacing departed veteran World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi in the number 14 shirt.

Sergino Dest (Barcelona)

Sergino Dest is the first United States international to sign with Barcelona and only the fifth American to set foot in La Liga following his move from Ajax.

Dest joined the famed Ajax academy ranks at the age of 11 and it was there that he completed a switch from being a forward into a full-back, although he retains attacking qualities.

The teenager, who has represented the U.S. at junior international level since 2016, made the senior breakthrough at Ajax in 2019/20, playing 35 games across all competitions.

Tim Howard (Man Utd)

Tim Howard
Tim Howard was initially a success at Man Utd | Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

Tim Howard was one of several attempts by Manchester United to replace legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel. Initially, it looked as though the American stopper was the answer.

Plucked from MLS, Howard enjoyed a fine first season at Old Trafford and was even named in the 2003/04 PFA Premier League Team of the Year thanks to his performances.

Things went downhill thereafter and he never recovered at United after a poor start to 2004/05. But he recaptured his old form after joining Everton where he spent 10 years.

Landon Donovan (Bayern Munich)

Abu Dhabi al-Jazira player Ibrahim Duake
Landon Donovan played for Bayern Munich in 2009 | MARWAN NAAMANI/Getty Images

Landon Donovan is arguably the greatest American soccer player of all time, a legend of the national team and LA Galaxy, having started his professional career in Europe with Bayer Leverkusen.

Donovan’s first impact in MLS was with San Jose Earthquakes while actually on loan from Leverkusen for three years, followed by a permanent move to LA Galaxy.

Bayern Munich opted to sign the forward in early 2009 during the MLS off-season and he played six Bundesliga games. Everton later did a similar deal in both 2010 and 2012.

Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund & Chelsea)

Christian Pulisic
Chelsea spent £58m on Christian Pulisic in 2019 | Pool/Getty Images

If there is a player likely surpass Donovan in the list of all-time American greats it is Christian Pulisic, who has now played for two elite European clubs in Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea.

Pulisic joined Dortmund at 16, moving from his native Pennsylvania, but just a year later was getting first-team games. By 2019, Chelsea decided to pay £58m to take him to Stamford Bridge.

Despite injuries, his first season in the Premier League offered promise, with Gary Neville recently telling 90min that he expects Pulisic to become the league’s next world star.

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