Ahead of the 2020-21 club season in Europe, TDS will be previewing some of the top, youth national-team eligible U.S. players on the books in European clubs. The established first-team players that are regulars for the USMNT, won’t be covered.
Can a surprise talent emerge in Portugal?
There aren’t too many American players competing at clubs in Portugal – although two are rostered on two of the three biggest teams in the first division, which kicks off the weekend of September 20.
Forward Johan Gomez moves up to play for Porto’s B team, after signing for the Under-19 side last August. Formerly a striker for FC Dallas, he earned sporadic minutes in UEFA Youth League action during the 2019-20 season. It’s a big step to move up and make an impact even in a reserve side, but Gomez is still only 19 years of age and can work to improve.
U.S. youth national team goalkeeper C.J. Dos Santos remains on the books at Benfica through 2023, looking to make the breakthrough there. Part of the U.S. Under-17 and Under-20 MNT squads, he’s been at the club since he was 16 years old. Earning the starting role for Benfica’s Under-23 team should be the objective this year after making a handful of appearances last season.
Alabama native Stephen Payne turned 23 earlier this year, and will seek to make a breakthrough at CD Mafra, a second-division club he joined at the end of January. The outside back has sleeper potential for the Olympic qualifying team, although he’ll need to slot in for first-team minutes sooner rather than later.
Konrad the headliner in Spain
No American players sit on a first team roster in Spain heading into the 2020-21 season (which kicks off the weekend of September 12-13).
Konrad de la Fuente begins the season at Barcelona, after signing a new deal earlier this year. He’ll look to kick on at Barcelona’s B team, which competes in the Segunda División B (Spain’s Third Division). Getting minutes there as a 19-year-old is valuable, even if a first team breakthrough never materializes. Per media reports from Spain, he will join the first team for preesason training. While De la Fuente is the highest profile name in Spain, he isn’t the lone American at FC Barcelona these days. Two 2006 players, goalkeeper Diego Kochen and Adrian Simon Gill, will be on the Cadete B team at La Masia in 2020-21.
Left back Leo Sepulveda, who came through the LA Galaxy Academy, is set to continue playing for Salamanca CF in the third division of Spanish soccer. Born in 2001, Sepulveda is a candidate for the Under-20 MNT, looking to become a first-team regular for Salamanca as the start of his professional career continues.
A former standout at De Anza Force, Jack Imperato is back with Villarreal CF, where he is expected to join the Juvenil A (Under 19) side for the upcoming season. The attacking midfielder/wide forward first joined the La Liga Academy back in 2018, as he holds an Italian passport that allowed him to make the move. As Mukwelle Akale has shown, making the leap from an academy to a La Liga first team is no small feat, so it will be interesting to see how the California native progresses when the season begins.
Noah Leeds, who has spent the past couple of years trying to cut his teeth in Europe, moved to a new club: RC Recreativo de Huelva, in the third division of Spanish soccer. Originally from New York, Leeds has played at Gimnastica and AD San Jose prior to joining Huelva earlier in the summer.
Slated to be a part of the Under-17 MNT World Cup cycle next year, Federico Oliva is part of the Atletico Madrid’s Academy. He played last year on the Cadete A squad, and while no official rosters are out for the 2020-21 season, he is now eligible for Juvenil B. Able to line up in all three positions of a front three, he’s shown the ability to score goals at a very good level in Spain. Can he continue to improve and climb the ladder at the club?