Large format – Bundesliga x MLS, a transatlantic romance

(L. Hahn / The Team)

Large format

The clubs of the German elite are investing in the American market, a talent pool that is still little exploited. One way to attract the talents of tomorrow at a lower cost, while franchises in the New Continent are trying to take advantage of it.

The sweet Miami night is like an ideal theater. Kansas City Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes flies over SuperBowl LIV for a one-way ticket to American sports history. Across the ocean, a few weeks apart, another North American has clear ideas. Fahrenheit 33 at Stamford Bridge, Alphonso Davies smashes Chelsea under the jersey of Grand Bayern. He is only one rising star marginal soccer, other football, and no one snatched the half-time ad for five million dollars. But the Canadian, smile ultra-bright, inaugurates a career that begins like an overflow: at full speed. Arrived from Vancouver at the age of 18, moved to the side and inducted into the wisp of the left aisle, Alphonso Davies confirms the American predispositions in Germany. He continues the line of Bobby Wood or Christian Pulisic as much as he secures the future alongside Giovanni Reyna, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams et Cie. « There are two things that make it auspicious, says Benjamin Ehresmann, former director of recruitment for Red Bull, in New York and Leipzig. The German clubs have a good scouting network here, and they saw this as an opportunity. Then the good examples of the past encourage investment from the North American market. Everyone will come and try to find the new Pulisic, the new Adams, the new Davies … Without these players, maybe things wouldn’t be there today.« 

Legacy and administrative facilities

Beyond mimicry, a close bond emerges between the two countries, a legacy of the recent past of the two nations. « There are players born in Germany, from connections dating back to WWII or, more recently, young MLS who go to the Bundesliga., explains Antoine Latran, manager of the specialized site Soccer Culture. They come from the American academic system. But the Bundesliga is used to going to watch. It does not date from yesterday.  » The Germanic appetite for soccer took a new turn, however.

“Zach Steffen, the titular goalkeeper recruited by Man City, had to be loaned to the Bundesliga. In Germany, immigration is easier …  »

Jurgen Klinsmann, who landed at the head of the US selection in 2011, prompted the European exodus of the best national elements upon his arrival. Germany is turning into a privileged crossing point. « The real momentum was confirmed at that time, argues Clément Simonin, former MLS player among others at the origin of the FFF-MLS partnership. Klinsmann was encouraging internationals to step out of their comfort zone and several factors put Germany ahead of England.“Where the United Kingdom imposes unfortunate specifications to obtain a work permit and play in the Premier League, Germany wants to be more flexible. « Zach Steffen, the titular goalkeeper of the United States recruited by Manchester City, had to be loaned to the Bundesliga for this reason, props Antoine Latran. In Germany, immigration is easier. All you need is a salary and confirmed athlete status. Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, who have European passports, were even able to come when they were 16.And considering the German successes in the face of the British disappointments, the Bundesliga has a clear advantage.

German dream

Because if Elizabeth II and Donald Trump have for granted the fact of sharing the same language, the overall context of the Bundesliga is proving to be conducive to a successful adaptation. « Already, everyone speaks English, continues Benjamin Ehresmann, now at Philadelphia Union. It’s relatively easy to come, integrate and make yourself understood. Socialization, culture and way of life in Germany are factors that help American gamers. It is part of the evolution of the player and it is sometimes even more important than the talent. Some players, for example South Americans, fail to perform in Europe. It’s not that they are average players, just that the culture change is important.The affinities are also reflected in the field. The German game corresponds to North American standards, the mentalities too, the working methods even more. Daniel Stenz, head of scouting in Vancouver during the outbreak of Alphonso Davies, sees it as a paramount parameter. « The athletic level is good and the academies are improving, explains the current technical director of Shandong Luneng, China. It’s always a different way of training players. You compete with bigger sports, the NFL, the NBA, the MLB, the NHL, with everything that makes the DNA of American athletes. The Bundesliga is suitable for the preparation of these players, especially as its structure makes adaptation easy.« 

From LA to Wolfsburg

A brief summary which is illustrated by the rise of several players, starting with that of Alphonso Davies. « The work ethic and mentality is evident in these players, explains Alan Koch, one of his coaches in Canada. They have a good approach to daily training and their own adaptation to a model of play. Alphonso, for example, is a natural athlete, who is not afraid and who is ready to work to improve himself.The latitude available to North American players also seems to favor development. « There are still other factors besides language, immigration or integration, thinks Antoine Latran. The coaches are used to it and the Bundesliga structure has an American mentality, with no bad surprises. Americans like it. Especially since we give them time, as we have seen for Alphonso Davies. Physically and mentally, the Bundesliga is approaching MLS and the players are very receptive to the idea of ​​learning, of being replaced and of integrating new things.« 

“The rain, the cold … Very different from Los Angeles! (laughs)  »

And behind the small handful of promises already exposed in Munich, Dortmund, Schalke or Bremen, others point the tip of their nose with success. « It’s a first step in European football and the Bundesliga is growing, narrates one of them, Ulysses Llanez, one of six Team USA U20s who signed in Germany, a prolific striker who left Los Angeles for Wolfsburg. Everyone made sure that I was adjusting well. It’s hard at first, obviously. The rain, the cold … Very different from Los Angeles! (laughs) But I think everyone’s dream is to play here. The Bundesliga gives us an opportunity to play really very young, even more so than in MLS. And many follow Christian Pulisic’s example.« 

Bayern, Texas Ranger

A model that also resonates with Alex Mendez, a technical midfielder who arrived in Freiburg before a departure last summer at Ajax, in the Netherlands, the other privileged country: « It was the best decision for my development and for making the jump to Europe. It’s a bit cliché, but it was a dream. Friborg has put everything in place to make me feel comfortable when I arrive. The way people greeted me was important. They took me in hand. I’m at Ajax now, everyone speaks English, and it’s really perfect. Germany is doing a very good job around young people and have a plan for our transition to professional football. Seeing that many of our compatriots succeed, that encourages us to do so.“Chris Richards, defender of Bayern, seems to him already promised to the first team. Its characteristic breakthrough also illustrates this new dimension. Defector from Dallas for just over a million euros, the young international is the first recruit resulting from the partnership between the Texan club and the German champion. « Partnerships are always efficient for clubs, says Benjamin Ehresmann. Dallas-Bayern, it’s good for Bayern who can recover talent at low cost; and it is good for Dallas which benefits from the experience of one of the biggest clubs in the world. Red Bull, on the other hand, did it with their own clubs. Having discussions around coaching, playing, philosophy, marketing, transfers … It allows everyone in the United States to progress.« Benefiting from more developed scouting networks – not to say more creative and original – and now established connections, Bundesliga clubs are continuing their shopping. The league has set up offices in New York, Bayern Munich has done the same, symbol of a revolution in progress.

Million dollar Buli

It is now up to local entities to benefit, beyond their skills, from a substantial return on investment. « Historically there have been some great initiatives so there is no reason for it to stop, continues Antoine Lateran, from Soccer Culture. The problem is, you start to collect the money. Become a selling league, as MLS itself puts it. She did it with Alphonso Davies or Miguel Almiron. But Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie or Giovanni Reyna, these players must no longer leave for free. It is the sinews of war.The FIFA solidarity system, where training allowances benefit both young and strong, is only a recent sketch in the United States where, for a long time, the golden destinies were combined with lost earnings.

« Our interest is to keep the players with us longer … »

« The interest for German clubs was also to come here, where the rules are different, especially in terms of training compensation., decrypts Jovan Kirovski, technical director of Los Angeles Galaxy. For us, it is a difficult situation. But the regulation has changed. Now we are trying to sign the players much earlier. Our interest is to keep the players with us longer. And even with that, the league remains attractive and the possible added value. » Step by step, to paraphrase Benjamin Ehresmann, the MLS is trying to adapt its model and tick new boxes. With, in sight, the organization of the World Cup 2026. The generation Adams, Pulisic, McKennie, Reyna, Llanez or Mendez will not then be 27 years old and Jesse Marsch, the most promising of the American coaches, at the head of the exquisite Salzburg team, will be just 52 years old. Team USA has a bright future ahead of it. And the Bundesliga with him.

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