The American soccer Twitterverse can’t stop discussing the record numbers of American men playing in the UEFA Champions League, so we thought it appropriate to go back into the time machine to review the history of Americans in Champions League. This 2020/21 season, there are ten USMNT-eligible players who have made Group Stage rosters, exceeding the previous record of six in the 2004-2005 season.
Several Americans this season have the possibility of playing key roles in knockout stages should their teams progress. Last season, RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams scored the match-winning goal in the quarterfinal phase against Atletico Madrid. Meanwhile, the likes of Sergino Dest, Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and others continue to play key roles in this campaign. The other Americans on this year’s UEFA Champions League Group Stage squad lists are Zack Steffen, Ethan Horvath, Konrad de la Fuente, Chris Richards and Alex Mendez.
Let’s look back at the history of Americans in Champions League, and specifically to the previous high point for Americans in the UEFA Champions League, which was the 2004-05 season, as well as looking at other American contributions throughout the years.
History of Americans in Champions League
The 2004/05 season was the previous high-water mark for Americans in Europe’s premier club competition with six Americans featuring in the competition at various times including DaMarcus Beasley who played in the semifinals for PSV.
In 2005, Beasley became the first American to play in the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League. PSV was eliminated on away goals after a 3-3 semi final draw with AC Milan, but the then-23 year old winger led PSV with 4 goals in the competition, making appearances in all twelve PSV UEFA Champions League matches.
Beasley would play six more times in the Champions League at PSV and twice for Rangers in future seasons.
By the time Donovan returned to his parent club Bayer Leverkusen, he had been the centerpiece of two MLS Cup winning sides with San Jose. However, European and domestic German competition was a bridge too far for Donovan. Infamously, he flopped badly in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 against eventual Champions Liverpool. Donovan’s performance was so abject he returned to MLS soon after, freed from his contract at Leverkusen.
Donovan would never play in another UEFA Champions League match after his performance against Liverpool.
Howard was Manchester United’s starting goalkeeper in the 2003-04 UEFA Champions League and had allowed Porto to advance with an error in misplaying Benni McCarthy’s shot and allowing a tap in for a Porto player. This result was a key moment in making Jose Mourinho, then managing Porto, into a managerial legend.
Howard was in-and-out of the lineup during the 2004-05 campaign, regularly swapping the number one goalkeeper position with Roy Carroll. At the end of the season, Edwin van Der Sar was signed from Fulham and Howard was relegated to backup duty before moving to Everton a year later.
At Everton, Howard would regularly feature in the UEFA Cup/Europa League but never again saw Champions League football.
A teammate of Donovan at Leverkusen, Jones appeared twice in the Group Stage. He was at the time part of the German National Team setup. After three Germany senior appearances, Jones became one of the first players to take advantage of a FIFA rule change and switched his allegiance to the US.
Jones played over thirty times in Europe, including 19 Champions League appearances, mostly for Schalke over a long career. However, he notably missed out on the club’s 2010-11 run to the semifinals as he was on loan at Blackburn that season.
The former Duke Blue Devil standout made multiple starts for Rosenborg in the 2004-05 UEFA Champions League. He bounced around Scandinavia for several years before moving to MLS in 2008 where fellow Duke alumnus Garth Lagerway was running the club’s soccer operations and Duke alumnus Jason Kreis was the head coach.
Russell was never capped for the USMNT but was called into multiple January camps as cover for the right back position.
A youngster signed in 2003 after sterling performances for the US U-20 team at the Milk Cup, Spector was originally supposed to go out on loan to Blackburn for the 04-05 season. Instead he stayed at United as defensive cover, making just eight appearances including two in the UEFA Champions League Group Stage.
Other Americans who played in Champions League:
Made two appearances for Benfica in the 2007-08 Group Stage.
Made a single appearance in the 2015-16 tournament as a Bayern Munich player.
Made four starts for Rangers in the 2010-11 Group Stage.
Started three matches for Hamburg in the 2006-07 UEFA Champions League.
Made six appearances over two different campaigns with Bayer Leverkusen between 1999 and 2001. Did not feature in the 2001-02 tournament when Leverkusen were runners-up, losing in the final to Real Madrid.
Earned a winners medal as part of Borussia Dortmund’s 1996-1997 UEFA Champions League winning side. Played occasionally in the Group Stage but did not feature in the later rounds. In total, Kirovski played five UEFA Champions League matches over two seasons with Dortmund.
Played in three straight UEFA Champions League tournaments from 2012-13 through 2014-15 for Anderlecht.
USMNT winger played 10 times for Borussia Mönchengladbach over two UEFA Champions League campaigns between 2015 and 2017.
The Oft-injured USMNT star midfielder made five appearances for Ajax including both legs of the quarterfinals in the 2002-03 tournament.
Played every minute of the Group Stage for Nordsjælland in the 2012-13 competition.
Made eight UEFA Champions League appearances for Rangers between 1999 and 2001.
Made six appearances with Hertha Berlin during the 1999-2000 campaign.
The Florida-born midfielder made seven UEFA Champions League appearances for Gent in 2015. At the time, Saief was part of Israel’s national team setup but filed a one-time switch to USMNT in 2017. Earned four caps for the US Men’s National Team.
American-raised defender who spent most of his childhood in Utah and Florida. Subotic featured regularly for the US Youth National Teams between 2005 and 2008, but opted to play for Serbia at the senior level, making a one-time switch in 2009. Made a total of 37 UEFA Champions League appearances for Dortmund, currently a record for any US-raised player. He started the 2013 UEFA Champions League Final when Dortmund lost against Bayern Munich.
Made a single appearance for Arsenal in the 2014-15 tournament.
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Have any questions about the history of Americans in Champions League? Let us know in the comments section below.
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