With the end of 2021 only days away, it seems like a good time to reflect on how the Belgian Pro League season has gone so far for Americans, as the teams take a couple of weeks break before returning to action in the new year.
The reigning Belgian champions, Club Brugge, let a Yank leave their midst in the summer on a free transfer as they allowed Ethan Horvath to join Nottingham Forest; however they acquired another one. Owen Otasowie was hailed as a very promising signing for the champs, coming over from Wolverhampton Wanders of the English Premier League.
The team has maintained very good form with just a few blips along the way, the most significant of those being Union St Gilloise, the newly promoted team that has taken the league by storm and currently sits in the top spot. They have a seven-point lead over second place Brugge but there is no panic in the Venice of the North because ultimately a round of play-offs will determine the final league champions.
Otasowie, on the other hand, hasn’t been doing very well at all. As a matter of fact, he has yet to debut for the first team in the 26 games that have been played in all competitions since his arrival. There were only a few rare occasions as well where he actually made the bench. It has gotten so bad that when writing the weekly Belgian recap articles, I’ve become tempted to express his status in the single word “Notasowie”, in that he’s not any factor for the team.
Having spent around $4 million on the New York-born American, the new year will hopefully be a new start for once-capped national team player as the Blauw-Zwart look to three-peat.
One place and three points below Club are Sam Vines and Royal Antwerp. Having not won a Belgian title for 65 years, the Great Old has only improved since returning to the top flight in 2017, and will look to challenge for the title when the play-offs roll around. They finished as runners up last season.
Vines joined the team in the summer from the Colorado Rapids, having spent a couple of seasons playing in his home state. As expected, he has had to bide his time before getting his chance to get into the starting line-up. The left back has however played nine times in the league and also thrice in the Europa League, where they finished last in their group.
The American will become an important player for Antwerp and has already proved that he is not out of his depth in Belgium, although he has had a couple of shaky performances. Look for good things to come from the 22-year-old.
For the next Yank in Belgium, we have to jump all the way down to ninth place where we find the Belgian Cup winners, KRC Genk. Mark McKenzie signed on with the team from Limburg almost a year ago, on January 7th and has been pushing hard for a starting job after helping the team win their first cup in eight years.
Coming from Philadelpia Union, the eight-time capped national team player was with the Nats as they won the CONCACAF Nations League this past summer. The center back has already featured 13 times, with ten of those being in the starting XI. He has also made three Europa League appearances and picked up an assist in the away leg at Dinamo Zagreb.
The Smurfs will have to push very hard if they hope to have any chance of making it into the top four play-off group which, at this time, looks to be a nearly impossible task. The second play-off group that will consist of teams from fifth to eighth place would be a much more realistic goal. The winners of this group will compete for a Europa League spot next season.
Clinging more precariously to their Pro League status and sitting in 13th place in the 18 strong league, is Chris Durkin and his team Sint-Truiden. Coming over from DC United in the summer of 2020 (he also spent the previous season on loan with the Canaries), the defensive midfielder has been in and out of the starting line-up since his arrival.
Having lost their last five games in the league prior to ending 2021 on a high note against Eupen, the Japanese owned team are a somewhat risky five points ahead of 17th place Seraing. Whoever finishes the regular season in 17th will have to go into a play-off with a second division team in hopes of keeping their top flight status.
Durkin has played 18 times this season but has yet to find the back of the net, which is forgivable since he is billed as a defensive midfielder. He will have to up his game, however, if he wants to continue playing against the likes of Anderlecht, Standard Liege and Club Brugge next season.
Just one league below, which the Belgian FA calls First Division B, we find a pair of Americans on the same team at Waasland-Beveren. Relegated at the end of last season, the East Flanders team is the home of two Americans at this time. Joe Efford moved from Greek side Ergotelis on a free transfer in July 2020 when they were playing in the top flight. He was joined by Jacob Montes this past summer, who was signed by Crystal Palace and immediately send out on loan to Belgium for a year.
The Lions are hoping for an immediate return to the Pro League, and as they enjoy their winter break, are on course to do just that. They currently hold down the second spot in the standings, although ten points behind first place Westerlo. The league winners are automatically promoted while the second place team takes on the Pro League’s 17th place team for a chance at returning.
While Efford has been involved in action 16 times, including starting ten games, he has scored just twice which, to be honest, is far from impressive for a striker. Montes has yet to make a start but has made nine appearances off the bench. He has scored once.
Although it will be difficult for them to return to the big time, the possibility exists, but Montes will probably not be a part of the team next season regardless of which division they will be playing in. An on-loan Premier League player who cannot get many minutes for a second-division Belgian team isn’t one that they would want to keep around for another season.
In January another Yank will also join the ranks of the Pro League when Kyle Duncan arrives on the Belgian coast at KV Oostende.
The Pro League season ends early April, and after the Belgian Cup the following week, the play-offs will begin. Yanks Abroad will continue our coverage and will bring for you all the action when games resume in mid-January.