We take a look back on how the first half of the 2021-22 season has gone for the Americans who have chosen to ply their trade in England, from the Premier League down to League One.
Currently, there are 12 Yanks vying for minutes in England, some more successfully than others. On average, there are usually six Americans that are consistently getting minutes in the top three division, while another four yanks regularly make the bench. On the outside looking in, injured, or otherwise not playing, you have three more.
For this piece we will start with the Premier League and work our way down. However, be sure to take a real look at the players making moves in the lower levels and getting serious minutes, many of them as starters.
Christian Pulisic – Chelsea
Who better to start with than Christian Pulisic at Chelsea? The hopes were high at the beginning of the season for Pulisic and Chelsea, especially after winning the Champions League Final. And the season started off with a bang, winning the UEFA Super Cup (winners of Champions League and Europe League) over Villarreal 6-5 on penalties. To cap off a new trophy for Thomas Tuschel, Pulisic scored one of the penalties.
The beginning of the season went from good to better as Chelsea started off the season with a win over Crystal Palace, and Christian Pulisic scored en route to a 3-0 victory. Chelsea have scored 70 goals since their Super Cup win, and have only conceded 19 times.
However, things started to stutter in September for both Chelsea and Pulisic. Chelsea suffered their first defeat of the season (1-0 at home), while Pulisic suffered an ankle injury while on international duty for the USMNT after having already missed two games due to COVID.
In all, Pulisic missed nine games for Chelsea over the course of his injury. He came back slowly, making his return in a cameo role against Malmö in the Champions League and another short run-out against Burnley in Prem action a few days later. Subsequently, he was handed a slightly larger substitute role in their next game against Leicester and he rewarded his manager with a goal with their 3-0 win.
More recently, Pulisic has played every minute in Chelsea’s last four games due to a COVID outbreak in the Chelsea camp, however sub-optimal deployment on the field due to the short-handed squad and a general slow return to his best has limited his impact in those games.
In short: Pulisic hasn’t found his full form after being out for several games for club and country. His manager has even spoken on that, saying that the American needs to regain his confidence for the USMNT. He’s getting a ton of minutes for the Champions of Europe, so you can’t be too mad about that. However, in the last several games he’s been employed as a false nine center forward, as opposed to his preferred role as a winger.
Will Pulisic find his form in the second half in the season? He played 235 minutes since the start of the season through December 4th, and has played 360 minutes in the last two weeks.
Chelsea feel like they are stalling, though the results are still on balance positive. They’ve only won twice in the last six games, but sit in second place in the Premier League and are well-positioned in the Champions League. The expectation is that Chelsea will kick on to press for the title (currently 8 points adrift), and challenge for a second straight Champions League trophy, and Pulisic should play a large part in that action.
Josh Sargent & Jonathan Tomkinson – Norwich
At the halfway point, it looks like Norwich are destined for relegation back to the Championship. They sit in dead-last in the Premier League, and have only scored eight goals in 19 games. And in part, that is down to Josh Sargent not registering a single goal thus far in the Premier League. Compound that with them being scored on 42 times (joint worst with 19th-place Newcastle), and it isn’t a sight to behold.
October and November were good months for the club after the six straight defeats. Set aside a 7-0 loss to Chelsea, Norwich put together four draws and back to back wins. However, since the start of December they have been outscored 14-0 in five games.
Jonathan Tomkinson gets an honorable mention at 19 years old for making the bench after being called up from Norwich’s U23 squad twice this season. He started the season as the captain of the U23s, scoring three goals in their first four games. He’s featured in 12 out of 15 games at the U23 level in total, starting and going the distance in all of them. His senior team call ups seem to have been out of necessity to fill out the bench more than any real chance of featuring in the game.
I wouldn’t bet on him breaking out of the U23s and into the first team, though the first team could surely do with some better defending.
In short, neither Norwich, nor Sargent are showing that they are good enough for the Premier League this season. If you view Sargent as a winger, his work rate alone is incredible. But he’s not technical enough to be good at soccer at the speed of play in the Premier league.
Can Norwich and Sargent turn it around? Probably not. Norwich need signings that can either score goals or stop them, because right now neither end of the field are good enough.
Zack Steffen – Manchester City
While Zack Steffen may be the USMNT #1 keeper (arguably), he is for sure second fiddle to Ederson at Manchester City. However, Ederson may be one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and Steffen training under his tutelage may not be the worst thing. Is he getting minutes? No. Is he getting better? Probably.
The standards at City are incredibly high, which goes to show why they are eight points clear at the top of the Premier League heading into the New Year. Historically, that produces a Premier League Champion. Steffen has featured twice in the EFL Cup, and has one cap in the Community Shield, Champions League, and Premier League.
Steffen will get more minutes this season and City will win trophies. Is it better for Steffen to be a starter or a back up to the world’s best? The jury is still out on that one.
Folarin Balogun – Arsenal
Will this young dual-national feature for the USMNT? The American-born Folarin Balogun has represented the US at the U18 level four times, and has since represented England six times, including five times at the U21 level. He’s appeared for Arsenal’s senior team four times this campaign, but is playing a majority of his minutes in their U23 squad.
His minutes for the senior squad have been split between two Premier League appearances and two EFL Cup appearances, coming on in cameo roles in each to total about 65 minutes in each competition on average. For the U23’s however, he’s notched an impressive 15 goals and three assists.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has shown his willingness to trust the youth at the club, and so it seems like it’s only a matter of time before Balogun breaks into the first team. In the second half of the season I’d expect to see him start making the bench more regularly for Arsenal, and continuing to get minutes in the various cup competitions for their first team.
Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson – Fulham
While both Americans, and Fulham faithful, will feel aggrieved to have gone down from the Premier League after their first season back up, the start to life in the Championship will make them feel hopeful for an immediate return.
Fulham have spent the majority of the season firmly in first place. Currently they are are four points and one place off first place, but have two games in hand compared to leaders Bournemouth. They have outscored their opponents 51 to 19, giving them a positive 32 goal difference, almost double (if not more) than any other team in the Championship. They’ve only lost four games out of 23 played, and this run has been a good balance of both offense and defense.
Their opening run was something to behold, picking up almost every point on offer after their opening-day draw with Middlesborough, until losing to Blackpool on September 11th. Their subsequent run was four straight wins on the bounce, outscoring their opponents by ten goals to four. Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson have played almost every minute on offer for the Cottagers, providing a stable back line that have allowed the forwards, namely Aleksander Mitrovic, to do the business up front.
Fulham’s current run to end 2021 is more worrisome as they haven’t won for five matches in a row, their last win coming on November 20th. The subsequent four games were all draws, capped off by a 1-0 loss at home to Sheffield United. They’ve had two, soon to be three, games postponed due to COVID outbreaks across the country, but will expect to get back into form in the second half of the season.
Ream, captain of Fulham, will look to continue to lock that back line down. However, is a move on the cards for Robinson? Possibly. His attacking capability, size and speed have been showcased both domestically and internationally for the USMNT, indicate that the 24 year-old is in his prime and ready for the challenge of the Premier League week in and week out.
Duane Holmes – Huddersfield Town
Duane Holmes is holding down a regular starting position as of late for Huddersfield Town, who are definitely in the hunt this season for promotion to the Premier League. They currently sit in sixth place, which is a playoff position in the Championship. The American floats between the winger position and playing more centrally, and has three goals in 21 appearances.
Holmes has featured in all but three games for Huddersfield this season, and getting minutes in all but two of those games. Two of the games where he did not feature were down to a knock he suffered in a game, forcing him off at half time. In their last three games, he’s started and played most of the games, or was subbed out in the final ten minutes or so.
The goal for Holmes in the second half of the season is to stay in the team as a starter, and help Huddersfield Town finish in the playoff positions. Huddersfield might not be good enough for the Premier League, yet, but they seem to be good enough to finish in the top half of the Championship.
Ethan Horvath and Alex Mighten – Nottingham Forest
Ethan Horvath is a fully capped member of the USMNT, while Alex Mighten is an outsider looking in on the international front. However, at the club level it is the opposite story. Horvath has featured only three times across league and cup for Forest, while Mighten has four starts and 14 substitution appearances, notching one assist.
The start of the season has been the tale of two halves as Forest only notched two wins in their opening ten games, with the opening seven games resulting in six losses. However, since October, they have only lost twice in 14 games. That run has seen them climb from 22nd place all the way to seventh.
Alex Mighten has yet to be capped by the USMNT on any level, and represented England’s U20’s in September. At just 19 years old, there is definitely room for growth as a young professional. Horvath, now 26, will feel like he is coming in to his prime years as a goalkeeper and should be getting regular first team minutes at the Championship level. He’s featured three times this season but is clearly the #2 behind Brice Samba.
Forest will look to continue on their current run and push for the playoff spots towards the end of the season. Their results aren’t as emphatic as the likes of Fulham or Bournemouth, but the recent run has been impressive.
Matthew Olosunde – Preston North End
Matthew Olosunde has only featured once in 22 games for Preston North End after picking up an injury in preseason. He went 82 minutes on December 4th to get his first minutes of the season in a 1-0 loss to Blackburn Rovers, playing at right wing. However, in the next game, Olosunde did not even make the bench.
PNE are in 15th place, having won five out of their last ten matches. They will be looking to start to piece together a run and finish in the top half of the Championship. Olusunde’s goal will be to regain match fitness after being out for so long and become a regular fixture in the PNE squad. Expect him to make the bench at first, before earning more starts.
Lynden Gooch – Sunderland
Lynden Gooch is a regular starter for Sunderland as they look set to make a run to get promoted to the Championship from League One. After back-to-back relegations from the Premier League and Championship, Sunderland have been stuck in League One for four seasons now. They’ve missed out on the playoffs once, and lost the other three times they featured.
The goal this season will surely be automatic promotion. Currently sitting in first place, they are two points ahead of Rotherham United having played one more game. This season the American started in the opening seven games for Sunderland before picking up an injury that saw him miss out in five games in a row in September and October. Overall, he has started in 17 of the 19 games he’s been available for, coming on twice as a sub after his injury, notching four assists in the process.
Gooch and Sunderland are good enough this season to go up. Wearing the number 11 shirt, he is a constant in the Sunderland attack, and both he and Sunderland will be aiming for automatic promotion by finishing in first or second.