On Thursday, UEFA sorted its 32 Champions League qualifiers into eight groups. In recent years, the tournament has featured more North American players than ever before. Players from eight CONCACAF nations are likely to take part in the Champions League this season. In years past, any United States men’s national team member who made club soccer’s most esteemed competition was viewed as an important part of the USMNT. But as the team has evolved and more young Americans have made their way to Europe, that has changed. This season, at least two Americans will likely see the field on Europe’s biggest stage despite having slim-to-no chance of making the U.S. roster for Qatar.
With the groups now decided, here’s what CONCACAF fans have to keep an eye on as the competition is set to begin September 6.
CONCACAF players in Champions League group stage squads (as of August 25)
Number of players
Average MNT caps/player
*includes Tecatito Corona, who will likely miss group stage due to injury
The Dutch outfit often fares well in the Champions League, though this year’s squad is more veteran reliant than the precocious 2018-19 side which made it to the semifinal. Defender Kik Perie is eligible for the United States, but represented the Netherlands at the youth international levels. Mexico fans will keep tabs on Edson Álvarez and Jorge Sánchez, while Suriname international Sean Klaiber could feature at full back.
The 2018–19 winners will look to make amends after an underwhelming performance in last year’s final. There’s little for on-field ties to North America (though Trent Alexander-Arnold was USMNT eligible via his maternal grandmother), but if you’re swayed by the makeup of a club’s ownership, Boston-based Fenway Sports Group would appreciate your support.
After likely losing Tecatito Corona for the World Cup due to ruptured ankle ligaments, Mexico will have an even greater need for Hirving Lozano to impress in Qatar. Lozano is a lock to make the World Cup roster, but like the U.S.’s Christian Pulisic, he often struggled in CONCACAF qualifying. Lozano registered just one goal in the Octagonal in a 3-0 home victory over last-place Honduras. Strong form in the Champions League could help set him up for a more fruitful showing in Qatar
One of the final qualifiers from Wednesday’s playoff finals, Rangers brings a couple of potential members of the United States’ 26-man roster in the Champions League group stage. James Sands started the second leg against PSV Eindhoven at center back, where he looked more comfortable during the playoff run than in past years. The New York City FC homegrown is joined by recent dual national commitment Malik Tillman, who’s on loan from Bayern Munich. Tillman can play on either wing or as a central attacking midfielder, and alternated between the three positions before assisting the winning goal after pouncing on a heavy touch from a PSV defender. U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter will be watching Tillman closely to see if he’s worth a late addition to his plans.
The 2003-04 winners are one of three Portuguese sides to advance to the group stage this year. They’ll likely prominently feature Stephen Eustáquio in midfield. The Canada international joined the club permanently over the summer after spending the back-half of last season on loan from Paços de Ferreira. He figures to be a vital figure for Canada, and will hope to stay in the lineup for his club throughout the fall to best prepare for that task.
While Atlético lacks a link to North American soccer after Hector Herrera moved to Houston, Diego Simeone’s side presents a difficult matchup for any opponent.
Although the Bundesliga side doesn’t have North American players, USMNT fans may want to keep close tabs on their progress. They boast striker Sardar Azmoun, who will be crucial to Iran’s chances of advancing out of World Cup Group B alongside (or ahead of) the United States.
Canada fans will want to keep Brugge’s schedule in mind each match week. Cyle Larin joined Tajon Buchanan in Belgium last month, uniting two of the nation’s top attackers for the run-up to the World Cup. After moving to the club in 2021, Owen Otasowie made his long-awaited debut in July. The defensive midfielder made his United States senior debut in November 2020; while he’s unlikely to factor into the 2022 World Cup roster, he’s one to watch for the next cycle.
The 2019-20 winners will look a bit different than in recent years after Robert Lewandowski left for FC Barcelona. However, Canada’s Alphonso Davies, who is among the most exciting players to watch anywhere in the world, remains with Bayern and will be looking to stay fit ahead of the World Cup after missing at least 10 Bundesliga games in each of the last two seasons due to injuries. Still, his performances in that 2019-20 tournament helped land him on the FIFA FIFPro World XI; when he starts, he’s appointment viewing, regardless of the opposition.
No matter the season, Barcelona seldom has a dull Champions League campaign. U.S. international Sergiño Dest still calls the Camp Nou home, but he still might leave the club before the current transfer window closes. Dest hasn’t featured in Barcelona’s first two La Liga matches this year, but even if he does move, he could still land at a Champions League club (like Borussia Dortmund, per reports).
The three-time winners bear no major ties to North American soccer. They’ll look to impress after retooling their attack this summer.
While they don’t have a player with North American ties, this relative underdog surprised in 2018-19 by nearly advancing out of a group with Real Madrid, AS Roma and CSKA Moscow. That alone should make them worth Czeching out.
Landing in pot one after winning the Europa League final over Rangers on penalties, Frankfurt will be eager to show they can keep up with top-level opposition. While he’s no longer a guaranteed starter, Timothy Chandler is in his ninth season with the German side. Last capped by the United States in 2016, his presence may not draw the neutral viewer, but for the dedicated USMNT fan wondering what’s become of Chandler, this will be a chance to see.
A trendy pick after a couple of strong transfer windows, Tottenham is a team with significant North American support but no obvious on-field ties to the continent (aside from the club’s desire to share their stadium with an NFL franchise).
One of three sides from Portugal’s Primeira Liga, they feature no ties to North American soccer.
Olympique de Marseille
The French club loaned their sole North American player (United States international winger Konrad de la Fuente) to Olympiacos, who will try to secure Europa League qualification later on Thursday.
Each year, more and more Champions League sides boast players who spent developmental years in Major League Soccer, and AC Milan is no exception. Now in his fourth season with the Rossoneri, Zlatan Ibrahimović refined his finishing touch with the LA Galaxy. Milan also features Calgary-born defender Fikayo Tomori, though he committed to playing for England in 2019 after previously appearing for Canada at the youth level.
Going into the summer transfer window, Chelsea boasted two United States internationals on their books, by the end of next week, they may have none. U.S. defender Matt Miazga’s permanent departure was years overdue, and he’s quickly acclimated to FC Cincinnati. Christian Pulisic’s situation is a bit murkier; unlike Miazga, Pulisic ought to be contributing to a team’s Champions League campaign after playing a significant role in the Blues’ run to the title in 2021. However, he’s been relegated to a bench role under Thomas Tuchel over the past year-plus.
The Austrian side sold Brenden Aaronson to Leeds United this summer, but they still have one potential USMNT player in their squad. Center back Bryan Okoh was born in Houston in 2003, but has represented Austria at the youth international levels. He has thus far only appeared for the club’s feeder team, FC Liefering.
A dominant force in Croatian football, Zagreb doesn’t have a North American player, Like Leverkusen, however, they have an Iran international in defender Sadegh Moharrami, who will be tasked with slowing the young and vibrant United States attack in Qatar.
The defending champions will once again rank among the favorites to win a record-extending 15th Champions League title. While several members of the squad are undoubtedly on MLS teams’ discovery lists, only one has prominent ties to North American soccer. You may have forgotten that Mariano Díaz still plays for Madrid, but the once-capped Dominican Republic international is still on the team’s books despite making just nine appearances last season.
With both Jesse Marsch and Tyler Adams now calling Leeds United home, RB Leipzig’s ties to North America are no longer as strong. There’s a slim chance that 19-year-old U.S. international Caden Clark (currently on loan at New York Red Bulls) could make the squad for the knockouts at the end of the MLS season.
The Ukrainian side has an overwhelmingly domestic player roster, which will be one of the stories of the group stage, given geopolitical factors. They do, surprisingly, have one player (22-year-old midfielder Artem Kholod) currently on loan at USL Championship side El Paso Locomotive.
After spending last season on loan, U.S. international Cameron Carter-Vickers earned a permanent move away from Tottenham. He’ll play a key role this year for the Scottish giant, while also looking to make a case for World Cup participation. A traditional hard-nosed center back, Carter-Vickers figures to be among the three or four central defenders jockeying for one or two places in the U.S.’s 26-man roster.
The former club of 2014 World Cup participant Mix Diskerud, City loaned its only U.S. international, Zack Steffen, to Middlesbrough for the 2022-23 season. That said, Pep Guardiola ended his playing career in Mexico with Dorados and has spent a lot of time in New York City over the years, so we’ll say that counts as a strong tie to the continent.
Better known for their record six Europa League triumphs, Sevilla will look to advance to the knockouts despite losing dynamic Mexican winger Tecatito Corona to injury. Thomas Delaney was also a USMNT-eligible dual national via his paternal great-grandfather, but he has played his entire international career for Denmark.
Like USMNT fans, Dortmund will be yearning for a fully fit Giovanni Reyna. The young attacker was limited to just 13 appearances for the club in all competitions last season, but he has already seen the field once in this early Bundesliga campaign. The head of Dortmund’s athletic department, Shad Forsythe, is also an American.
Back in the group stage for the first time since 2016–17, the Danish club doesn’t feature players with North American ties.
Looking to prove a point after last year’s meltdown, PSG is one of the favorites again in 2022-23. They’re likely to retain Keylor Navas this window, albeit as the second consecutive super club to waste the Costa Rican great’s world-class shot stopping as a backup keeper. There’s also Lionel Messi, who may be of interest regardless of where he’s from.
The two-time winners will likely rely on U.S. international Weston McKennie in midfield. McKennie appeared in six of Juventus’ Champions League matches last season, and with Paul Pogba’s return being marred by an early knee injury, he’s started their first two Serie A games. McKennie will be a key figure for the U.S. in Qatar, so significant Champions League minutes will be important to his preparations.
The Portuguese side has many familiar names, like Jan Vertonghen and Nicolás Otamendi, but none with North American ties.
The qualifier with the lowest UEFA club coefficient, the Israeli champions are led by American goalkeeper Josh Cohen. Unselected in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, Cohen became a respected USL netminder before earning a move to Haifa in 2019. He won the Israeli Premier League’s player of the year award in 2020-21. While he hasn’t garnered serious USMNT interest before, he could have an outside chance of impressing with a strong showing in a tough group, as the third spot on the World Cup goalkeeping depth chart remains up for grabs. CONCACAF has two more deep-cut entries on Maccabi Haifa’s roster: Tjaronn Chery of Suriname and Frantzdy Pierrot of Haiti.
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