The Bundesliga gets back in full swing this weekend, bringing with it a return to action for several of the United States' top players abroad.
Chief among them is Christian Pulisic, who continues to grow in stature and has quickly become the USA's leading light in Europe. The Dortmund winger, who won the Goal USA award for 2016, continued to shine during the team’s winter friendlies.
Dortmund will need to improve on its season showing to this point to get back into the fight for a Champions League place. The club currently sits sixth in the Bundesliga table but trails third-place Hertha Berlin by only three points.
Pulisic and Dortmund will open the second half of the season with a road match against a Werder Bremen side that struggled to distance itself from the relegation battle in the first half of the season. American forward Aron Johannsson is doubtful for the match for Bremen, having picked up a calf injury Thursday that the club says will keep him out of action for two or three days.
Werder sits three points above Hamburg — a team that also boasts an American forward in the form of Bobby Wood — and the relegation zone.
While Wood’s side struggled in the first half of the season, a late run of three wins in four matches has things looking up in the new year.
“We have to carry on where we left off,” Wood said in an interview with the club’s official site. “If we slacken now, recent success will be worthless. I am convinced we can do it. We have to look from game to game and not look too far ahead. We want to stay up at the end of the season. That is our main goal.”
Wood and Hamburg open 2017 with a road match against Wolfsburg on Saturday.
At the other end of the table, John Brooks and Hertha Berlin are looking to build off a strong first half and solidify their place as a Champions League hopeful. Brooks was out of action for the closing run of 2016 with a muscle injury, but was back in training with club during the winter break and should be ready to make his return to the starting lineup.
Brooks and company will face a tall task, taking on a Bayer Leverkusen side featuring Mexican star Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez as one of several talented attacking players.
Fabian Johnson could also be in line for a return, though the Borussia Monchengladbach winger is still a doubt, having returned to training last week after missing out on the club’s winter camp.
A poor start to the season saw a managerial change for Gladbach, and Johnson’s limited time training with new boss Dieter Hecking could hurt his chances for a starting spot in the club’s return to Bundesliga action.
Elsewhere, Omar Gonzalez put in a team of the week performance for Liga MX side Pachuca. The club claimed a 1-0 win over Chiapas, with Gonzalez playing a big part in his side keeping a clean sheet and picking up three points.
The former LA Galaxy star has done well since moving to Liga MX and has become a mainstay in Pachuca’s back line. He and his teammates will be in action against struggling Necaxa on Saturday night.
Joe Corona scored off the bench for Club Tijuana in Liga MX last weekend and, with fellow American Paul Arriola also scoring, helped lead his side to a win over Puebla. Corona will be hoping his contribution will lead to more chances in the starting side.
#PorSiNoLoViste G⚽⚽⚽L de Joe Corona@Xolos 6-2 @ClubPueblaMX#J2CL2017 #LIGABancomerMX
⚽ #SienteTuLiga ⚽ #AbrazadosPorElFutbol pic.twitter.com/WTn8tVnDCc — LIGA Bancomer MX (@LIGABancomerMX) January 14, 2017
And one more quick note from Mexico where Jose Torres and Tigres face a final rematch against Club America on Saturday. Torres is not an automatic starter in a loaded Tigres midfield, but could well see substantial playing time in this early-season showdown.
Desevio Payne made his first start in over a year for Groningen last week, scoring a goal as his side ran to a 4-1 win over Heracles. The goal should help the young fullback as he tries to claim a regular starting spot.
Groningen hosts Vitesse on Saturday, with a chance to move up the table a bit with another win.
Emerson Hyndman will get his first shot at playing for Rangers in an official match Saturday, with the Glasgow club slated to take on Motherwell in the Scottish Cup fourth round.
Hyndman joined Rangers on loan after struggling to get into the team with Premier League club Bournemouth but seems to be looking forward to the challenge of playing with his new side.
“It is a club which I always remember was playing in Europe growing up as a kid, it is a massive club and I think everybody wants Rangers back where they belong,” Hyndman told the club’s official site.
“There is always a pressure to it, but at the same time you want to be able to cope with that pressure and channel it into doing what is best for your team on the day.”