With the recent takeover by the Friedkin Group, Roma now has its second American ownership group of the last decade. Even with so much American influence in the boardroom, Roma has had little on the pitch. Michael Bradley had a brief stint in the Italian capital, but the only other American to come through Trigoria in that time is Gennaro Nigro, a Primavera side member, who will play on loan at Potenza this season.
Granted, the United States is far from a football superpower, but with a population of over 300 million and the sport growing in popularity, the US could provide a unique opportunity to the Friedkin Group.
Much like the Italian National Team, the United States Men’s National Team is rebuilding after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and ushering in some of the brightest talents in the program’s history, many of whom are either playing in top European leagues already.
Of course, Christian Pulisic springs to mind first an foremost. Sadly, he’s out of Roma’s league after a £58 million transfer fee from Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea. However, the 21-year-old American’s success in his first season at Stamford Bridge (11 goals in 34 appearances) proves that the US’s top talents can cut it at Europe’s highest levels.
Another USMNT player that is moving to one of Europe’s powers is Weston McKennie. The 22-year-old midfield is set to join the Juve on a €3 million loan with a further €18 million option to buy. McKennie’s move after three successful seasons at Schalke shows that there is an increasing demand for top US talent.
However, besides the fact that the US is producing players that can compete in top leagues, there’s another aspect that makes signing an American an attractive option for European clubs: Marketing.
Remember that larger than 300 million person population I referenced earlier? Well, it’s a largely untapped cash flow for clubs from abroad. Because of football’s late rise to prominence in American sports culture, many American’s don’t have a true rooting interest, and even if they do, they probably don’t have a team they support in Serie A.
In terms of football viewership, the Premier League rules American airwaves, which has led many Americans without links to the old world to jump on the Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Man City bandwagons. Meanwhile, many others, root for Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Bayern Munich on the European stage. But, outside of fans of Italian descent, not many cling to a Serie A club match after match.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Juventus raised interest in the league outside of its usual niche fan base on American shores, while ESPN subsequently securing the broadcasting rights raised the league’s accessibility to American audiences. That combination makes this a great time for Roma and the Friedkin group to find an American face to market stateside.
Just think how many Pulisic Chelsea jerseys are starting to spring up from sea to shining sea. Now, imagine those beautiful giallo and rosso striped or vintage white kits that Roma will rock this year growing in popularity from New York to Los Angeles and everywhere in between—picture it now, adults and children of all backgrounds joining us in the Romaverse thanks to a smart marketing move by Friedkin.
With a wide spectrum of talent and potential appeal, not every American player presents the same marketing opportunity for clubs. Pulisic is the gold standard and continues to appreciate in value with each EPL and USMNT goal he scores. Meanwhile, others like Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Deandre Yedlin are depreciating in value as they fade from the USMNT spotlight.
With the image of Roma kits on American streets dancing in your mind, now would be a great time to run down a list of potential candidates to have their name printed on the back of those Roma shirts.
Difficult to Sign but Potential Stars
Sergiño Dest: Ajax, Right-Back (€18 mil)
The 19-year-old Dutch-American dual citizen rose through the Ajax youth ranks starting in 2012 before making the jump to the senior squad for 19/20. Dest is rumored to be on the radar of European heavyweights like Bayern Munich and Barcelona. If that interest is legit, then it’d be difficult for Roma to lure Dest to Trigoria.
However, Dest moving to Roma could make sense for both parties. First off, Roma could be a nice step up from Ajax with Serie A providing stiffer competition than the Eredivise. Additionally, Roma has a perennial need for a right back, so Dest could step into that role and get immediate playing time—something he’d have trouble finding at larger clubs.
With proper coaching from Paulo Fonseca, Dest could develop into a dangerous attacking threat down Roma’s right flank while also learning the defensive intricacies of the Italian game. Even better for Roma, if Dest develops as expected he could always net the Giallorossi a large plusvalenza when he moves to a bigger club down the road.
Again, a move for Dest would be difficult, but could work out well for Roma and the full back in the long term.
Giovanni Reyna: Borussia Dortmund, Midfield (€15 mil)
Reyna, whose father Claudio is well known in American football lore, is another teenager who has risen to prominence over the last few months. The 17-year-old Reyna moved from the academy of MLS’s NYCFC to Borussia Dortmund’s U-19 on a free transfer prior to the 2019-2020 season. In just half of a season, he made his way to the senior level and didn’t look back.
Reyna carved a niche role off the bench in the second half of the season before starting Dortmund’s last two Bundesliga matches. Reyna even provided an assist in his first start against RB Leipzig in June and another off the bench in Champions League action against finalists PSG back in February.
Reyna, like Dest, could develop into a star at Roma before eventually being flipped for profit to a larger club. However, unlike Dest, Reyna already plays at a big club making this move extremely unlikely unless Roma could guarantee a large role.
Dortmund has reputation for developing young talent in a winning environment. Therefore, even though he’s still uncapped for the USMNT, expect Reyna to follow more of a Pulisic route to a mega club after honing his talents at Dortmund.
Tyler Adams: RB Leipzig, Midfield (€14 mil)
Along with McKennie, Adams looks to be one of the USMNT’s building blocks in the center of the pitch. The now 21-year-old midfielder came through the New York Red Bulls academy, before making 52 appearances in MLS. Then, in January of 2019, he moved to Red Bull sister club RB Leipzig.
Adams is a box-to-box midfielder who could provide important depth for a Roma side that could use just a bit more at that position. He doesn’t score a lot, but Adams has a nose for goal in big moments. He’s only scored four senior side goals between the two Red Bull clubs, but two came in big moments: One for RBNY against Club Tijuana, helping his side advance to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. Meanwhile, his first Leipzig goal eliminated Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of this summer’s UEFA Champions League.
As an added bonus, Adams has also been deployed as a right back at times. Therefore, he could help solve some of Roma’s issues there if needed, especially in a 3-5-2 as a wing back. He may not have the name recognition of Dest or Reyna yet, but Adams could turn into a quality starter or better in the coming years.
Zack Steffen: Manchester City, Goalkeeper (€6 mil)
The 25-year-old Steffen bounced around a bit early in his career before settling down with the Columbus Crew of MLS. After three strong seasons in MLS, Steffen was purchased by Manchester City in the summer of 2019 in a bit of a head-scratching move. The next day he was flipped to Fortuna Dusseldorf of the Bundesliga. He impressed in 17 matches before dealing with patella issues then a sprained MCL that ended his season.
Steffen is expected to stick with City for the upcoming season, but playing time will be hard to come by with Ederson the undisputed starter. Depending on if he can make his way to second on the depth chart could affect his future.
Should things not pan out at City, he could become available next summer. If Roma moves on from Pau Lopez, it could make sense to bring Steffen in to compete with Daniel Fuzato.
After all, if the US is known for producing European quality players at any position, it’s keeper. Through the years Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Brad Guzan, and Tim Howard come to mind. Steffen could be the next.
Solid Depth Moves
John Brooks: Wolfsburg, Defender(€12 mil)
For those of you who follow the USMNT, it probably feels like the German born Brooks is older than 27, after he debuted back in 2013. However, the big center back is still in his prime years after plying his trade in the Bundesliga for nearly a decade now. Brooks came through the Hertha Berlin youth rank before making his senior team debut back in the 2012-2013 season when the team secured promotion to Germany’s top flight.
He’s been a regular starter for Wolsfburg the last two seasons and even has some Europa League experience. Brooks is a big physical defender, who wins plenty of aerial duels and occasionally chips in on the offensive end; during the 18/19 season, he contributed three goals and three assists.
Brooks wouldn’t come to Roma to be a regular starter. However, with Çetin out on loan at Verona, and rumblings that Kolarov, Juan Jesus, and Fazio could all leave the capital, he could be a good depth signing for the Giallorossi.
Josh Sargent: Werder Bremen, Forward (€6.7 mil)
Another youngster, Sargent is just 20 years-old, but has already made 38 Bundesliga appearances for Bremen. He fits the bill as a young, developmental striker and could fit well with Roma as a reserve to Dzeko, Milik, or whoever else leads the Roma line.
He isn’t a prolific goal-scorer yet with just six league goals to his name. But Sargent’s scored at all levels in the national team set-up. He already has five goals in 12 matches at the senior level after scoring 35 times in 58 matches at various youth levels. He’s also known to work hard in defense, which could be useful off the bench when pressing against tired sides.
He would be an invest low-candidate, who could turn into a household name stateside if his star continues to grow within USMNT. And his national team goal record suggests his scoring rate should improve at club level.
So, what do you think, do any of these Yanks pique your interest?