Football Features

Combined XI of CONCACAF players plying their trade in Europe

By Chris Smith

Published: 18:35, 29 July 2021

Once dismissed as a footballing backwater, the CONCACAF region has become a talent goldmine in recent years.

From the United States to Mexico and, more recently, Canada, more players are making the jump from CONCACAF regions to Europe than ever before, making their mark on the Champions League, Europa League and beyond.

The timing of this talent explosion couldn’t be better, either, given that the 2026 World Cup will be jointly hosted in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The aforementioned nations, especially, will be eyeing that tournament as a chance to make a statement on football’s biggest stage.

All of this got us thinking, what if you tried to make a combined XI of CONCACAF players plying their trade in Europe right now? Just how would that look and which nations would be most prominently represented?

Took a look at our picks below to find out:

Goalkeeper: Keylor Navas (PSG)

Keylor Navas has saved 31% of the penalties he’s faced for club and country (18/58).

Keylor Navas is a supremely underrated goalkeeper. The 34-year-old made 162 appearances across all competitions for Real Madrid between 2014 and 2019 before moving on to PSG, winning a La Liga title and three consecutive Champions Leagues among his many honours. Since relocating to the French capital, Navas has added a domestic treble to his trophy cabinet while featuring in another Champions League final last year, losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich.

Navas is a brilliantly instinctive shot-stopper and his expertise in keeping out penalties (18/58 saved for club and country) make him a valuable addition for any side. Quite how he rarely gets included in the conversation for Europe’s best goalkeeper is a real head-scratcher.

Right-back: Sergiño Dest (Barcelona)

Sergiño Dest is the first-ever USA player to make a senior appearance for Barcelona.

Born in the Netherlands, it was seen as a real coup when Sergiño Dest was convinced to pledge his allegiance to the USMNT, and with good reason.

The 20-year-old’s stock has been rapidly rising over the past few years, with his performances for Ajax — where he notched four assists in 1,444 minutes of Eredivisie action in 2019/20 — enough to persuade Barcelona to part with £18.9m for his services.

Dest has impressed with a string of promising performances so far and having one of Barcelona’s starting full-backs at his disposal will no doubt be a huge help to UMSNT boss Gregg Berhalter in the long-term.

Centre-back: John Brooks (Wolfsburg)

John Brooks has scored three goals in 43 international caps for the USA, including the winner against Ghana at the 2014 World Cup.

Any centre-back nicknamed “the Wall of Brooks” must be pretty tough to get past and Wolfsburg’s John Brooks is well worthy of that title.

The 28-year-old, who turned down Bayern Munich to join Hertha Berlin as a teenager, ranked first for aerial duels (129), second for aerial duals won (97) and second for interceptions (55) among Wolfsburg players in the Bundesliga last season. Considering Die Wölfe finished fourth in the Bundesliga and only RB Leipzig (32) conceded fewer goals than their 37, that is quite the achievement.

From Chris Richards at Bayern Munich to Miles Robinson and Mark McKenzie in MLS, there is sure to be fierce competition for places at centre-back for the USMNT over the next few years, but Brooks’ place in the starting XI seems locked.

Centre-back: Edson Alvarez (Ajax)

Edson Alvarez became the first Mexican to score on his Champions League debut when he netted in Ajax’s 3-0 win over Lille in September 2019.

Coming in as Matthijs de Ligt’s replacement was always going to bring its own set of pressures and, thus far, Edson Alvarez has had to remain patient during his time at Ajax.

However, this is a player with Liga MX, Copa MX and CONCACAF Gold Cup-winning experience under his belt and at just 23 years of age, is expected to be El Tri’s defensive linchpin for years to come.

Alvarez mainly featured as a defensive midfielder for Ajax last season but thrives most at centre-back thanks to his aerial ability and innate reading of the game. His main focus right now will be on improving his discipline, having received 25 yellow cards and six red cards across his club career to date.

Left-back: Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)

Alphonso Davies is the only Canadian male to win the Uefa Champions League to date.

Now the darling of the Canadian national team, very little was expected of Alphonso Davies right away when he finalised his move to Bayern Munich from MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps in January 2019. Of course, with eight goals in 31 appearances to his name during the 2018 MLS season, he wasn’t moving to Germany for nothing.

Those goals came back when Davies was a direct winger for the Whitecaps but even back then, at international level, he was fielded as a full-back and that is exactly where he has made his name at Bayern.

Davies bagged three goals and eight assists in the Bundesliga and Champions League alone as Hansi Flick’s side sealed a historic treble in 2019/20. The 20-year-old had a slightly more subdued season in 2020/21 but he remains one of the top left-backs in Europe.

Central midfield: Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig)

Tyler Adams’ childhood idol was Thierry Henry, who was playing for New York Red Bulls as the youngster was coming through the academy system.

Even with an injury-disrupted summer, Tyler Adams still made his presence felt last season, scoring the winning goal as RB Leipzig beat Atletico Madrid 2-1 to reach the Champions League semi-finals for the first time.

Of course, Adams isn’t exactly renowned for scoring goals — netting just five times for New York Red Bulls and RB Leipzig combined across his senior club career. That being said, his list of talents is very long, indeed.

When fully fit, Adams is the lungs of the Leipzig midfield, covering every inch of grass as he disrupts opposition moves with expert tackling, drives the ball forward with his excellent dribbling skills or simply keeps Die Roten Bullen in control with his precision passing.

Adams has also demonstrated his versatility on a number of occasions for club and country, shifting seamlessly into the right-back position, increasing his value to Jesse Marsch and Berhalter — the latter of which even entrusting him with a “false full-back” role at times.

Central midfield: Weston McKennie (Juventus)

Weston McKennie scored a hat-trick in just 13 minutes during USA’s 7-0 win over Cuba in October 2019, the fastest in USMNT history.

A product of the esteemed FC Dallas youth academy, Weston McKennie has been one of the United States’ most important players for a few years now — with seven goals to his name from just 24 senior caps — and, at club level, his stock his only rising.

Schalke were an absolute disaster toward the end of the 2019/20 Bundesliga season but McKennie still managed three goals following the return of play in May, while he produced the fourth-highest number of chances (17) among Schalke players throughout the campaign and averaged a healthy 36.05 passes and 1.17 take-ons per 90 minutes. At the other end of the pitch, McKennie also made 38 tackles and 46 interceptions in 28 Bundesliga appearances.

McKennie has since taken his broad skillset to Juventus, where he had a season to learn from one of the game’s greatest, Andre Pirlo.

Attacking midfield: Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)

Giovanni Reyna is the youngest player to record a hat-trick of assists in the Bundesliga and the first American to do so since Steve Cherundolo for Hannover in March 2008.

Son of former Sunderland and Man City midfielder and USMNT legend Claudio, Giovanni Reyna has made quite the impression during the short time he’s enjoyed on the pitch for Borussia Dortmund so far.

Since making his Bundesliga debut at just 17 years and 66 days old — the youngest-ever for an American in the competition — Reyna has managed four goals and seven assists, adding a further four goals and two assists in Champions League and DFB-Pokal play combined.

Primarily a creative midfielder, Reyna also thrives when drifting inside from the left flank and will always look to shift onto his right foot, which he uses to unleash curling shots to the far post or pin-point passes behind the opposition defence.

Reyna received his first senior call-up to Berhalter’s international set-up last November and if he keeps following his current trajectory, he could become one of the world’s best over the next decade.

Right wing: Christian Pulisic (Chelsea)

Pulisic Watford goal

Christian Pulisic became the youngest-ever player to score for the USMNT when he netted against Bolivia aged 17 years, 8 months and 12 days in May 2016.

No surprises here, right? Christian Pulisic has been the golden boy of the USMNT for a few years already, paving the way for so many others who have found success in Germany and beyond in recent times thanks to his emergence at Borussia Dortmund.

Now at Chelsea, Pulisic’s career has stalled slightly in terms of time on the pitch due to a series of niggling injuries. However, when he’s out on the grass, Pulisic is a force of nature with his pace and close control making him difficult to dispossess.

His hat-trick against Burnley in his debut campaign was a demonstration of what Pulisic is truly capable of and if he can stay fit, you’d be a fool not to back him adding to his record of 17 goals in 77 appearances for Chelsea. Oh, and he’s won the Champions League too, becoming just the second American male to do so.

Striker: Raul Jimenez (Wolves)

Since the start of the 2019/20 season, 10 of Raul Jimenez’s 21 Premier League goals have been winners.

Not just one of the best North American players in the Premier League, Raul Jimenez is one of the most complete strikers in England’s top flight, full stop.

Combining strength, aerial prowess, stone-cold finishing and a seemingly endless work-rate, there isn’t much Jimenez can’t do, and he’s led the line brilliantly for Wolves during their time back in the Premier League.

At international level, Jimenez fired Mexico to Gold Cup glory in 2019, scoring five goals in six games and winning the competition’s Golden Ball award, Given that he’ll only be in his early 30s by the time Qatar 2022 comes around, he might well be the difference between early disappointment and a deep World Cup run for El Tri.

Left wing: Hirving Lozano (Napoli)

The £37.7m Napoli parted with to sign Hirving Lozano from PSV is the highest fee ever paid for a Mexican player.

Hirving Lozano was one of the hottest properties in Europe following his performances for Mexico at the 2018 World Cup — where he scored a famous winning goal against then-reigning champions Germany. The forward decided to stay at PSV Eindhoven for another year, scoring 21 goals across all competitions before relocating to Napoli in August 2019.

“Chucky’s” first season in Naples was not ideal as he managed just four goals and one assist in 26 Serie A outings and struggled to hold down a place in Napoli’s starting XI.

Lozano is firmly back on track now, though, tripling his goal tally from 2019/20 across all competitions last season, netting 15 in total and adding another five assists. Injury cut his Gold Cup campaign short but make no mistake about it, if he keeps up his current form, he’ll be one of the most feared forwards at the next few major tournaments.

Bench: Zack Steffen, Reggie Cannon, Nestor Araujo, Hector Herrera, Leon Bailey, Jonathan David, Jesus Corona

Honourable mentions: Chris Richards, Antonee Robinson, Matt Miazga, Tim Ream, Oscar Duarte, Josh Sargent, Timothy Weah, Diego Lainez, Konrad de la Fuente, Yunus Musah, Ulysses Llanez, Atiba Hutchinson, Cyle Larin, Andres Guardado, Erick Gutierrez, Wes Morgan, Bobby Decordova-Reid, Richie Ledezma