What we already see in 2022-23 from American players in the Belgian professional league
Through Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (September 7, 2022) US Soccer Players – The American contingent in Belgium for the 2022-23 season has a fresh quality that makes the Pro League particularly interesting for fans eager to meet the next generation of Europeans catch USMNT players on the rise. Belgium is an intriguing place for gamers to build their continental resumes. Success in Belgium and the chance to move to one of the best leagues in Europe is almost inevitable. Geographical proximity and a shared network of trainers and scouts provide a platform for distinguishing yourself.
The 2022-23 Belgian season already has seven games behind it. Like leagues across Europe, the Belgian top flight is in a race to wrap up as much of the season as possible before the month-long hiatus for the World Cup. This division of the season into two distinct parts also poses a challenge for young Americans who build their games there. Consistency is more than any other trait that leads to long-term success and a chance to play at the highest levels of the game.
There are seven USMNT-eligible players in Belgium, with the last entering the league on the incoming transfer cut-off date. Standard Liège, a club now managed by former New York City FC boss Ronny Deila, took over the Los Angeles-born club Marlon Fossey from Fulham in the final days of the primary transfer window.
Fossey represented the United States at two youth levels and is looking to advance his senior career at age 23. Last season he was loaned out to Bolton Wanderers in League One, where he played 15 games as a full-back.
He joins Jorge Hernandeza product of the LA Galaxy Academy, now at KV Mechelen, and DC United, a homegrown Griffin Yow, moved to the Pro League in Westerlo in July as a US player without a cap. Hernandez’s jump is interesting because of its unusual trajectory. After his breakthrough with LA Galaxy II in 2021 and recognition as the league’s top XI, the Mexican-born midfielder from Riverside, California signed with Choromonets Odesa from the Ukrainian top flight.
The outbreak of war in Ukraine ended this adventure. When FIFA allowed players with contracts in Ukraine to sign elsewhere for free, Hernandez moved to Mechelen. Yow joined Westerlo with 32 appearances in MLS. He has yet to make his Belgian debut.
Westerlo is also home to the American full-back Bryan Reynolds. The group of Americans in Belgium is extremely defensive. Coincidentally, the USMNT capped quartet consists of three players who usually play in the back row. Another seems to be shifting his position to the center of defence.
Reynolds is on loan from Roma to Westerlo for the season after half a season at another Belgian club, Kortrijk. After rising from the FC Dallas academy and breaking into the MLS scene in 2020, Roma beat a host of other suitors to sign him.
Reynolds, just 21, is finding the playing time he so desperately needed in Belgium. After brief substitute appearances in two games, the right-back made his first start of the year against Royal Antwerp last Saturday. Reynolds played 75 minutes to positive reviews which ended in a 3-0 loss for his club.
Westerlo return to Belgium’s top flight after five years in the country’s second division. Despite recent promotion, the club is not one of the favorites to go down. An off-season that included 13 acquisitions, including Reynolds and Yow, brought the club an infusion of talent that it hopes will continue. Six points from two wins and five losses put Westerlo in 13th place in the eighth round.
Versatile defender/midfielder Owen Ota as well swapped Wolverhampton for Club Brugge in the summer of 2021. A year of adjustment in Belgium kept him from contributing to Brugge’s championship campaign, but 2022 could prove to be a breakthrough. With his club competing both nationally and internationally, Otaas well as minutes should be available in coach Carl Hoefkens’ team.
Otasowie made his debut for Club Brugge against Gent in the Belgian Super Cup on 17 July, starting as a central defender in a 1-0 win. Another start against Zulte Waragem followed on August 5th. His inclusion in Brugge’s squad for the Champions League group stage is another indication of his progress.
Dallas’ competitor for Major League Soccer‘s top youth promoter, the Philadelphia Union, is represented by center backs in the Pro League Mark McKenzie. KRC Genk invested in the talent of one of MLS’ top prospects. Now in his second full season in Belgium, McKenzie is making progress.
Three games as an unused reserve at the start of the season have been followed by four consecutive starts in this weekend’s games. Genk is 3-1-0 in McKenzie’s four starts, all 90-minute appearances. Genk have only conceded two goals in those 360 minutes. Defense is a strength of a team currently tied for second in the early days, with McKenzie at the center of the effort.
Genk’s 16-point start could usually be good enough for first place at this point in the season. But the pre-season favorites are chasing Royal Antwerp, a club who got off to a perfect start with seven wins from seven games and a full 21 points. defender Sam Reben is a regular player in this Antwerp team. The former Colorado Rapids defenseman joined the Belgium side in August 2021 and made 16 starts over 1,400 minutes in his first year in Europe.
An exhilarating defender, Vines quickly progressed from a young MLS prospect to a player with a bright future in Belgium and the USMNT. He also contributed to the attack, scoring in the 4-2 win over Union Saint-Gilloise at the end of August.
Vines also got some European experience that summer. Royal Antwerp participated in the play-off rounds of the 2022–23 UEFA Europe Conference, with Vines playing 90 minutes in all but one of the club’s five games in the competition. Antwerp narrowly progressed beyond the group stage of the tournament, being eliminated by Besaksehir in the third round of the playoffs.
Alongside Europe’s more glamorous competitions is buzzing the Belgian Pro League, which serves both as a high-level competition in its own right and as a stepping stone into more famous leagues on the continent. This year’s Pro League season has long been a home for players from the United States and is already proving to be a rich testing ground for Americans.
Jason Davis is the founder of MatchFitUSA.com and host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM. Contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org. consequences him on Twitter.
More from Jason Davis:
Photo from cover photos via ZUMA Press – ISIPhotos.com