The UEFA Champions League group stage begins in September and those six matchdays through November will leave us with 16 teams to compete in the knockout stage and you catch all the action only on Paramount+. Numerous Americans, including several key pieces of the United States men’s national team, are expected to factor in, looking to test themselves in the best club competition on the globe ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup starting in November.
So who are the Americans set to play in the group stage? Here’s what to know:
Club: Chelsea FC
Role with USMNT: The team’s superstar and sometimes captain.
Outlook: The star American talent of the UCL, a winner of the competition two seasons ago, finds himself between the figurative rock and a hard place. Well, it’s really just between the stands and the touchline, resting comfortably on the bench for most games. Christian Pulisic did not start any of the team’s first five Premier League matches, and he probably doesn’t figure to start their opener in UCL when they Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday. Sure, Pulisic did get the start at West Ham on Saturday, but don’t be confused — that is a start where the manager is prioritizing his favorite players’ energy, saving them for Tuesday. Pulisic is going to have to come off the bench and deliver consistently to be anymore than a bench player.
Club: Juventus FC
Role with USMNT: Arguably the team’s most important players and a sure starter when healthy.
Outlook: Weston McKennie has had some great moments in this competition, mainly a stellar mid-air scissor volley at Barcelona. He did start the 1-1 draw with Fiorentina over the weekend, which means that there’s a chance he doesn’t start against PSG on Tuesday. Paul Pogba’s return to Juve may not be great for his minutes, but Juventus did ease their midfield logjam by sending Denis Zakaria to Chelsea and Arthur to Liverpool as the window closed which does help that a bit. He still has a good shot of being an important player for Juve in this competition due to his versatility, and he’ll probably start some games.
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Position: Attacking midfielder/Winger
Role with USMNT: Could be the team’s best talent, a starter when healthy, but may be a bench player due to Brenden Aaronson
Outlook: He has made just two appearances for Dortmund this season including playing seven minutes against Hoffenheim on Saturday. He’s well rested, so perhaps he does get significant minutes against FC Copenhagen on Tuesday. The medical staff at the club have always taken things slowly with him, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see very little of him until he’s getting regular minutes again. The worry of injury is always there as he’s missed at least a week on nine different occasions since the 2020-21 season.
Club: AC Milan
Role with USMNT: A lock at right back.
Outlook: Probably the most intriguing player of the group stage after he escaped Barcelona for AC Milan on loan on transfer deadline day. He was only being used in charity matches and glorified preseason friendlies, and Barca boss Xavi probably wouldn’t even trust him to hand him a water bottle. With Manchester United also interested, it was a late swoop from the reigning Serie A champs that will hopefully reignite the young fullback’s career. With Alessandro Florenzi out for at least two months due to a muscle injury, Dest figures to compete with David Calabria for the right back spot. Don’t be surprised if Dest is given a little time at winger as well. Milan face RB Salzburg on Tuesday.
Position: Center back
Role with USMNT: Fringe player gaining momentum
Outlook: Cameron Carter-Vickers went the full 90 as Celtic crushed rival Rangers 4-0 in the Old Firm derby over the weekend. He’s become a lock in the starting XI and continues to deliver encouraging performances, clearly showing growth over the last 12 months. While he may have been a USMNT afterthought, you can argue he’s the American center back in Europe playing the best. He’s pushing himself into the picture for Gregg Berhalter, it would seem.
Club: Rangers FC
Position: Midfielder/Center forward
Role with USMNT: One of the fresh young faces looking to make the squad ahead of schedule
Outlook: Tillman is a guy who you just feel will be key for the USMNT, but this World Cup may be too soon. Life at Rangers, after a move from Bayern Munich started off well as he’s scoring goals, getting assists and looking ultra-confident. The talent is all there, and getting significant minutes will only help his progression. Whether or not he plays a big role in the group stage remains to be seen, but Giovanni van Bronkhorst trusted him in the qualifying stages, and it paid off. Rangers play Aja on Wednesday.
Club: Rangers FC
Position: Defensive midfielder/Center back
Role with USMNT: Another fringe player with a real shot
Outlook: The versatile former NYCFC man is really coming into his own at Rangers despite that bashing by Celtic over the weekend. He played seven league games in the top flight last season and has already played in five of the six this season. His ability to play in defense or the midfield is like carrying an extra player to Qatar. Rangers will place Ajax, Liverpool and Napoli in a horrendously difficult group, so Sands will get a chance to show if he can truly compete with the best ahead of the World Cup.
Club: Club Brugge
Position: Defensive midfielder/Center back
Outlook: A fringe player who’s unlikely to get a shot
Role with USMNT: The New York City-born former Wolves man has one match played with the USMNT, facing Wales in a friendly in November of 2020. He played three minutes. Still eligible to represent England or Nigeria, the latter feels like the most likely nation to pry him away before being cap-tied. A fine player with a ton of potential, he’s quite raw still, and the Americans are looking decent at defensive midfield with Tyler Adams leading the way and Sands, among others, providing depth. Now, if Otasowie goes off and has a fine couple months, especially with the increased roster size of the World Cup, anything can happen. Brugge play Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday.
Club: Eintracht Frankfurt
Position: Right back/Right midfielder
Role with USMNT: None whatsoever. A former USMNT player, he hasn’t played for the team since 2016.
Outlook: There is surely no chance he factors into the USMNT, and he barely even plays for Eintracht Frankfurt. Expect him to be an unused sub more often than not, having played in just two games this season. Eintracht play Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday.
Club: Maccabi Haifa
Role with USMNT: He’s never played for the United States men’s national team, and casual fans probably hadn’t heard of him before August.
Outlook: The Israeli Football Player of the Year for 2020-21, Cohen played at UC San Diego, and he also spent time with USL clubs Phoenix Rising and Sacramento Republic. He helped his club get by Red Star Belgrade in the playoff and the team hasn’t conceded multiple goals in any of their last three matches. With the depth the USMNT has at goalkeeper, it feels rather unlikely that he’ll get more than a conversation. Maccabi Haifa take on Benfica on Tuesday.
Matchday 1 schedule and start times
All times Eastern
Matchday 1: Tuesday, Sept. 6
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Chelsea, 12:45 p.m. (Paramount+)
Borussia Dortmund vs. FC Copenhagen, 12:45 (Paramount+)
RB Salzburg vs. Milan, 3 p.m. (Paramount+)
Celtic vs. Real Madrid, 3 p.m. (Paramount+)
RB Leipzig vs. Shakhtar Donestk, 3 p.m. (Paramount+)
PSG vs. Juventus, 3 p.m. (Paramount+)
Sevilla vs. Manchester City, 3 p.m. (Paramount+)
Benfica vs. Maccabi Haifa, 3 p.m. (Paramount+)
Matchday 1: Wednesday, Sept. 7
Ajax vs. Rangers, 12:45 p.m. (Paramount+)
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Sporting Lisbon, 12:45 p.m. (Paramount+)
Napoli vs. Liverpool, 3 p.m. (Paramount+)
Tottenham vs. Marseille, 3 p.m. (Paramount+)
Atletico Madrid vs. Porto, 3 p.m. (Paramount+)
Club Brugge vs. Bayer Leverkusen, 3 p.m. (Paramount+)
Inter Milan vs. Bayern Munich, 3 p.m. (Paramount+)
Barcelona vs. Viktoria Plzen, 3 p.m. (Paramount+)