English Premier League
How Leeds' struggles in EPL became an issue for U.S. players
English Premier League

How Leeds' struggles in EPL became an issue for U.S. players

Updated May. 17, 2023 3:01 p.m. ET

There was a nice little narrative going on for a while at Leeds United, where a bunch of Americans were helping a storied English Premier League club in its quest to rekindle past glories.

Somewhere along the line, the tale got a bit murky. Now, with just two games remaining in the EPL season, it could be about to have a decidedly bitter ending.

Leeds' U.S. connection began with former head coach Jesse Marsch, who was hired last February and handed the task of keeping Leeds in the top flight of English soccer.

He achieved that target, dramatically staving off relegation in 2022 (and all its dismal financial implications) with a thrilling victory on the final day of last season, then celebrated in part by snapping up U.S. national team stars Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson, from RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg, respectively.


In January, after a solid performance at the World Cup, midfielder Weston McKennie joined them from Juventus, in a loan deal that has an option to become permanent.

It was a neat little setup and while Leeds was humming along, all seemed well. Several of the English newspapers featured and spoke positively of the American link, Adams was gaining particular notice, the whole thing was serving as proof of the ongoing maturation of American soccer, and fans based on this side of the Atlantic had a new, or at least a second, team to root for.

Now? It's complicated.

Marsch was fired in February after a dismal run of form, capped off by a seven-game winless streak. Another American — assistant coach Chris Armas — had been brought in a month earlier and was then asked to stay on and guide the team through an interim phase, before Javi Gracia was hired.

Then Armas was let go, Gracia was soon fired, too, and performances went from shaky to downright desperate, to the point that Leeds has now won just one of its last nine games and sits 18th in the 20-team table.

In a final dice toss, veteran coach Sam Allardyce was recruited as an emergency measure to try to prevent the doom of the drop — with the bottom three in the league demoted each year to the second-tier Championship.

The fallout of that would be manifold. In 2004, Leeds was relegated despite having played a Champions League semifinal a couple of years earlier. It took 16 long years to get back.

As for the American players; Adams is out for the rest of the season with a hamstring injury that required surgery. Aaronson's early season promise has waned, and he is seeing little playing time.  McKennie has had the occasional strong performance, but his future is unclear. There is, frankly, no chance Leeds picks up the option to buy McKennie if it is no longer a Premier League team.

The situation looks grim. Fixtures that involve a visit to West Ham on Sunday and a home game against Tottenham to close the season leave a difficult, but not impossible, task for survival.

Around them, Nottingham Forest and Everton looked like relegation candidates for a while, but have done just enough to move above the bottom places, with fighting spirit and an opportune win here and there.

Southampton is already relegated, while Leicester, EPL champion just seven years ago, now needs a miracle akin to that famed 5,000-to-1 triumph to lift itself clear.

If the worst fate — and we won't call it unthinkable because it has quickly become very, very thinkable — befalls Leeds, what then for the American players? This is a quiet time for the national team post-World Cup, but the overall health of the USA squad requires its best players to be playing in favorable club situations.

Adams will find some demand, and while American fans would love to see him playing in the Champions League somewhere, reality dictates that his holding midfield abilities could be most valuable to a scrappy EPL team trying to position itself as a mid-level survivalist.

Aaronson might be best served to stick around at Leeds, and a year in the rough-and-tumble of the Championship might do him no harm. At his top level, he is one of the most dynamic players the U.S. has, but he found life more difficult as this season wore on and is just the latest player to have found the switch to English soccer grueling.

McKennie has no shortage of ability, but again, his best chance of sticking at a truly elite club probably passed by once he left Juventus. Like Adams, an EPL stay with a mid-ranked EPL team would make some sense.

The promotion and relegation system is one of the things that makes European soccer so compelling. Every game matters, with a brutal financial difference in the television payouts awarded to teams once they drop a division.

There are a lot of factors at play and some harsh realities that cannot be avoided. It's not, if we're being honest, looking very rosy for Leeds. 

Far from being an American Dream, as one witty headline writer stumbled upon early in the season, it has turned into a very English kind of nightmare.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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