From La Fuente to Barcelona and now Marseille
Through Jason davis – WASHINGTON, DC (July 2, 2021) American Soccer Players – Once upon a time, Konrad de la Fuente was a unicorn. While the Americans had made inroads at clubs across Europe and the continent’s biggest leagues in 25 years of trying, none had established themselves with one of the most famous clubs in the world. world, FC Barcelona. Spain, for unclear reasons, has proven largely impenetrable to talent with a US passport.
Even when the American players crossed the Atlantic and had the chance to prove themselves in Spain, the road to first-team success turned out to be bumpy. 12-year-old Ben Lederman made history when he joined Barcelona’s youth academy La Masia in 2011. Seven years later, Lederman left the much-vaunted football school without a first-team contract. . He now plays in the Polish top flight.
Before the arrival in Catalonia of another USMNT player, Sergino Dest, via a large money transfer, de la Fuente was making his way into the Barcelona system. He was the only American presence at a club known to recruit some of the best young talent from around the world. FIFA finally sanctioned Barcelona for this recruitment policy, directly impacting Lederman. De la Fuente’s situation was different. Because his family moved to Spain from South Florida when he was 10, De La Fuente didn’t have to worry about FIFA rules regarding the movement of underage players. Essentially he was a local, on par with his Spanish peers in the system.
As Barcelona’s focus shifts from academy products to big money transfers, renowned players have found themselves in De La Fuente’s path from reserves to first-team. On Wednesday, Olympique de Marseille announced the buyout of De La Fuente’s contract from FC Barcelona. The American striker will move to France in an effort to establish himself as a professional first-team player in a quality league.
To be clear, everything De La Fuente achieved in Barcelona was remarkable. Semantic issues aside regarding how much of his effective football education can be attributed to the United States or Spain, De La Fuente was an American on the doorstep of first-team football at a known world-famous club. to require elite technical skills in his players. That last hurdle just turned out to be too much, at least for now.
It is important to say “for now” as Barcelona reluctantly said goodbye to De La Fuente. Although the playing time of the first team is at issue, which makes sense for the 19-year-old, Barcelona have done their utmost to secure a possible return. Information about the transfer indicates that the Spanish giant attempted to insert a buyout clause into the deal, but was rejected due to French federation rules.
Even though Barcelona may not have the first crack at de la Fuente in the future, it stands to reason that a good performance at Marseille will put the player back on Blaugrauna’s radar. De La Fuente is not only talented, he knows the club and its culture in an incredibly valuable way. Barcelona also own the right to 50% of the costs that a sale of De la Fuente generates for Marseille.
Moving to Marseille offers de la Fuente the opportunity to play in one of the best European leagues, as well as the European club scene. The club’s 5th place in Ligue 1 in 2020-21 has earned Marseille a place in the next edition of the Europa League. As a stepping stone to bigger things in the future, a move to Olympique Marseille is strong for De la Fuente.
Marseille is not Barcelona, but its reputation and its place in the standings testify to the potential. De la Fuente will play under the direction of Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli, a coach with a penchant for the theater and playing an intense and pressing style of football. Learning to play in this style will expand De la Fuente’s skills and make him more appealing to big clubs who play the same way. Note that Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT plays with a variant of the press.
USMNT fans can reasonably expect De la Fuente to follow a similar trajectory in France as national team forward Timothy Weah. After finding himself unable to regularly break into the first team with PSG, Weah traded Paris for Lille. After a string of injuries that limited his playing time there, Weah has finally established himself as a contributor to a club that won the Ligue 1 title in 2020-21.
By settling in Marseille, De La Fuente doubled the number of Americans in France’s top flight to two. France has at times been the club for USMNT players, although history is best described as sparse and uneven.
Before Weah’s rise to power at PSG, the last American to play a significant number of matches in France was midfielder Alejandro Bedoya. Bedoya spent three seasons playing for Nantes, appearing 87 times for Les Canaris in that streak. For the same reasons that Bedoya is so beloved in his current Philadelphia home, his two-way talent, industry and leadership, Bedoya was a fan favorite in Nantes. It was during his race in France that Bedoya established himself as a regular at the USMNT, earning a place in the 2014 World Cup team.
Before Bedoya, striker Charlie Davies played in Ligue 1 with FC Sochaux. Davies’ career in France was cut short by the 2009 car accident which changed the course of his career.
Carlos Bocanegra’s excellent European career made a stopover in France at Rennes and St Etienne after his stint in Fulham. Bocanegra went to collect nearly 100 appearances in the French top flight before moving on to Rangers in Scotland.
Aside from former USMNT full-back David Regis, a naturalized citizen who spent ten years playing professionally in France before preparing for his adopted country, the remaining history of Americans in Ligue 1 is either brief or inconsequential.
France have enjoyed more success in American football than Spain, but much of that has to do with Weah’s place with the French champions. It is a high bar that De la Fuente must cross. If there’s anything certain about the Florida-born, La Masia-raised forward, it’s that he has the talent to do it.
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Photo by John Dorton – ISIPhotos.com