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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A record 10 Americans will play in this season's Champions League, which kicks off Tuesday.

The state of play: Key players include Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Dortmund), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Weston McKennie (Juventus) and Sergiño Dest (Barcelona).

  • Bench players: Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona), Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge) and Alex Mendez (Ajax).

Why it matters: This golden generation could change how American men's soccer is perceived globally, while helping the USMNT rebuild after missing the 2018 World Cup.

  • "I will go as far as to say that a mark of any country's potential success is directly related to the amount of players they have competing in the Champions League," USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter told SiriusXM.
  • "When you have a guy who can go in there, on that stage, and play and hang in there, they ought to be able to do the same thing in the World Cup, because they are similar types of games."

The backdrop: This isn't a coincidence. Rather, it's the result of a concerted effort by U.S. Soccer, MLS and others to standardize player development through the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.

  • Six of the 10 players listed above — Pulisic, Reyna, McKennie, Adams, Steffen and Richards — spent time in the Academy.
  • "The Academy changed youth soccer, bringing players into an environment where they trained together exclusively for 10 months per year under dedicated and licensed coaches," Sports Illustrated writes.
  • Players maintained a more European-like balance between matches and training (instead of overloading on games like many American youth teams).

What we're watching: In April, U.S. Soccer ceded control of the Development Academy to MLS, which will rebrand it as "MLS Next."

  • MLS is also launching a reserves league that will begin play in 2021, per The Athletic, meaning the path to MLS first teams will exist almost entirely under the league's own umbrella.
  • Having that kind of pipeline control is beneficial for MLS as it looks to become more of a selling league (i.e. develop players, sell them on the global transfer market, then re-invest that money in player development).

The bottom line: In 2015, Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach) was the only American in the Champions League. Five years later, there are 10 — and they're starting for Barcelona and Chelsea. The growth is real.

Go deeper

Nov 28, 2020 - Health

NFL bans in-person team activities Monday, Tuesday due to COVID-19 surge

Houston Texans play the Detroit Lions in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. Photo: Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The NFL said it will prohibit all in-person team activities on Monday and Tuesday to help curb the spread of the coronavirus among teams.

Driving the news: The move comes "in response to the continuous increase in positivity rates throughout the country” and because “a number of players and staff celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday with out-of-town guests," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a memo late on Friday, per the NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.

Updated 14 mins ago - Sports

MLB enters first lockout since '95 as deal expires

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred (L) and Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark. Photo: Matt King/MLB via Getty Images

Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement expired at 11:59 p.m. ET Wednesday without a new deal in place.

Why it matters: With no CBA, the MLB is in a management lockout — the first work stoppage since a 1994-95 strike led to the cancelation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years.

Media giants back Bannon's bid to release Jan. 6 documents

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon at the FBI Washington Field Office in Washington, DC., in November. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

A coalition of news outlets including the Washington Post is supporting Stephen Bannon's campaign for the release of documents related to his contempt of Congress charges, WashPost confirmed Wednesday.

Why it matters: WashPost, the New York Times, CNN, NBC, the Wall Street Journal's parent company and others filed a motion arguing that a proposed protective order seeking to prevent the documents from being released violates the First Amendment, per the Daily Mail, which first reported on the news.