DAVID SMITH - Thursday, August 25, 2016
The Champions League group stage draw took place on Thursday, avoiding any yank-on-yank matchups but setting up a gauntlet for likely participants Fabian Johnson and Christian Pulisic.
With the final stage of qualification finally completed on Wednesday evening, the long-awaited group-stage matchups for Europe's top club competition were drawn in Monaco on Thursday afternoon.
A total five American players could see action in the tournament, but the only one who is all but guaranteed to play a major role in his team's campaign, Borussia Mönchengladbach's Fabian Johnson, finds himself in perhaps the toughest of the eight groups.
The Foals finished at the bottom of their group in last season's edition, and will have the odds once again stacked against them against Group C rivals Barcelona, Manchester City and Celtic.
With their opponents being a mix of old blood and new money, it will take several virtuoso performances by Johnson and his teammates to do more than slog it out with Celtic for the third-place ticket to the Europa League knockout round.
FC Bayern forward Julian Green has made a stunning progression into the German club's first-team plans during the off-season, and should see some action in a relatively straightforward Group D.
While a list of opponents including last season's finalists Atlético Madrid, Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven and Russian runners-up FC Rostov is certainly not to be taken lightly, the Bavarians should be able to reach the knockout with room to spare.
Bayern and Atlético are the odds-on favorites to run away with the group, which could put Green in line for significant playing time over the final one or two games.
Borussia Dortmund attacker Christian Pulisic has found playing time hard to come by so far this season in their reinforced squad, but with the team likely to be navigating three competitions throughout the remaining months of 2016, could be called upon against a tough, but beatable Group F field.
While reigning European champions Real Madrid will be favorites to sweep the rest side, Dortmund should have a leg up on Portuguese runners-up Sporting CP and Polish champions Legia Warsaw to claim second spot.
Finally, a pair of England-based American youngsters are unlikely to be in the forefront of their teams' plans, but should nevertheless be included in their respective "B list" reserved for youth players available to play.
Arsenal youngster Gedion Zelalem will hope that his team is able to secure early advancement from Group A against French trust fund babies Paris Saint-Germain, Swiss champions FC Basel, and recent Bulgarian big guns Ludogorets Razgrad. An effectively meaningless final game in December could give the German-born midfielder his best chance of taking the field in the competition.
Similarly, Tottenham defender Cameron Carter-Vickers could benefit from what is perhaps the competition's easiest group, with all winnable games on the docket against their opponents CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen and AS Monaco.
The first round of games will commence on September 13, with the final matches to be contested on December 7.
Champions League group stage draw
Manchester City FC