Philadelphia Union midfielder Jimmy McLaughlin did the usual stuff during Thanksgiving last week.
He saw lots of family, played a little football (even though he said his form is not very good) and ate some turkey.
He also did one thing different than in years past: he told stories about his first-ever overseas training stint, which he returned from the day before Thanksgiving. The 19-year-old McLaughlin spent 10 days with Bundesliga club TSG Hoffenheim 1899, where he practiced mostly with their U-19 team and their reserve squad.
“It was really cool to see how they do things,” McLaughlin told MLSsoccer.com by phone Thursday. “Everyone really took care of me. It was a great experience.”
For McLaughlin, one of a handful of Union players to train overseas this offseason, the toughest part was the language barrier. Often, he wasn’t sure what the coach was saying when he was setting up drills, so he’d just follow the lead of other players.
One player he already knew was Kai Herdling, a Hoffenheim II forward who was loaned to the Union for a few months this past season. Another was Russell Canouse, a Pennsylvania native who was signed by Hoffenheim this past summer after a promising year with their academy.
“I knew him from camps back in the day,” McLaughlin said. “I stayed in his room. It was nice to have him. He helped me a lot.”
McLaughlin said that Crouse told him that he loves it in Germany but is excited to get home for the holidays to see family and friends. That’s part of the sacrifice that goes into it for any young American playing overseas.
“I’m sure it’s tough for any teenager to leave their family at such a young age,” McLaughlin said. “I’m lucky to be here at home, where I get to see family and friends all the time.”
Of course, like many players, McLaughlin still has long-term aspirations of possibly playing in Europe one day. But for now, the 19-year-old who was signed by the Union as a homegrown player almost exactly one year ago is simply ready to start his second full season in MLS.
He made just one league appearance during his rookie season, and it came in the second-to-last game of the year.
“It’s great to have the first-year experience under my belt, just learning how the team operates and what the preseason is like,” he said. “Just having an idea what it’s going to be like really helps and it will be really beneficial for me this year.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.