Americans abroad analysis

Brooks, Pefok, Mendez, Wright among the goal scorers in up & down weekend for Yanks abroad

There was a lot of good and a lot of bad to report from Americans abroad. A 17-year-old made his debut for Hajduk Spoit, Alex Mendez and Haji Wright each scored against league leaders, and Brenden Aaronson won the Austrian Cup. All that was good. But Josh Sargent was injured and relegated, Jeesse Marsch is in a tight spot, and others are also facing relegation. ASN's Brian Sciaretta breaks it down with his thoughts and analysis
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
May 01, 2022
12:50 PM

THE WEEKEND FOR Americans abroad continued to the run last week of eventful action. After a mostly lackluster season, the season is ending with some drama as more Americans are finding themselves on the scoresheet and others are involved in races for promotion, against relegation, and for either title or European places.

Sure, injuries continued to sideline key players such as Weston Mckennie at Juventus, Gio Reyna at Dortmund, Sergino Dest at Barcelona, Chris Richards at Hoffenheim, and Ian Harkes at Dundee United all missed games with injuries.

There was also a string of players who disappointingly did not play or were limited to late cameos – neither Gianluca Busio nor Tanner Tessmann got of the bench for Venezia in a 2-1 loss to Juventus as relegation draws closer. Matt Miazga watched his Deportivo Alaves upset Villarreal. Yunus Musah only made a very late cameo to kill off time for his 10-man Valencia in a 1-1 draw with Levante. Nicholas Gioacchini continued to only played limited minutes for Montpellier, coming in the 86th minute of a 2-2 draw with Met. He was on the field for the equalizer but did not have a hand in the goal.

The same could be said for Sebastian Soto for Livingston in their 1-0 win over Hibs – a game which Chris Mueller went unused in the loss. Soto’s disappointing loan raises more questions over what is next. Matthew Hoppe actually played two minutes for Mallorca with a late game cameo for Mallorca in a 2-1 loss to Barcelona. Shaq Moore came into Tenerife's 2-0 win over Lugo in the 87th minute to kill off the clock.  Zack Steffen watched Man City’s 4-0 win over Jesse Marsch’s Leeds United.

Then you get to Ricardo Pepi – the $20 million transfer to Augsburg has been exceptionally difficult as he has gone from playing and not scoring to just not playing. He did not get off the bench in Saturday's 4-1 loss to FC Koln. Time is still on Pepi’s side, but he needs a boost to get back on track. My idea – and an idea I think serves all parties is let him play with the United States U-20 team this summer. That team could really use him to qualify for the U-20 World Cup and the Olympics plus it could give him the confidence ahead of preseason this summer. It would benefit Pepi, U.S. Soccer, and Augsburg.

But let’s focus more on those who were healthy and who played.


Mendez’s hits wonder goal


Alex Mendez hasn’t been in the spotlight for awhile since he had a starting role with the U.S. U-20 team in 2018 and 2019. His move to Ajax’s reserves never really panned out and then he moved to a lower-half team in Portugal at Vizela.

This season he has begun to play regular first-team minutes for the first time in his career and, despite some positive stretches, he hasn’t picked up either a goal or an assist in league play (he managed to score a pair of goals against lower-tier teams in the Portuguese Cup).

On Saturday, Mendez got the start on the road against league-leaders FC Porto – who had the chance to clinch the title with a win and help.

Despite Porto winning 4-2, Mendez had a big game – the best of his career. The highlight came in the 36th minute when he scored a wondergoal that was similar to how he scored back with the U.S. U-20 team.   


Aside from that, Mendez put up solid numbers. The fact that it came against Porto was even more encouraging. his last game was positive not just because of the goal, but also because of the defensive shift he put in. Everyone knows he can hit an amazing ball with his left foot. That has always been his strength. To take it to the next level, it will be about everything else.

  • 90 minutes
  • 41 touches
  • 1 shot
  • 1 goal
  • 0 key passes
  • 3/3 dribbles
  • 3/5 accurate long balls
  • 17/22 passing
  • 3 clearances
  • 2/3 in tackles
  • 6/10 in duels

Vizela sits six points above the relegation playoff spot with two games remaining.

Mendez should look to close out this season strong and give himself momentum heading into next season. The national team is probably still out of reach for him ahead of Qater given that he still doesn’t have a full body of work (1 goal, 0 assists over an entire season for a team just north of relegation). He still has weaknesses in that he’s not particularly fast and defensively, he still needs to show himself better over a longer period. But this was encouraging, and he needs to build on it.


Haji Wright scores again


Make it seven goals in seven games for Haji Wright in the Turkish Super Lig. This was perhaps even more impressive given that it came against league-leading Trabzonspor team that was attempting to win the Turkish title with a win.

His goal came in the 80th minute with Antalyaspor trailing 2-1. A corner kick eventually found its way to the top of the box for a shot from Güray Vural. Wright intercepted the shot with a great first touch and hammered it home from close range (you can watch below).

The draw only delayed Trabzonspor’s clinching of the title because their lead atop the table is still nine points with four games to play.

As for Wright, he’s in an absolute dream run and it couldn’t have come at a better time from an individual perspective. In addition to the goal, he had three shots – including another huge chance to score just before halftime.

  • 90 minutes
  • 38 touches
  • 3 shots
  • 2 key passes
  • 16/20 passing
  • 2/5 dribbles
  • 3/12 ground duels won
  • 3/6 aerials
  • 5 fouls
  • 1x fouled

From a club perspective, he is going earn a huge payday. He’s on loan Antalyaspor from SonderjyskE and there is bad blood between Wright and SonderjyskE over Wright forcing the loan by traveling to Turkey without SonderjyskE’s permission. SonderjyskE threatened a lawsuit but didn’t go through with it by forcing Wright to sign an extension. With SonderjyskE set to get relegated out of the Danish Superliga this year, they’re going to have to sell – likely to the highest bidder.

Logic indicates that the top bidder will probably come within Turkey to one of the bigger teams in the league. Turkey has a lot of internal movement with the top players from smaller/middle teams getting bought up by bigger teams. On top of that, Wright’s struggles in Germany and Denmark might scare off other teams within the major European leagues.

There is also the national team. Wright may or may not be the answer to the team’s scoring woes at the No. 9 position. He’s also not the only American No. 9 scoring at the club level. Baring a disaster, Jordan Pefok is going to win the Swiss Golden Boot and Jesus Ferreira has six goals already to start the MLS season. But Wright is showing that he needs to at least have a look and it should surprise no one if he is called up in June.


Brooks scores in draw vs. Stuttgart


The Bundesliga’s relegation race saw no movement as Pellegrino Matarazzo’s Stuttgart team drew with Wolfsburg on Saturday while Hertha drew with George Bello and Arminia Bielefeld.

The Wolfsburg 1-1 draw with Stuttgart wasn’t surprising but Stuttgart will be left wondering how their situation could have been improved with a win. Stuttgart had 19 shots and 57% possession but could not find a way to win.

John Brooks is looking to end his Wolfsburg tenure on a high point and his 13th minute goal off a corner opened the scoring.

Stuttgart battled hard and found an 89th minute equalizer on a volley from Chris Fuhrich that was not the fault of Brooks.

Brooks was solid but wasn’t forced to do too much dangerous defending during the game. The goal, however, secured a result that formally secured Wolfsburg’s survival in the Bundesliga. With him set to depart the club this summer, it will be interesting to see if Brooks plays much the remainder of the season.

Another note on Wolfsburg is that Kevin Paredes did not even make the matchday squad, which is disappointing in that his only limited minutes have come at very unimportant times. Now that Wolfsburg has secured survival, it might give him chances the final two games.

As for Stuttgart, survival is going to be rough. For automatic survival, they have to close a four-point gap over two games on Hertha. Stuttgart is aided by having a far superior goal differential. Matarazzo’s teams play with emotion, and they love to play for him. But the team has dealt with so many injuries and tough losses. Part of making up that gap means going to Munich next week and getting a result against Bayern.

So most likely, Stuttgart will have to fight off Arminia Bielefield to avoid falling into automatic relegation and then hoping to prevail in the playoffs.


Bello & Arminia Bielefeld draw


To continue with the Stuttgar-Wolfsburg draw, George Bello and Arminia Bielefeld played to a disappointing 1-1 draw with Hertha BSC on Saturday. Hertha is one of the teams that both Stuttgart and Arminia are chasing since Hertha occupies the last automatically safe spot.

It could have been far worse as Arminia Bielefeld needed a 90th minute header from Joakim Nilsson to equalize the game at 1-1.

George Bello played the final 18 minutes for Arminia Bielefeld and while he didn’t factor into the equalizer, at least he was on the field for it. He might get a chance to start the final two games as the team pushes to at least qualify for the relegation playoff. Bello is dealing with a world of pressure right now because he is likely to remain with Arminia should they suffer relegation.

Arminia Bielefeld’s final two games are against Bochum and RB Leipzig. The visit to Bochum is critical as it is the most winnable game and it comes when Stuttgart have to travel to Bayern. It’s the best chance to make up ground.


EPB & Troyes take big step


Two U.S. internationals were pitted against each other when Troyes hosted Lille on Sunday in Ligue 1. With Troyes struggling recently after two straight losses (including one against last-place Clermont Foot) and a trip to visit PSG next week, the club needed to pull out a home result over defending champs Lille. Otherwise, their two-point cushion on survival in Ligue 1 could all-but evaporate.

Erik Palmer-Brown got the start for Troyes and Tim Weah got the start for Lille in a game where all the breaks went Troyes’ way in a critical 3-0 win. Lille conceded three penalties and two red cards to essentially gift-wrap EPB and Troyes a win that will likely keep it in Ligue 1.

Troyes was awarded a penalty in the 43rd minute to open the scoring. Then Lille picked up red cards in the 50th and 68th minute. That paved the way for Troyes goals in the 55th and 90th minutes – both on penalties. 

From an individual look at the players, there wasn’t much to report. Palmer-Brown did not have to defend much as Troyes took advantage of a crumbling Lille.

Meanwhile, Weah had two shots but was limited to how much he could do. He had two shots from far outside the box and had to defend for long stretches. He won 4/6 of his ground duels to help try to keep Lille at bay but there wasn’t much he could do to change the result.


Sargent injured & relegated in loss


Everyone knew early in the season that Norwich was likely not going to survive the season in the Premier League. On Saturday that became official as Norwich suffered a 2-0 loss to Aston Villa to formal clinch their relegation.

Sargent made his return from ankle injury and was on the bench for Norwich.

With Norwich trailing 1-0, Sargent came into the game in the 67th minute. He lasted just 14 minutes before coming off injured in the 81st minute – appearing again to be his ankle. Sargent was okay in his 14-minute run but the injury caps off what has been another difficult season.

Sargent, 22, has now suffered his second straight relegation in two seasons after his Werder Bremen team was relegated at the end of the season. In a cruel twist, Sargent scored two goals for Werder Bremen in the 2.Bundesliga opener in July in a 3-2 win over Fortuna Dusseldorf. That win might be a factor is sending Werder Bremen back to the Bundesliga.

As for Sargent, running away from a second relegation is a tough look. He’s best to go down to the Championship and try to help his team get back to the Premier League. If he struggles there, he’ll have tough decisions to make.


Aaronson wins Austrian Cup


On Sunday, Red Bull Salzburg won the Austrian Cup with a 3-0 win over Ried. Typically a starter, Brenden Aaronson was on the bench for this one but came on in the 63rd minute with Salzburg up 2-0.

There isn’t much to take from Aaronson’s performances at Salzburg anymore. He has far outgrown anything in Austria can offer him. He is only a week removed from his return from an MCL injury that sidelined him over a month. Being on the bench at the start makes sense.

But consider what he has accomplished the last 18 months.

  • -          1 MLS Supporters Shield
  • -          Named to MLS Best XI
  • -          2 Austrian Bundesliga titles
  • -          2 Austrian Cups
  • -          1 advancement in the Champions League knockouts

He has a very strong case to be named to the Austrian Bundesliga team of the season.

Everyone knows Aaronson is probably on his way out of Austria this summer. His value has never been higher, and he’s accomplished all that he could.


Pukstas makes Hajduk Spit debut


U.S. U-20 midfielder Rokas Pukstas made his first-team debut for Hajduk Spit on Friday and he started and played 82 minutes in a 2-1 win over a NK Hrvatski Dragovoljac team that is deep in last place of Croatia’s 1.HNL.

It was the first-team debut for Pukstas, an Oklahoma native of Lithuanian heritage (and passport holder). His father competed for Lithuania in the 2004 Olympics for the marathon. After playing domestically with Sporting Kansas City in the academy and then the Barca academy before signing Hajduk Split. There he progressed through the academy and then on Friday he made his first team debut.

Hajduk Split is one of the most successful teams in Croatia and among all the former Yugoslavian countries. It has won nine Yugoslav titles and six Croatian titles and has never been relegated from a top tier. Its last title was in the 2004/05 season and with three games remaining, it sits in second place and trails leaders Dinamo Zagreb by four points. On May 26, it will take on Rijeka in the Croatian Cup final. It has been very rare to see American players at any of the top Eastern European teams.

Top Eastern European teams are known for developing very good players and being quick to sell although Hajduk Split has only played four teenagers this season (and only one has more than 10 appearances).

Pukstas is in a very good spot provided that he can play regularly. It will be interesting if he can take a spot on the U.S. U-20 team – which has a number of good midfielders. That seems to be a priority for him as he turned down an approach from Lithuania’s federation (both Hajduk’s head coach and its director of football are Lithuanian) to play with the U.S. U-20 team for a March camp in Argentina.

For the remaining games, it will be telling of Pukstas remains in the rotation or whether the club simply viewed Friday’s game as a good opportunity since it came against a weak opponent.


Younger DeRosario scores again


The Canadian Premier League might still be a new league which is attempting to grow and improve, but, like in any league, you should take note when a young player does well there.

Such is the case for Osaze De Rosario, 20, who is the son of Canadian legend Dwayne De Rosario. The younger De Rosario has an interesting story. He was born in California while his dad played for the quakes. He spent time in NYCFC’s academy but moved to the Ukrainian Premier League to begin his career. He made his first team debut there with Rukh Lviv but parted way with the club days before the invasion.

Now signed to York United, he is attempting to break through in a country where his father is a legend.

Thus far he’s been doing a great job. On Friday, De Rosario scored for the third straight game when he converted a penalty he drew. It helped York United to a 2-2 draw with Atletico Ottawa.

It's too early to talk about his dual nationality but it is fun to follow his story and his progress.


Pefok seeks Swiss Golden Boot


BSC Young Boys defeated Sion 2-1 on Sunday and U.S. national team forward Jordan Pefok converted a penalty in second half stoppage time to earn the victory.

For Pefok, 26, it was his 22nd goal in the Swiss Super League and his fifth via a successful penalty. He also has five more goals in the Champions League (including qualifiers).

With four games remaining, he has a four-goal lead in the race for the Swiss Golden Boot.


Tough weekend for Marsch


For Jesse Marsch, it probably couldn’t have been worse weekend. His Leeds United team dropped a 4-0 decision to Manchester City. That was mostly as expected. But the results out of his hands did not go his way – in very surprising fashion.

Burnley had been in the relegation zone most of the season but won its third in a row – this time against Watford. Then, Everton found a way to upset Chelsea 1-0.

The result is that Marsch and Co. have a two point cushion on the relegation zone. They sit at 34 points and are even with Burnley (Leeds has a much worse goal differential). Both of them are ahead of Everton (the first team in the relegation zone).

On top of that, Leeds United’s next two games are against Arsenal and Chelsea.

It’s going to be really close, and this weekend made things a lot harder for the American trailblazing coach.


Mixed weekend in Scotland


The number of Americans in Scotland’s Premiership has grown a lot this season, but the returns have been up and down. This past weekend was a tough ride for most of them, but there were exceptions.

Livingston FC defeated Hibernian 1-0 in the relegation half of the table, despite neither team being in danger of relegation. The good news from an American perspective is that the game’s only goal came from Scott Pittman, son of former U.S. international Steve Pittman. Pittman has been a mainstay of Livingston since 2015 and this was his 19th career goal in the Premiership.

The same game did not bring great news for a pair of other Americans. Sebastian Soto continues to see his minutes decline at Livingston, and he was used as a late sub just to kill time. This is yet another loan for the former U.S. U-20 World Cup forward that has not worked out. It’s tough to understand what is next. Also in this game, Chris Mueller went as an unused sub for Hibernian despite his team needing a goal the entire second half.

In the promotion half, Dundee United defeated Motherwell 1-0. Dundee United was without the injured Ian Harkes while Joe Efford played the final 26 minutes for Motherwell. Efford force one diving save but otherwise did not show much.

Aberdeen defeated Dundee FC 1-0 in the relegation half (with Aberdeen not in danger of relegation). Christian Ramirez started and played 68 minutes. While he has 10 goals in the Premiership, he hasn’t scored since February 9th. Georgetown University product Dante Polvara was an unused sub for Aberdeen.

Finally in Scotland, there was the Old Firm derby as Celtic hosted Rangers. Celtic came into the game with a six-point lead atop the table with four games to go. A win would have essentially ended the title race while a Rangers win would have made in interesting. The teams ended up playing to a 1-1 draw which doesn’t clinch it for Celtic, but it makes it so that only a catastrophic collapse would see them not crowned the champs.

Cameron Carter-Vickers started and went the distance for Celtic. As is the norm, he was his dependable self. Celtic has been a great fit for him, and he is going to force someone’s hand to pay an substantial fee from Tottenham. On the other hand, James Sands when as an unused sub for Rangers.


Other thoughts


It was a tough loss for Chelsea on Sunday, dropping a 1-0 decision to relegation battling Everton. Chelsea’s body language reflected a team that was off. Christian Pulisic played the final 23 minutes and did not show much. After the game, his father Mark issued a since-deleted tweet that his son liked Chelsea but that “it was going to be an interesting six months.” While people interpreted that as he might be leaving the club, the most likely explanation is that he was referring to the World Cup.

In the Championship, Duane Holmes started and played 65 minutes for Huddersfield in a 2-1 away win over Coventry. Huddersfield will likely finish either third or fourth and will play in the promotional playoffs.

Nottingham Forest will at worst head to the playoffs, although automatic promotion is still a possibility due to goal differential. After a 5-1 win over Swansea City on Saturday. Ethan Horvath was an unused sub, as is the norm, but American born Alex Mighten came off the bench in the 76th (when he replaced Sam Surridge, who had a hat-trick) and scored the final goal of the rout. Mighten would need to file a one-time switch to play for the United States, but he likely has work to do in order to earn a call-up. This was just his first goal of the season and minutes have been hard to come for him – even when healthy.

Finally in the Championship, Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson, and Fulham take on Luton Town on Monday. Fulham has already been promoted to the Premier League.

In the Eredivisie, there wasn’t much to report on from Luca de la Torre in Saturday's 1-1 draw with FC Twente. De la Torre was limited in what he could do given that Heracles was reduced to 10 men from the 16th minute. De la Torre worked extremely hard and was solid with his dribbling. He also won 8/13 of his ground duels to help win position down a man. But playing short-handed for so long, there was little he could do.

Cole Bassett, however, was able to get an extended run for Feyenoord when he came on in the 67th minute of a 3-1 win over Fortuna Sittard on Sunday. It was the longest run for Bassett since he joined Feyenoord on an 18-month loan from Colorado. Bassett played well and nearly had an assist only to see his teammate hit the post instead. Bassett has done well in his limited minutes and appears to be adjusting well. This upcoming preseason will be a huge time for him.

In Belgium, Sam Vines started and played 71 minutes for Royal Antwerp in a 0-0 draw with First Division leaders Union St. Gilloise. Vines played fairly well in the second half as the game opened up. He won multiple corners and was looking to get the ball forward. Antwerp remains in fourth with the result.

Staying in Belgium but in the playoff for a Conference League playoff spot, Mark McKenzie started for KRC Genk in a 4-2 win over Mechelen. McKenzie’s minutes have been increasing recently but there is pressure on him to improve his situation next season. It’s been an average season for everyone on Genk.

In Portugal, Reggie Cannon started on the right side of a three-man backline for Boavista in Sunday’s 2-1 away win over Mireirense. It’s a role that has suited Cannon well although it takes him out of his preferred tradition right back position. Instead, he places more as a central defender. He’s doing well at it but if he moves to another club, will that role exist? How will he do shifting back to right back? As you can see with the touchmap from Sunday’s game, he rarely gets forward at all.

In the Bundesliga, Julian Green played the final 17 minutes for an already-relegated Greuther Furth in a 1-1 draw against Union Berlin. On Monday, Timothy Chandler and Eintrach Frankfurt visit Bayer Leverkusen while Tyler Adams and RB Leipzig visit Joe Scally and Borussia Monchengladbach.

In the 2.Bundesliga, Ryan Malone put forth another strong outing in central defense for Hansa Rostock in a 0-0 draw with Paderborn. He’s been one of the more underrated stories this season finding success after a career journeyman in the semi-pro levels after coming out of a Division III college (Springfield).  

In the Greek Super League, Caleb Stanko went the distance for PAS Giannina in a 3-2 loss to leaders Olympiakos. Stanko assisted on an equalizer in the 80th minute only to see Olympiakos find a stoppage time winner. Also, Nico Carrera did not get off the bench for Holstein Kiel in a 3-2 win over Werder Bremen

In Denmark, Christian Cappis started and played well for Brondby in a 2-1 loss to Randers. The Texan left the game in the 71st minute with the score 1-1. Brondby, the reigning champs, have lost seven games in a row and face tough questions as the season is ending.

In the relegation half of the Danish standings, Jose Gallegos started and played 63 minutes for last-place SonderjyskE in 3-0 win over a Vejle team that is one place a head of it. With four games remaining, SonderjyskE is eight points deep in the relegation zone. SonderjyskE is in the Danish Cup final on May 26. Also in the relegation half, OB defeated AGF Aarhus 1-0 with 2017 U.S. U-20 World Cup attacker Emmanuel Sabbi played 74 minutes in the win.

In Serie B, Andrija Novakovich started for Frosinone and played 75 minutes in a 3-0 loss to SPAL. Frosinone are still holding onto eighth place and the final spot in the promotional playoff.

In Sweden’s Allsvenskan, Joe Gyau started for Degerfors but was pulled in the 33rd minute when his team fell behind 4-0 to Elfsborg. It ended up a 6-0 defeat. Degefors is off to a horrific start to the season having lost all six games, scoring twice and conceding 16. Meanwhile, one place ahead of Degerfors goes to GIF Sundsvall – who lost 2-0 to AIK on Sunday. Joe Corona started and played 73 minutes in the loss.

In Iceland, Aron Johannsson started for Valur and played 85 minutes in a 2-1 in over KR. Valur has a perfect nine points from three games to start the season. Omar Sowe watched Breidablik's 3-0 win over FH

In Argentina, Joel Sonora started and played 64 minutes for Velez Sarsfield in a 3-2 win over Tigre. The elder of the Sonora brothers has been played much better as of late and his minutes have been improving. Meanwhile, Alan Sonora did not play for Independiente in a 1-0 loss to Lanus.

In Brazil, Johnny Cardoso did not suit up for Internacional in a 0-0 draw with Avai.

In Ecuador, Michael Hoyos started and played 65 minutes for LDU Quito in a 1-0 loss to Independiente Valle on Sunday.

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