News analysis

Messi keeps rolling, LAFC routs Juarez, Hoppe to San Jose, McKennie shines, & much more

In what was a very big news day, ASN's Brian Sciaretta writes about Messi, LAFC, and the rest of the big night for MLS. Tim Weah and Weston McKennie impress at Juve. Plus, transfer thoughts on Erik Palmer-Brown, Matthew Hoppe, Haji Wright and Auston Trusty. Finally, good and bad news from European competitions. Here are Sciaretta's thoughts. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
August 03, 2023
2:00 PM

THE WEEKEND IS just a day away, but already the news keeps rolling in American soccer. For starters, the Leagues Cup couldn’t be going any better for MLS. Meanwhile, the news abroad rolls in with performances, goals, and transfers.

Regarding Leagues Cup, things have been great for MLS. Messi is delivering and MLS teams are performing well enough against Liga MX teams. Monterrey remains the favorites, but even if a Liga MX team wins, MLS teams are performing very well to the point where this tournament shows that not much separates these leagues even if the top of Liga MX is still the best.

Let’s start with the League Cup today.


Messi’s magic continues


Inter Miami brought Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Jordy Alba, and Tata Martino to the club to win and to drive attention to the club/league. We’re still weeks into this project and already it is a raging success. Messi is running wild, and the team is in control of every game it has played while he is on the field. They look unbeatable.

On Wednesday night, it was a 3-1 win over Orlando and Messi scored two more times. He now has five goals and two assists in just 204 minutes. But the other part of the story is how everyone is playing better with him on the field.

Robert Taylor is just one of the many examples. He has three goals and two assists with Messi on the field. DeAndre Yedlin and U.S./Argentina youth international Benja Cremaschi are also surging. Drake Callender looks as if he is in the mix for continued USMNT call-ups.


The Leagues Cup are great for Miami. The team can push for silverware and use this as preseason friendlies to prepare for Miami’s stretch run. Don’t count this team out of the playoffs. It’s hard to figure out how they will be beaten.

What is also great about Miami’s current project is how the team is adding youth. Yes, the veterans get all the attention, but Miami has also added Argentina U-20 World Cup centerback Tomas Aviles, Argentina YNT veteran Facundo Farias, and Paraguayan international Diego Gomez. This isn’t the old Cosmos route. This team is building a solid young group behind Messi. These latest signings will also be part of that group with Cremaschi and Noah Allen.

Messi is delivering the show that everyone wanted and it’s lifting everything around him.


LAFC annihilates Juarez


The biggest lopsided victory so far in this tournament came Wednesday when LAFC pounded FC Juarez of Liga MX by a 7-1 score. LAFC had a bye through the group stages and it was a question which version of the team would show up? The MLS best or the one that struggled in the CCL Final and in the subsequent months.

The answer was the latter.

“It is our ambition to go as far as possible in this tournament and, who knows, possibly win,” head coach Steve Cherundolo said. "I was hoping for that reaction tonight. With the exception of the first 15 minutes, they were fully there, engaged and hungry to score goals and get a positive result. And they did great."


The big question is Carlos Vela who scored two goal but left with an injury in the 69th minute. Cherundolo did not have an update at the game.

But it was a complete team performance that resembled this team at its peak. Denis Bouanga notched a hat trick. Homegrown teenager Nathan Ordaz, 19, scored the final goal and played well off the bench. He is representing Mexico at the youth level but could also represent the United States (where he was born) or El Salvador.

Next up for LAFC is the winter between Club Leon and Real Salt Lake. That outcome prompted this funny meme.


Houston stuns Pachuca


Like LAFC, Pachuca was given a bye into the knockouts. But unlike LAFC, Pachuca made a quick exit in the tournament. After a 0-0 draw, Pachuca fell to Houston on penalties. Houston’s American goalkeeper Steve Clark was the hero in the game.

This game wasn’t easy to watch. Houston turned this game into a grind and it was even in possession, passing, and chances. But Pachuca was uncomfortable. From there, Houston trusted their goalkeeper in Clark. Clark can make things happen, and he did.

Ben Olsen is doing a good job. Houston was a tough assignment, and the team hasn’t been good in a very long time. But there is progress, even if it isn’t pretty soccer. Eliminating Pachuca is another impressive step forward.


FC Dallas downs Mazatlan


FC Dallas is through to the round of 16 where Inter Miami awaits. Dallas got there after a 2-1 win over Mazatlan. Possession was even in this game but Dallas had the better of chances. Alan Velasco converted a penalty (on a foul drawn by Bernard Kamungo)  and winger Eugene Ansah took a pass from Jesus Ferreira to score the second goal of the game. It was the second win for Dallas in this tournament over a Liga MX team.

Ferreira, 22, is thriving against Liga MX in these games where he has a goal and an assist. But beyond the goal contributions, the U.S. international created five chances against Mazatlan and his crossing was very good.

But getting past Inter Miami will be the toughest assignment for FC Dallas so far in Leagues Cup.


Weah and McKennie impress


Juventus defeated Real Madrid 3-1 on Wednesday in the United States and both Weston McKennie and Tim Weah started for Juve. McKennie played 66 minutes while Weah was subbed out at the half.

The shining moment came in the 20th minute when McKennie assisted on a Weah goal for a 2-0 lead.

Things are changing quickly for McKennie. It was assumed that he was going to be sold by Juve this summer after a tough loan from Leeds. But more and more, it looks as if McKennie is going to stay and start for Juventus. The latest news is that Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli has beaten Juventus for Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessie, who would have replaced McKennie if he moved to Italy.

But options are running short, and Juventus is at a point where it needs McKennie. Then, if McKennie can turn in a MOTM performance against Madrid in a friendly, it makes it a better solution for Juventus.

It just shows how things don’t always go as planned.


Trusty to Sheffield United


After a successful season on loan with Birmingham City, Auston Trusty will not continue the loan army route, nor will he remain in the Championship. The former Philadelphia Union homegrown defender will play next season in the Premier League with newly promoted Sheffield United on a full transfer from Arsenal.

The move is great, and it gives Trusty a real opportunity. Yes, Sheffield United are expected to struggle in the Premier League, but Trusty will get a chance to really showcase himself. If he takes advantage of this opportunity, it will continue to open doors.

He should play. Sheffield United play with three central defenders and they are thin with options. Trusty will get a chance. Worse case scenario is that Sheffield United are relegated and Trusty goes back to the Championship where he is comfortable. Best case is that he plays well and helps Sheffield United either stay up, or he gets sold to a more stable Premier League team.

He’s not expected to save Sheffield United. The pressure isn’t that great. But the upsides are enormous.


Palmer-Brown to Panathinaikos


Erik Palmer-Brown, 26, has signed a four-year contract with Panathinaikos of the Greek Super League. Panathinaikos is coming off a second-place finish and will play Marseille in the next round of Champions League qualifying.

This is a move that should be viewed optimistically. Palmer-Brown has paid his dues lately playing with struggling clubs. On his loans from Manchester City, he played for a mediocre Kortrijk, a relegation-bound NAC Breda, a mediocre Austria Vienna, and then a Troyes team that was relegated out of Ligue 1. In between his two seasons at Troyes, he moved to the club on a transfer from Man City.


But now Palmer-Brown will play for a better club that should win its league games in Greece. That should allow the former Sporting Kansas City homegrown to play with confidence. It’s been a long time since he played for a winning team and that alone should be huge.

Will this get him back into the USMNT picture? It’s tough and the central defense list is long with Tim Ream, Walker Zimmerman, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Mark McKenzie, Miles Robinson, John Brooks, Matt Miazga, and Chris Richards all in the mix. But this can only help. Maybe it would also put him in the mix to be an overage selection for the Olympic team.


Hoppe to San Jose


Matthew Hoppe, 22, has moved to San Jose on a 12-month loan from Middlesbrough. This is essentially hitting the reset button on his career. He has barely played the past two seasons at Mallorca, Middlesbrough, or on loan at Hibernian in Scotland.

The reality is that he cannot have a third straight lost season. The move to San Jose now sends him close to home and in a comfortable setting.

Still, Hoppe needs to play. He has competition in San Jose. At center forward, it will be tough for him to surpass Jeremy Ebobisse. On the wings, he must compete with Cade Cowell.

He also has the added benefit of the U.S. U-23 team which will begin Olympic preparations in the fall during the September, October, and November international dates along with a January camp. Those will also provide games.

Making the Olympic team will be a tough task for Hoppe because he’ll face competition with Duncan McGuire at forward as well as Diego Luna, Cade Cowell, and Brian Gutierrez in the wings. But that should only push Hoppe to be better.

Hoppe needed to make a move and he did. Now he has to make it work or else his career will be in a bad place.


Wright nears Coventry move


Haji Wright, 25, is close to securing a transfer from Antalyaspor to Coventry for what could be a Coventry record paid fee for a player.

That will certainly give Wright a lot of opportunities to perform, but the pressure of being a club’s most expensive ever player is huge. Coventry clearly see Wright as a player who can help them contend for promotion. If he doesn’t do that, the huge fee paid could set the club back.


Conference League qualifying


Two American players found the back of the net in UEFA Conference League qualifiers.

Kenny Saief’s goal helped Azerbaijan’s Neftci Baku advance past Zeljeznicar.

Meanwhile, Eduvie Ikoba scored for ZTE in a losing effort against Croatia’s Osijek. Ikoba scored 13 goals across all competitions last season in Hungary for ZTE.


McKennie & Genk out of UCL


It was a brutal ending to Genk’s brief Champions League qualifying run on Wednesday when it lost to Servette on penalties after a 2-2 draw in the second leg (the first leg was 1-1 in Switzerland).

Mark McKenzie was not at fault, but this was a terrible loss for Genk. They were playing at home in the second leg and Servette suffered a third minute red card. Genk would then have 1-0 and 2-1 leads – only to surrender equalizers each time. Servette played 117 minutes with 10 players, equalized the game twice, and won on penalties all while on the road.

Genk will now head to Europa League playoffs, but this was a terrible result and McKenzie really could have used the Champions League to showcase himself.

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