Monday Kickoff

Monday kickoff: Dike is back, Vazquez nears move, USMNT striker talk, transfers, & more

ASN's Brian Sciaretta gives up his thoughts on the weekend's news in American Soccer. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 08, 2024
8:50 AM

THE WEEKEND FOR Americans abroad was mostly low key as many leagues are still on winter break and most of the slate of games were in domestic cup competitions, which are of mixed importance to clubs. Elsewhere, the USMNT camp begins this week, the MLS preseason is just around the corner, and then there is the hot topic of transfers.

Here are some thoughts to get your week started.


Dike scores in return!


After nine months away, USMNT forward Daryl Dike is back for West Bromwich Albion. It was an Achilles injury, and it was his second long-term injury since joining the club from Orlando City.  On Sunday, Dike scored vs. fifth tier Anderschot Town and it was his 27th minute strike that gave West Brom a 3-0 lead in what would turn out to be a comfortable 4-1 win. Dike played just the first half – as was prearranged.

It was a nice strike and Dike did well to capitalize. As one of the nicer American players in the USMNT pool, it was great to see him so happy with the goal. It wasn’t just the goal either. Dike looked slimmed down but also still powerful. He also looked athletically strong and was still a commanding aerial presence.

A little bit of perspective is needed. This was against a midtable team in the fifth tier, which is not a fully professional level. This was the first step of many in his return. He should be back to the bench for West Brom, but minutes will still be erratic for several weeks until he can start a league game. West Brom is a promotion contender in the Championship and currently sits fifth.


This is a huge boost for West Brom because Dike is extremely effective at the Championship level.


Sargent starts for Norwich


Another USMNT striker making a comeback is Josh Sargent. After looking promising off the bench for Norwich the last two games, including a late equalizer against Southampton on New Year's Day, Josh Sargent made his first start for Norwich in his comeback from a injury on Saturday against Bristol Rovers. Like Dike he just went the first half.

Sargent wasn’t terribly involved, and he tired towards the end of the first half before being subbed out at halftime (as was prearranged by Norwich manager and former USMNT forward David Wagner). But Norwich has desperately missed Sargent – who is still not quite back as a starter for league games but should be in a few weeks.


Vazquez on the move


Gregg Berhalter spoke to the media on Friday and discussed Brandon Vazquez and his proposed move to Monterrey. The deal hasn’t been announced, but it seems imminent.

As for my thoughts on this move, I understand why some fans wanted him to go to Europe, but a rumored $8.5 million price tag is a hefty sum that prices him out of a good chunk of Europe. It’s true that Borussia Monchengladbach but it probably would not have been close to the amount that Monterrey is reportedly prepared to pay. For him to go to Europe, it would have to be the Premier League or a wealthier team in the remaining leagues.


The top Liga MX teams can pay great money and expensive moves there are a big deal. It certainly doesn’t kill his USMNT chances, but he will have to play well. If he is very good for Monterrey, it will still be tough to compete with an in-form Balogun and Pepi, but he can compete with other options.

What helps Vazquez is that he has a unique profile, he’s powerful like Dike, Wright and Pefok, but he also blends it well with center forwards.


USMNT forward pool


The returns of Dike and Sargent will not have an immediate impact on the USMNT forward situation. For now, Berhalter seems content with Folarin Balogun and Ricardo Pepi as the top two, and there isn’t much of a need for a third center forward. But we are now seeing important depth building up behind those two should there be an injury and drop in form.

Behind Baloun and Pepi, Berhalter has Josh Sargent, Daryl Dike, Haji Wright, Brandon Vazquez, Jesus Ferreira, and Jordan Pefok. My guess is that is the order, but it probably comes down to who is in the best form at the time a decision is needed. It’s also worth noting that Pefok played for Borussia Monchengladbach in a winter friendly.

But another think worth considering is that U.S. U-23 Olympic coach Marko Mitrovic could use an overage spot on a center forward. That team has Duncan McGuire as the No. 9 but not much depth. It might not be a bad option for Sargent, Dike, or Vazquez. It comes down to whether or not their clubs are willing to let the players go and miss two-three weeks in late July through early August.

Speaking of USMNT forwards, Balogun did not have a good game for Monaco in a shootout win over Lens Coupe de France following a 2-2 draw. Balogun left in the 68th minute.

Also, Wright is dealing with an injury that could keep him out of Coventry’s game this weekend against Leicester.


Serie A update


All four Americans in Serie A were successful over the weekend.

Tim Weah and Weston McKennie started for Juventus in a 2-1 away win over Salernitana in Salerno. Tim Weah continues to play well following his return from injury and he had a huge hand in the 65th minute goal for Juve which equalized the game at 1-1. Juve would then find a winner in stoppage time. 

Both Americans continued to play well, and both should remain in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future. McKennie’s season has been a tremendous reversal of fortune given how well he played and no one figured he was in the plans following him leaving for Leeds last season on loan.

Juve is in a clear title race as they’re in second in Serie A, just two points behind Inter Milan.

Christian Pulisic played the entire game for AC Milan on Sunday while Yunus Musah returned from a “muscle fatigue” and played the final 20 minutes as Milan defeated Empoli 3-0 on the road. The best moment for Pulisic was in the 88th minute when he started a counterattack that ended on him assisting teenager Chaka Traore for the final goal.

Pulisic again had another game where he was enormously effective.

As for Musah, it was a strong comeback and he is a very good player for Milan in their ability to cycle the ball in the midfield to gradually break the defense down.


Other notes in Europe


There were a ton of friendlies among German clubs. There wasn’t too much of note other than Brenden Aaronson scored for Union Berlon against Arminia Bielefeld and Jordan Pefok played for the first time since his injury in the fall.

The FA Cup was newsworthy for Americans, even when they didn’t play.

Odysseas Vlachodimos started for Nottingham Forest which drew Blackpool 2-2. The Greek national team goalkeeper conceded goals on his only to shots on goal and earned negative reviews the English media. This should keep Matt Turner ahead of him on Forest’s depth chart but the danger is what happens if Forest decides to spend on another goalkeeper.

Duane Holmes came on late but didn't do much for Preston North End in a 4-0 loss away to Chelsea.

Reggie Cannon did not get off the bench for QPR in a 3-2 loss at home to AFC Bournemouth. It's for the best as QPR just needs to focus on its relegation battle in the Championship. The same could be said for Lynden Gooch who watched Stoke City's 4-2 loss to Brighton & Hove Albion.

Also, Auston Trusty was not in the squad for Sheffield United's 4-0 away win over Gillingham and Haji Wright did not play for Coventry City in a 6-2 thumping of Oxford United.

Antonee Robinson played the final 10 minutes for Fulham in a 1-0 win over Rotherham on Friday.

Luca de la Torre started and played 78 minutes for Celta Vigo in a 4-2 away win over Amorebieta, which is struggling in the Segunda this season.

Konrad de la Fuente made a rare start for Eibar and played 58 minutes in a 3-0 loss over a good Athletic Bilbao team. The former U.S. U-20 winger had six successful dribbles in this game - which was encouraging.

The big thing for De La Fuente is to find his way onto the field on a regular basis as it has been a very long time. It will be tough as Eibar has been strong this season and sits just one place out of the promotional playoffs.

Finally in the Coupe de France, Emmanuel Sabbi played the last 30 minutes for Le Havre in a 2-1 win over Caen on Sunday. All the scoring had taken place by the time Sabbi came onto the field.


Transfer watch


The transfer window should continue to be busy for Americans as the month progresses. When looking at transfers, there are three different types – the first is free transfers, the second are moves when the player has been playing well and he attracts offers based on impressing, and the third is for players trying to get out of disappointing situations.

Miles Robinson signed with FC Cincinnati because Cincinnati likely paid a lot more than what was available on the market. Moving on free transfer sometimes puts players in a tough position. When a transfer fee is paid, a player will typically get a real chance to prove himself. On a free transfer, it could just be a club looking for cheap depth. It’s hard to gauge. But Cincinnati made Robinson an offer he couldn’t refuse give this was the money contract of his prime age.

As for Vazquez, a move to Monterrey has a limited ceiling but a very high floor. Again, money talks and a move to a big Liga MX team is a big deal financially.

Djordje Mihailovic didn’t accomplish what he wanted to at AZ and his return stateside to Colorado reflected that. But Colorado making him a DP is very surprising. It puts pressure on Mihailovic to perform and turn around a team that was an afterthought in MLS in 2023.

Zack Steffen’s stateside return is a bit different as he has been over there for a long time and has been struggling with knee injuries for years. He needs a place to play and that just was not going to happen at Manchester City.

Ethan Horvath and Mathew Hoppe are two players who need almost rescue moves. It’s still early in the window, but it’s not good that Horvath hasn’t moved yet given that he has reportedly been free to speak with other clubs since the summer. He’s not even rostered at Nottingham Forest, and he has a solid reputation in the Championship. It seemed as if something should have been lined up for him to hit the ground running.

As for Hoppe, it doesn’t seem likely that he’s in the plans for Middlesbrough and it also doesn’t seem like there was a plan for him after San Jose declined to buy him after his loan.

There aren’t many other “rescue” transfers needed. Chris Richards returning to the field for Crystal Palace is tricky. He’s done very well in the defensive midfield role, but what happens if Palace brings in a true defensive midfielder? Does that put him back into the tough situation he was in where he was the third or fourth central defender?

Among the younger players in MLS, there haven’t been specific rumors regarding the usual suspects – John Tolkin, Aidan Morris, Jack McGlynn, Caleb Wiley, Brian Gutierrez, Esmir Bajraktarevic, Cade Cowell, or Duncan McGuire.

McGuire could be among the more likely deals given Orlando probably won’t demand a huge amount for him. If Salzburg comes after Tolkin, that could also work given the common ownership. The one that is most interesting is Aidan Morris given that he has won MLS Cup twice and seems the most ready for a new challenge. But a move this summer could also make more sense.

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