Monday Kickoff

Monday kickoff: Pukstas on the rise, Leagues Cup update, Tolkin impresses, Dest woes, & more

ASN's Brian Sciaretta kicks off your week with a lot of analysis on the big stories - including Rokas Pukstas run in Croatia and a Leagues Cup update with Duncan McGuire and John Tolkin standing out. Plus an update from abroad with transfers and results on the field as league play began in some areas of Europe. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
July 31, 2023
1:00 PM

ANOTHER WEEK HAS BEGUN, and the weekend behind was eventful. The Leagues Cup is approaching the final 32 teams, a few leagues in Europe are now open, and the transfer news is continuing to heat up.

Here are my thoughts on it all.


Pukstas scores again


If players were stock, my pick of the day would be Rokas Pukstas. The 18-year-old midfielder from Oklahoma is having an incredible 2023 – and it’s only getting better. It started with him cracking into Hajduk Split’s starting XI, then he won the Croatian Cup where he drew a penalty in the final. After that, he was part of the U.S. U-20 team’s run to the World Cup quarterfinal.

Now the start of his 2023/24 season is on another level. In the first game, he scored the winning goal for Hajduk over reigning champions Dianmo Zagreb on the road. On Friday, he scored the winning goal in the 49th minute of a 1-0 victory over Rijeka in the second game of the seasons.

Two weeks, two winning goals.

Pukstas has 18 months left on his contract and things are going to start happening for him very quickly. He’s likely going to attract bidders and/or a contract extension with Hajduk. No matter what, if he continues his current from through the end of the year, it’s hard to see him remaining with the club long after that. Maybe he finishes the season with Hajduk, but maybe not. But it’s hard to see him in Croatia this time in 2024.

Internationally, Pukstas might get a look with the national team in 2023, but he seems like an ideal Olympic candidate for now. That team should be a great place for top prospects to play, become core members of a tournament team, and then be in a better position to take a bigger role with the full national team after that.

If that happens, Pukstas would follow in the Olympic footsteps of this father – who represented Lithuania in the 2004 AthensOlympics in the marathon.


Dest’s woes


Sergino Dest, 22, has had a tough start to the preseason and he hasn’t played well in his return to Barcelona – which comes on the heels of a disastrous loan to Milan.

Spanish journalist Javi Miguel wrote over the weekend that if Barcelona cannot find any clubs to transfer Dest, they might terminate his contract. Surely, reports like this only drive down the interest in Dest because why would a club pay a transfer fee for a player who might become free in the weeks ahead?

Dest will eventually land on his feet. Before his 22nd birthday, he had played in Champions League games for Barcelona, Milan, and Ajax. Now he also has a World Cup on his resume. It might not be at the highest levels, but someone will take a bite.

But long term, there are clearly things Dest needs to figure out and address to break through at the highest levels. Is he good enough defensively? Is he struggling to get on the same pages with his teammates? Are there personality conflicts? Does his confidence falter too easily?


Leagues Cup


The Leagues Cup rolled on over the weekend, and the tournament continues to be interesting and competitive. For everyone involved, it’s been better than expected.

Some notes on it all.

Seattle completely collapsed in another warning sign that they’re continuing to roll with a core that is beyond its expiration date. Seattle simply should not blow a 2-0 lead at home. Yes, Monterrey is good. But Seattle should be savvy enough to see out a win. Nicholas Lodeiro’s first goal was amazing.

But Monterrey’s German Berterame scored a hat trick inside of 32 minutes to flip the script. For Berterame, it continues to highlight the theme that Argentines are dominating the tournament, whether it be with Liga MX or MLS teams.

While Seattle disappointed, there were a few MLS teams who lost but it really wasn’t a disappointment. With how bad Toronto has been this year (especially lately), it was hardly surprising they dropped a 1-0 decision to Atlas.

DC United was especially poor in its 3-0 loss to Pumas.

Also, Austin FC came into this season with major concerns over its central defense. The team has not yet taken meaningful steps to improve that area. You saw that with an embarrassing loss in the Champions League as well as a particularly ugly 3-1 loss to Club Juarez on Saturday.

San Jose fell to Tigres 1-0 but didn’t really play poorly. They outshot Tigres by a wide margin but Tigres was clearly more savvy with their veteran core – just as they were against Portland.

One of the best games of the tournament was on Sunday night when the Red Bulls defeated San Luis 2-1 behind two goals from Dante Vanzier. But the ending of the game was great. With the score 1-1 in stoppage time, San Luis is awarded a penalty – which Carlos Coronel saved. Then one minute later, Coronel plays a ball to John Tolkin who hits a beautiful ball up the left side which finds Vanzier for the winning goal. The Red Bulls finally had some energy and even had two goals called back by VAR.

This will now set up a rivalry game between RBNY and NYCFC in the round of 32.

Another fun game to watch was Orlando City’s 3-2 win over Santos Laguna on Saturday night. After Santos Laguna opened the scoring, rookie Duncan McGuire scored his 10th goal of the season across all competitions to even the score at 1-1.

But the end of the game was crazy. With it 2-2 in stoppage time, it quickly became end-to-end with both teams trading chances. On the final sequence, Santos Laguna had a chance but then Orlando went the other way quickly and Wilder Cartagena gave Orlando a win.

One of the best MLS teams in the group stage has been Charlotte which has two wins – the first on penalties against Dallas, and the second being a 4-1 demolition of Necaxa. Four different Charlotte players scored in the win.

Overall, it continues to be a fun tournament. MLS teams are quite competitive with most of the Liga MX opponents but the big teams like Monterrey and Club America remain a big challenge.


Transfer rumors heat up


Yunus Musah’s move from Valencia to Milan is nearly complete. There will be expectations for him to create more in Milan and he will be on a bigger team surrounded by more talent. It could be a promising move, but he will not have nearly as long of a leash as he did with Valencia. He must improve on his 2022/23 season where he didn’t score and notched just two assists.

Auston Trusty is being linked to Sheffield United on a full transfer from Arsenal. Trusty impressed last year on loan from Birmingham City where he surpassed 4,000 minutes.

I can report that I am hearing a lot of the same things as these reports and a deal to Sheffield United seems imminent. This seems like a smart move for Trusty as Sheffield United are expected to struggle in the Premier League and they lack a lot of depth in central defense. Given that the team likes to play with three defenders, he should play. But I also believe this move has an eye towards the club’s potential return to the Championship.

Westerlo finally announced that they have acquired Bryan Reynolds from Roma on a full transfer. Reynolds, 22, spent last year at Westerlo on loan. This is a smart and pragmatic move. Reynolds took big steps with his development last year and he has not outgrown Westerlo either. He doesn’t seem ready yet for a move to a top league, but he could be ready in the years ahead. This will allow him to continue to develop with a club that really wants him.

OB Odense’ sporting director Björn Wesström confirmed to the media that the club has rejected bids for American winger Emmanuel Sabbi. The reports in Denmark indicate that some of the bids rejected were “installment based” transfers and that OB did not trust that all of the installment payments would be made. This has been an issue with Boavista and their purchase of Reggie Cannon. But one of the clubs who reportedly is interested in Sabbi is Antalyaspor in Turkey.

Can’t blame OB for not trusting installments.


Euro roundup


Aside from Pukstas, there was plenty of action on the field both in real games and in preseason friendlies.

The Belgian First Division A got underway this weekend and several Yanks saw the field.

Mark McKenzie went the distance for Genk in a completely dominant 4-0 win over RWD Molenbeek. McKenzie played well, as did everyone else on Genk. The former Philadelphia Union defender completed 77/82 of his passes but only two attempts were long ranges passes. 10 of his completed passes were balls into the final third as Genk was able to play way up the field. He won 3/3 of his ground duels but just 1/4 of his aerials. Generally, Genk’s defense wasn’t tested.

Marlon Fossey went 90 minutes for Standard Liege in a bad 1-0 loss away to a St. Truiden team likely to be in a relegation battle this year.

Sam Vines made his first appearance with Royal Antwerp since last November when he suffered a broken Tibia. He played the final 11 minutes of Antwerp’s 1-0 win over Cercle Brugge. The former Colorado Rapids homegrown made just nine touches for the win for the defending champions.

In the 2.Bundesliga, Julian Green played the full 90 and picked up two assists for Greuther Furth in a 5-0 win over Paderborn. Paderborn was reduced to 10 players in the eighth minute and Furth simply dominated. German American Maxamillian Dietz, 21, went 78 minutes for Fruth at right central defense in a three-man backline in his first 2.Bundesliga start.

Kaiserslautern dropped a 2-1 decision to St. Pauli on Saturday. Terrence Boyd was injured and did not play for FCK. But this result suggests that former U.S. U-20 midfielder Fabian Hurzeler could be in line for a promotion race as the manager for St. Pauli. The club has done very well since he took over last December.

Chelsea defeated Fulham 2-0 in a friendly just outside Washington DC. Gaga Slonina started and played 60 minutes for Chelsea while Antonee Robinson went the distance for Fulham. Fulham managed just one shot on target.

In a preseason friendly, Norwich defeated Olympiacos 2-0. Josh Sargent started for Fulham and scored the team's second goal in the 48th minute. He nearly scored again minutes later but had a goal called back for offside.

Sargent continues to have a nice preseason for Norwich but there is a lot of pressure on the St. Louis native to be the forward who can help them contend for promotion.

In a preseason friendly, Stockport County defeated Preston North End but Duane Holmes was forced out of the game in the 89th minute with  an injury. The club have not made a further update on his condition.

Finally in Scotland, Dante Polvara is impressing the new coaching staff at Aberdeen after the New York native recently had a loan spell back in the USL with the Charleston Battery.

"Under the two managers that were here before, for whatever reason, he was sent out on loan or whatever," Barry Robson told Aberdeen TV. "But myself and my staff saw a football player in there, a good kid who's got good size. He's athletic, he can pass the ball with both feet, he wants to run, he wants to press, he can affect the game, so we've tried to coach him and help him to see if we can get him to be part of the squad... He's come on leaps and bounds and he should be proud of himself. He's given us a headache for coming in to play in the side."


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