Midweek analysis

Pulisic & Chelsea near UCL semis, Boyd shines in Turkey, good week for MLS in CCL

It is a fun time for American soccer as the European seasons enter their stretch runs, MLS nears its opener, and the Concacaf Champions League heats up. This past midweek saw Americans have big wins across the globe - including Christian Pulisic who nears the Champions League semifinals and Tyler Boyd is rising again at the right time. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
April 08, 2021
3:00 AM

THE MIDWEEK for Americans abroad was a both busy and important. For many of the top players, there were solid and important performances – even if unspectacular. On the domestic front, the CONCACAF Champions League got underway and it was pretty good for MLS teams.

Here are my notes and thoughts on the games – domestically and abroad – as well as some news.


Pulisic sharp off bench


On Thursday, Chelsea defeated FC Porto on the road in the first leg of its Champions League quarterfinal. The 2-0 victory almost ensures that Chelsea will be heading to the semifinals against either Real Madrid or Liverpool (like Real Madrid which defeated Liverpool 3-1 at home this week).

Pulisic came into the game in the 65th minute with Chelsea up 1-0. While he did not factor into the second goal, the Hershey native was very good in this one in his limited minutes – including hitting the crossbar with his only shot.

His numbers showed him to be active.

  •         25 minutes
  •         17 touches
  •         1 shot (off crossbar)
  •         10/11 passing
  •         1/3 duels
  •         1x fouled

The numbers accurately reflect the eye test. This was Pulisic as we know he can be when both healthy, confident, and playing a role that suits him. It’s been an up and down season with seemingly repeated injuries forcing him to miss games.

Lately has been mostly positive for Pulisic but last weekend saw him score and get subbed out due to injury of a brutal 5-2 loss to West Brom. This game was reminder of how good he can be but now it is just keeping him on the field and being healthy for the likely huge semifinal berth.


Reyna subbed into BVB loss


Gio Reyna, 18, was a 63rd minute substitute for Borussia Dortmund in a 2-1 loss on the road against Manchester City in the first leg of is Champions League quarterfinal. The result was disappointing as Dortmund found an equalizer in the 84th through Marco Reus from Erling Haaland but couldn’t hold on. Phil Foden managed to provide a 90th minute winner for the hosts. It should come as little surprise that U.S. national team goalkeeper Zack Steffen was an unused substitute for Manchester City.

For Reyna, the numbers suggest he wasn’t on the ball much but when watching the game, he did well whenever on the ball. Borussia Dortmund is the underdog and Reyna was playing in an advanced position up the field. It was always unlikely that he was going to get a lot of touches.

  •         27 minutes
  •         12 touches
  •         0 shots
  •         7/9 passing (78%)
  •         0 dribble attempts
  •         1/2 duels won
  •         0/1 aerials won

Reyna connected well with his teammates and seems to be slowly improving after a tough few months dating back to late December. His performances have generally been improving at a time when Dortmund’s Bundesliga campaign has stalled and its hopes of returning to the Champions League next year are fading.

The away goal in this game is important but Dortmund has a massive uphill climb to advance. Keeping Manchester City off the board, even at home, is going to be extremely difficult. The good news for Dortmund, however, is that if Reyna can continue to return to form it will give the club more options and less reliant on Haaland. At lot remains to be seen but Reyna is trending in the right direction.


Boyd’s big outing


Tyler Boyd, 26, is having an excellent start to his loan with Sivasspor and getting away from Besiktas has brought out the best in the New Zealand winger. On Wednesday, Boyd was the MOTM for Sivasspor in a 4-2 away win over Antalyaspor in a matchup of two teams who are safely in midtable -  with no threat of relegation and no hope of qualifying for Europe next season.

Boyd scored twice in the first half in this one. His first minute goal opened the scoring.

After a Antalyaspor equalizer in the 26th minute, Boyd again put Sivasspor back into the lead in the 36th minute with an opportunistic finish.

Boyd’s numbers in this one were outstanding and he is trending in all the right directions. He’s played in total of 10 games for Sivasspor but is now hitting his stride. Over his last 358 minutes, he has five goals in the Super Lig.

In this game, it was his second MOTM effort over the last five games (both MOTM efforts were braces).


As for the national team, Boyd has a golden opportunity as the wing position has gone thin. Jordan Morris is out for 2021, Paul Arriola is injured and has missed a lot of time, Uly Llanez has had a disappointing season, also it isn’t clear if Tim Weah is a winger or a center forward under Gregg Berhalter. For players like Gio Reyna and Brenden Aaronson, they might also be based centrally. Christian Pulisic is a pure winger and is likely the best American player in the game, but injuries have plagued him this season.

The bottom line is that the U.S. team needs pure wingers who specialize in that position. Boyd is one of the few healthy wingers at the moment and he is back in great form - the best he has played since at Ankaragucu when he formally switched his international representation from New Zealand to the United States. 


McKennie returns for Juventus


Weston McKennie, 22, returned to the field for Juventus on Wednesday when he played the final 21 minutes for Juventus in a 2-1 win over Napoli in a midweek Serie A game. Juventus was up 1-0 when the Texan came onto the field and he neither played a role in Juventus’ second goal or Napoli’s only goal.

Instead, McKennie did what he often does and played the effective two-way midfield role that helps serve as a glue for team which helps open the goal for his teammates. While McKennie also has the ability to hit big passes, create plays, and score goals, his offense in this game was relatively quiet as Napoli was pressing.

The past month has been quiet for McKennie as he has been battling injuries and then served a suspension for throwing a party during COVID lockdown, but he remains a very important part of the team’s present and future. In this game, it helped to reinforce the notion that Juventus is better with McKennie on the field even if it is other players who are involved in the scoring opportunities.


Sargent and Werder Bremen advance


In the German Cup quarterfinal, Werder Bremen advanced past Jahn Regensburg 1-0 to book a spot in the semifinal against Tyler Adams and RB Leipzig on April 30th.

U.S. national team forward Josh Sargent started for Werder while German-American Jan George (who had one U.S. U-23 call-up in 2011) started for Jahn Regensburg.

While he has been playing very well as of late, Sargent did not play particularly well in this game but still had a few moments of effective hold up play – one which was early in the build up to Yuya Osako’s 52nd minute goal that won the game. He was later subbed out in the 73rd minute and George departed in the 75th minute in the loss.

This was still an important win for Werder and for Sargent, it will give him yet another big stage in a year when his club is hovering in midtable with little on the line.


CONCACACF Champions League opens


The 2021 CONCACAF Champions league opened for four MLS teams this past week (with another in the Columbus Crew opening on Thursday night). MLS teams have yet to win this tournament but performances have been improving. Last year, LAFC advanced to the final after defeating three Liga MX teams – only to lose to Tigres in the final.

Of the first four games this past week, MLS teams drew twice and won twice with all games taking place on the road. Given that the regular season doesn’t even kickoff for another 10 days, these were acceptable results at this stage of the season.


Atlanta downs CD Alajuelense


Atlanta United came away with a 1-0 win over CD Alajuelense in Costa Rica on Tuesday. The win was certainly an uphill climb after goalkeeper Brad Guzan was sent off in the 42nd minute. Ezequiel Barco scored the game’s only goal in the 50th minute off a penalty which was called after a George Bello cross was flagged for a handball.

From an American perspective, a number of U.S. players were sharp. George Bello played up to expectations from left back and Brooks Lennon is a very effective crosser of the ball. With Josef Martinez back, Lennon could notch a lot of assists this year if he plays well.

The big story was Rocco Ríos Novo. The 18 year old goalkeeper was promoted to the first team at Atlanta prior to this game and took the place of Guzan after the red card. Born in Los Angeles, Ríos Novo was raised in Argentina and has played for Argentina’s youth teams – including the U-17 World Cup. He is only at Atlanta on loan from Lanus. He had a very good showing on the bench and it raises the question if he would be willing to switch to play for U.S. youth national teams given his dual citizenship and the lack of solid youth national team goalkeeping prospects that have emerged in recent years.


Portland shaky in Marathon draw

Portland played to a 2-2 draw on the road in Honduras against CD Marathon on Tuesday night. It was particularly frustrating for Portland as they had the lead twice, but surrendered equalizers twice inside of 10 minutes after taking the lead.

Returning to Portland should be and advantage for the Timbers which have two away goals that should give it the edge in tiebreakers. The club was also without forward Jeremy Ebobisse in this one and he should return. As an older team, Portland should figure out a way to advance although the preseason form is still a concern.


Philadelphia’s big win


The best performance so far from an MLS team was the Philadelphia Union which travelled to Costa Rica and walked away with a 1-0 win over Deportivo Saprissa – which is not an easy place to win. Philadelphia played well the entire game and it was better than the typical way of winning on the road where an early goal then forces a team to defend for its life for long stretches.

Philadelphia got its only goal in the 34th minute on a header from Kacper Przybylko off a lovely cross from Olivier Mbaizo. Despite the offseason losses of Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie, Philadelphia looked surprisingly sharp and new important, 19-year-old Leon Flach, from St. Pauli looked like a nice addition who could grow into an effective players this year.

The worst moment, however, came deep into stoppage time when Saprissa’s Ricardo Blanco Mora committed a violent tackle on Kai Wagner that somehow only earned him a yellow card. It once again, highlighted the often outrageous and inconsistent officiating in this region.


Regardless, it was a nice performance from the Union – which look well coached despite being in preseason.


Toronto and Leon draw


For Toronto, it was a great result as they travelled to Mexico and will return with a 1-1 draw against Liga MX champions Club Leon. The away goal makes the result even more favorable.

The performance was predictably mixed, however, as Leon controlled the game and Toronto was able to equalize via an own goal. In the second half, Leon missed a few terrific chances that would have resulted in goals most times.


In the return leg, Toronto will have a chance to advance but will need its veteran players to step up. It will be a big test for new manager Chris Armas and his older starting lineup. The odds still favor Club Leon but Toronto has a realistic path for a massive upset.

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