Christian_pulisic_-_asn_top_-_milan__hamstring_-_11-7-23 IMAGO/Marco Canoniero
Wednesday kickaround

Pulisic injured, Crew impress, Orlando advance, USMNT roster looms, & more

ASN's Brian Sciaretta writes about the midweek Champions League action, headlined by an injury or cramp scare with Christian Pulisic. Meanwhile, the MLS playoffs continue with the first round series with Orlando advancing and Atlanta flexing its muscle. Plus, the USMNT and U-23 rosters are coming. ASN's Brian Sciaretta offers up his thoughts on all of it here. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 08, 2023
7:50 AM

IT WAS A DRAMATIC day of news on Tuesday in the world of American soccer, we have yet another serious injury to consider, Champions League, MLS playoffs, and youth national team news. There is a lot to break down, so let’s get into it.

First, let’s start at the top.


Pulisic leaves Milan game injured


In the second minute of stoppage time, with AC Milan up 2-1 on PSG, Christian Pulisic went down clutching his hamstring. He was then subbed out and Milan held on for the win to move into third place of Group F, and just one point behind second-place PSG.

The status around Pulisic was unclear after the game. Stefano Pioli said that he thought it was a cramp but added that it was in the same location as the “fatigue” which forced him out of last week’s game against Napoli at the half and kept him out of the Udinese loss on Saturday.

On Wednesday, the reprots seem to suggest it is not a major injury with Pulisic (but also listing him as unlikely to play this weekend) – giving rise to optimism about missing an extended period.

But it doesn’t dismiss the questions over why Pioli had Pulisic going the full 90 minutes in a big Champions League game after the fatigue last week which forced him out of a game last week. After that game, Pioli said that it was a risk to keep him the game longer than that. But just a week later, he was ready to go a full 90?

It raises questions over Pulisic’s propensity for these types of injuries. Can Gregg Berhalter not call up Pulisic and instead let him rest? Sure. But is this going to continue to be an ongoing issue? Does Pioli need to manage his minutes more?

For now, we have to wait for more medical updates.

On the field, Pulisic was solid but unspectacular against PSG. It was a huge win for Milan and one that puts them in a position to advance with a few more positive results.


Yunus Musah, meanwhile, was very good for Milan and had a chance to score but hit his shot right at the keeper. Musah struggled on the wing over the weekend in the loss to Udinese but he was again playing well in the middle of the field.

Musah is emerging as an irreplaceable part of Milan’s midfield and, more importantly, is probably ahead of where Milan even expected at this point of the season.


Orlando sends Nashville packing


Orlando defeated Nashville 1-0 in Tennessee and won each of the first two legs of their series to advance.

The analysis of this game is simple. Orlando is a very well put-together team that is a genuine threat to win MLS Cup. Mauricio Pereyra, Wilder Cartagena, Ivan Angulo, Dagur Thorhallsson, Facundo Torres, and Cesar Araujo are firing on all cylinders and simply overwhelmed Nashville. Not to mention, Orlando has good defense and a good No. 9 in Duncan McGuire. Combine that with Oscar Pareja, they’re a contender.

Nashville, meanwhile, has just two things going for it. A good defense, and Hany Mukhtar. They have an aging midfield that simply is not built for the postseason after a grueling nine-month season. Nashville, instead, ended their season having been shutout in their last three games.

When Mukhtar is either off, or is well defended, Nashville has no real meaningful Plan B. Gary Smith hinted at this after the game.


Atlanta forces Game 3 vs. Crew


Atlanta came out with a purpose and defeated Columbus 4-2 to force Game 3 in Ohio. This game again shows you that the playoffs are about Designated Players and which ones can truly hit the elite level that teams are paying them millions to do.

Atlanta rolled in this game behind a MOTM outing from Giorgos Giakoumakis who had a goal and two assists, and Thiago Almada who added a goal and was dominant in the midfield.

Atlanta has enough firepower to win this series, the question has always been their defense – which again showed some holes even in the win. But Atlanta was far more aggressive, and Columbus was both sloppy and tentative. Columbus was the victim of bad turnovers which created turnovers and bad turnovers which ended their best attacks.

“Atlanta had a really good game,” Crew head coach Wilfried Nancy said. “Defensively, we backpedaled a lot. Usually, we don't do that. Obviously, the opposition also forced us to do that, but we were not too aggressive in order to be on the front foot to be able to be connected to win the ball on the side when we need to and the connection to sort it out in the middle. They players in the middle, they players wide, usually we are aggressive, and we didn't do it too much. That's why we back pedaled a lot regarding the situation. When we had the ball because it was open so we attacked, but we didn't combine the way we usually combine because of bad touches.”


As with any deciding game, it is tough to predict. It’s hard to see Columbus being as sloppy at home, and for a second straight game. But Atlanta has enough talent to score on anyone, anywhere.


Other Playoff thoughts


Here are some other thoughts on the playoffs.

Real Salt Lake took advantage of playing at home and forced game three against Houston after prevailing on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

First, Jefferson Savarino’s free kick equalizer was tremendous, and it saved RSL’s season.

Second, RSL should be commended for its penalties in the shootout. There was no messing around or trying to outthink or outguess the goalkeeper. All five kicks were confidently drilled into the upper corner past Steve Clark – who had no chance. Full credit for young American hopeful Diego Luna converting the final attempt with ease.

As for game three, it still favors Houston since they’re at home and they’re very good in must-win games. But RSL now has some momentum. Predicting MLS is impossible.

LAFC deserved to advance past Vancouver after winning both legs, including a 1-0 win on the road to secure advancing. Vancouver manager Vanni Sartini apologized for his criticism of the officials after the game when he said his team “didn’t have a fair chance, to be honest.” He was upset over LAFC’s Mario Gonzalez not being issued a red, or the decision not to award a penalty on a foul to Richie Laryea, or the decision to not immediately halt play after the referee collided with a Vancouver player who wad defending a counterattack.

Vancouver had a productive season, but this was an ugly ending. Sartini had some legitimate points, but LAFC was the better team.

How much further will Sporting Kansas City go in the playoffs after upsetting St. Louis? They look like a team who could be a very tough out. They have experience, a good coach in Peter Vermes, and players with a chip on their shoulder. They were always much better than an eight-seed because they just struggled the first 10 games of the season.

What they did to St. Louis should be an eye-opener, don’t be surprised if they go on a run.

The Philadelphia Union will be without Kai Wagner who was suspended three games for “violating the league’s on-field antidiscrimination policy during the Philadelphia Union vs. New England Revolution match on Saturday, October 28.”


The suspension will take place immediately in the playoffs and into next season, if necessary. The Union look to be in good shape against a New England team that is injured and in disarray. But if they win, they’ll be without Wagner for a road trip to Cincinnati in a single elimination game. That’s brutal.

Game three between Seattle and Dallas seems like one that is far too difficult to call. The first two legs have been the best playoff action in the West’s first round so far. Seattle is at home, but Dallas is certainly the team with the momentum, and the desire to prove people wrong. Plus, they have a lot of players raising their games, and no one more than Bernard Kamungo who has been on an amazing tear the last few months. His assist and drawn penalty were the difference in the second game.

 Seattle seems to be in a transitional phase of older players heading out and younger players coming in. It’s a tough situation for Brian Schmetzer.


Champions League notes


Two other Americans abroad were on matchday squads on Tuesday in the Champions League.

Gio Reyna was an unused substitute as Borussia Dortmund defeated Newcastle 2-0 to move atop Group F. It’s not a good situation and it’s one that is tough to read. Reyna also was unused over the weekend in a 4-0 loss to Bayern Munich.

Reyna has played well, but head coach Edin Terzic doesn’t seem to trust him in big games. Or, he might not want to start a player in certain games when he knows the player can’t go 90 minutes. Or maybe, he sees Reyna as an option off the bench only when his team is chasing goals. But now with Dortmund winning without Reyna, it is tough to criticize Terzic.

The other topic is Reyna moving on from Dortmund. That is also a tricky issue because Reyna has dealt with so many injuries, he needs to play regularly to maximize his value and convince buyers he is healthy. Will Terzic play him in the weeks ahead to put him in the shop window? Will Dortmund consider a loan with an option to buy in January? Finally, what price is Dortmund expecting for Reyna?

I don’t think Dortmund wants to hang onto Reyna much longer if he’s not in the plans as a key player. If this is all part of managing his minutes for the first half of the season, then maybe he stays. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see movement for Reyna in January. But how Reyna is moved and the finances of such a deal will be interesting.

Also on Tuesday, Celtic were crushed on the road by Atletico Madrid 6-0. U.S. national team central defender Cameron Carter-Vickers went 90 minutes, but the game was essentially over when Daizen Maeda was sent off for Celtic in just the 23rd minute. From then, it was just a blowout.

There wasn’t much Carter-Vickers could have done in this game. There is just a wide gap between these teams and the red card eliminated any hope Celtic could hang around. Celtic has just one point from four games and were never serious about pushing for the knockouts. The Europa League is now a long shot.

On Wednesday, Napoli host Union Berlin with Brenden Aaronson likely on the bench. Union are in a catastrophic nosedive with 12 straight losses across all competitions. Forget about the Champions League or the Europa, for Union it is now about just getting some momentum to crawl out of the relegation zone.

PSV Eindhoven have a big game at home against Lens. PSV is running away with the Eredivisie (33 points from 11 games) so they should go all in here. There is a lot to play for as a win could move them to second in Group B, which is tight. Sergino Dest will likely start, but it will be interesting to see if Malik Tillman plays a role. He has been inconsistent and has ranged from being very good, to very bad in quick spurts. It’s been tough for PSV’s coaching staff to figure him out or get him into a consistent form.

As for Ricardo Pepi, he’s still the backup to Luuk de Jong, but at what point will he start taking on more responsibilities in terms of longer sub outings in meaningful games?


MLS manager news


Christian Lattanzio is out as the Charlotte head coach. The team snuck into the wildcard round of the playoffs after a dramatic win on decision day over Miami but were thoroughly outplayed – and outcoached by the New York Red Bulls. In that game, the Red Bulls changed their pressing system to allow Charlotte possession for a few passes before pressing, and it threw Charlotte off.


Lattanzio was always on the fence in Charlotte, and he only took over after the sudden and surprising fire of Miguel Ángel Ramírez. Lattanzio didn’t do a bad job with the expansion team, but in his second season there were hopes the team could be more convincing. Instead it snuck into the playoffs only because the bottom half of the East was poor. The team has never had much of a vision and the new hire could be an opportunity to reset.

Phil Neville is now the head coach of Portland despite the protests from some in the club’s supporters’ group. Neville did okay with a very bad hand at Miami. He was then dismissed because of the incoming of Messi and the availability of Tata Martino – who managed Messi and had succeeded in MLS.


Neville showed some progress as a manager, but Portland is not getting a manager who is brings an ideal CV as a manager. Instead, he is a hire where Portland is hoping Neville will grow into the job. Maybe that will happen, and it has happened before. But it is risky.


Dike’s progress


Daryle Dike is working hard on returning for West Bromwich Albion. He hasn’t played since April 15 after suffering an injury to his Achilles.

Meanwhile, West Bromwich is once again in a promotional effort, sitting in fifth place with no problems scoring goals. West Brom can afford to let Dike take his time recovering. But how much patience will they have letting him shake off the rust?

It’s hard to believe that Dike is still only 23 years old. He’s done a lot, and he’s been through a lot with injuries. He’s still an exciting and likable player when he’s in form. From the U.S. national team perspective, he’s fallen behind others and he’ll need a long run of playing healthy and playing well to get back to where he was.

On another note, if Dike gets back into form, could he be an Olympic option as an overage player?


USMNT & U-23 call-ups


The U.S. national team and U-23 team will name rosters this week. The U.S. national team, of course, will play Trinidad & Tobago in both legs in the quarterfinals of the Nations League. The U.S. U-23 team will travel to Spain to face Morocco and Iraq.

Gregg Berhalter faces a bunch of questions in putting together his team. The good news is that the team has more than enough firepower to win this series over two legs. But bigger questions remain.

The first coming at the wings. Tim Weah likely won’t be called up due to his injury and there is obviously a chance Christian Pulisic won’t as well. Where does that leave the team? Will Berhalter shift Reyna out wide again to fill the gap? Will Berhalter instead call up young players like Taylor Booth and Cade Cowellwho haven’t yet appeared for him this cycle? Will he return to a veteran like Jordan Morris?

One player who is likely to get a serious look given his recent form is Kevin Paredes, who started for Wolfsburg the past two weeks and played well.

As is a running theme, central defense pairings are in question and there isn’t much separating the 6-7 players who are in the mix for call-ups. Auston Trusty is playing now for Sheffield United, which unexpectedly won its first Premier League game last weekend, could he displace one of the four (Chris Richards, Miles Robinson, Tim Ream, and Cameron Carter-Vickers) who were called up last camp? Is Walker Zimmerman in the top four? Will any of them instead become overage Olympic options?

Speaking of the U.S. U-23 team, head coach Marko Mitrovic is preparing his second roster since taking control of the team. This team will not have a lot of time together and probably after this camp, the focus shifts from mass evaluations to building a team. He’ll want to have his core identified soon after this camp and then spend January and March in 2024 building chemistry and making final cuts.

The September camp went very well. Most of the roster made strong cases to be part of the team moving forward. It’ll be a high bar for players earning their first call-up to the team in November. Some players who weren’t with the team in September who Mitrovic will want to consider are Gaga Slonina, Griffin Yow, Cade Cowell, Agustin Anello, George Bello – and perhaps a few former USMNT players who are age-eligible but who have had tough years (Matthew Hoppe and Konrad de la Fuente).

The U.S. U-23 team looks to be fairly strong, but there are ongoing issues in central defense which will likely need to be addressed with overage picks.

But this November camp is crucial for players to perform because Mitrovic is going to want to narrow down his pool substantially afterward.

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