Americans abroad analysis

Pulisic, Palmer-Brown, Pefok standout in otherwise tough weekend for Americans abroad

Christian Pulisic's standout performance clouded what was otherwsie a poor weekend for Americasn abroad. There were only a few bright spots as many Americans, including top players, offered very little. ASN's Brian Sciaretta breaks it all down in great detail. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 07, 2022
2:10 AM

THE WEEKEND FOR Americans abroad was dull and lackluster, for the most part. A big day for Christian Pulisic is sure to generate a lot of headlines, but beyond his out there really wasn’t much. Most of the top American players abroad either didn’t play due to injuries or only saw the field in limited minutes.

After Pulisic, injuries prevented Weston McKennie, Chris Richards, and Gio Reyna from taking the field. Sergino Dest only played the final few minutes for Barcelona in its 2-1 win over Elche. Tim Weah was an unused sub for Lille in its 4-0 win over Clermont Foot. Brenden Aaronson played only the final 30 minutes for Salzburg in its 4-0 win over Altach – although this was surely due to the upcoming midweek Champions League visit to Bayern Munich. Tyler Adams did not get off the bench for Leipzig in a 1-1 draw with Freiburg.

When you dug a little deeper into the player pool, news was particularly disappointing – particularly among players who have moved to new clubs within the past year.

Gianluca Busio picked up a late injury and missed out on Venezia’s 4-1 loss to Sassuolo while Tanner Tessmann played just the final 15 minutes as their club is now three points deep in the relegation zone. Konrad de la Fuente was an unused sub for Marseille on Sunday in a 1-0 loss to Monaco. The Miami native was hit with a critical media piece from France last week that questioned his work ethic an commitment. Ricardo Pepi meanwhile went as an unused substitute in a 1-0 win over Arminia Bielefeld. Nicholas Gioacchini played only the final eight minutes for Montpellier in a 2-0 loss to Nantes.  

In Spain, Matthew Hoppe and Matt Miazga were both unused substitutes for Mallorca and Deportivo Alaves, respectively. In Belgium the same could be said for Sam Vines and Mark McKenzie, neither of whom got off the bench (Royal Antwerp and Genk, respectively). Also in Belgium, an injury kept Kyle Duncan off Oostende’s squad that lost 3-0 to Anderlecht. In Portugal, Alex Mendez went as an unused sub for Vizela in a 3-1 loss to Santa Clara in the Azores.

In addition to Pepi, the news wasn’t great for many of the players who were exported from MLS in January. Kevin Paredes wasn’t in the squad for Wolfsburg. Justin Che was an unused sub for Hoffenheim and Cole Bassett also went unused for Feyenoord.


Putting the disappoint in perspective


All this mentioned above doesn’t mean things are bad in the world of Americans abroad. It still is a numbers game and with more players based in the first team abroad, its means there are going to be more negative stories.

This weekend was particularly brutal because aside from Pulisic, the top players all failed to produce. It’s not all bad. Injuries limited McKenzie, Reyna, and Richards and that simply happens. It would be more of a concern if they weren’t rated by their respective managers. Likewise, the fact that Salzburg was resting Aaronson ahead of a Champions League game is a good thing. That club is running away with the Austrian Bundesliga title and its priority right now is Bayern Munich.

Players like Gianluca Busio and Tanner Tessmann, things have gone relatively well because a relegation battle was always expected. Both players typically play when healthy.

But the concern over young players who have moved to new clubs within the past year is legitimate. Players like Cole Bassett, Kevin Paredes, and Justin Che were expected to need time to adjust. In fact, any playing time those three got the remainder of this season was a bonus. The preseason this summer was always a key period for them.

For players like Matthew Hoppe, Mark McKenzie, Matt Miazga, and Konrad de la Fuente, the season just hasn’t worked out. Both were on the edge of the U.S. national team and have probably fallen off that radar for now. Whether they need moves or loans this summer will be decided in the coming months.

Pepi is the biggest story, and he just needed an adjustment period, and never really got one. The huge price tag he fetched only increased expectations to a level where they shouldn’t be.

As for the national team, it is particularly concerning. At this point, Gregg Berhalter would love to have more of his players coming into this defining window with personal momentum and confidence, but that doesn’t look like it will be the case.

All of this doesn’t mean there wasn’t some good things or important things to talk about. There was. Maybe not as much as American fans would like, but there was.


Pulisic shines in Chelsea win


For Christian Pulisic, there is nothing but good news these days. The Hershey native has been starting regularly for Chelsea since the last window and Chelsea has been winning. Saturday’s 4-0 win over Burnley was its third Premier League win in a row. The team is also in control of its Champions League matchup against Lille after a 2-0 first-leg win.

Pulisic was just great against Burnely where he nabbed an assist and a goal in the win. The assist was beautiful while the goal was a bit fortunate.



No matter what, this is great to see as Pulisic is finally reminding some fans and journalists why he commanded such a fee by Chelsea. Some didn’t needed to be reminded but others did.

For Pulisic, he just needs to stay in rhythm, and he can play at the highest levels. Injuries, unfortunately, have too frequently disrupted his progress but right now he is playing great because of all these minutes. His performances against Burnley was just evidence in how he is at a highwater mark this season.


Palmer-Brown surging


One of the best American players this weekend was Erik Palmer-Brown. The central defender from Kansas City was tremendous for Troyes in a 2-0 away win over last-place Bordeaux. In the game, he played in the middle of a three-man backline that preserved a clean sheet on the road in Ligue 1.

This week moved Troyes out of the relegation zone and a point clear of automatic safety. Troyes’ defense has stabilized a bit since the two-game run where they conceded nine goals in two games. Over their past two, they have conceded just once.

Palmer-Brown had recently been on the right side of the three-man line but in this game, he was in the middle, and he looked much better.

In this game, Troyes was on its backfoot throughout the entire 90 minutes. Palmer-Brown was tasked entirely with defending. He rarely was able to help his team in possession (Troyes had just 38% possession the entire game). Palmer-Brown had just 30 touches and 15 pass attempts over 90 minutes.

Defensively, Palmer-Brown was a rock. He had seven clearances, three interceptions, six recoveries, was 3/3 in ground duels won, 4/6 in aerials won, and committed zero fouls.

Palmer-Brown is now out of the Man City loan army and is signed to Troyes (which is also owned by City Football Group). But I could easily see him moving on this summer to a more stable club not involved in the relegation zone and to a team whose ownership isn’t focused on another club.

American central defenders in Europe aren’t in great shape heading into the March window. Ream is older, Richards is injured, and McKenzie and Sands have seen their playing time fade. Berhalter hasn’t been interested in calling up Brooks in recent windows. Palmer-Brown and Cameron Carter-Vickers have been out of the picture but both seem like the next guys in. Between those two, Palmer-Brown seems like he would fit Berhalter’s style more.

But regardless of this cycle, Palmer-Brown is probably in great shape heading into the next World Cup cycle. His game is rising at a time when players like Ream, Zimmerman, Long, and Brooks will likely be aging out. Palmer-Brown, meanwhile, will still be in his 20’s by the time the 2026 World Cup rolls around.


Pefok scores an amazing header

Jordan Pefok scored his 16th goal of the Swiss Super League season when his eighth minute header put BSC Young Boys ahead 1-0 on a poor Luzern team that sits second from the bottom.


Unfortunately for Young Boys and its manager, former U.S. national team forward David Wagner, Luzern rallied from 2-0 deficit for a 2-2 draw. Young Boys has conceded late equalizers and late winning goal all season and this will be the reason why its four season reign as Swiss Champions come to an end. They are now trailing leaders Zurich by 15 points.

Pefok is having a great season and he is absolutely a nightmare in the box.

There are very good reasons to think that Pefok will be called up this window and American fans typically list Pefok among the recently omitted players they would like to have called up. Pefok is succeeding while other American fans are struggling to score.

There are reasons why Pefok’s style might not translate over to the U.S. team – at least from a starting XI role. He doesn’t hold the ball up well, he doesn’t beat defenders with the dribble, and he doesn’t combine well with his teammates. But he does finish well close to goal. The question is whether or not the U.S. team will be able to get him the ball in the box enough?

But when the U.S. team is chasing the game needing a goal while taking risks to get the ball forward, Pefok as a sub option seems pretty ideal at the moment.


Ream & Robinson help in Fulham win


It’s been among the most repetitive themes in this weekly column. Tim Ream and Jedi Robinson play well and Fulham win.

On Saturday, Fulham coasted by Blackburn with a 2-0 win. The Cottagers are looking like the safest of bets to return to the Premier League next season as they sit atop the Championship and have a double-digit lead on promotion. This game was pretty refreshing because it didn’t even take an Aleksander Mitrovic goal to walk away with all three points.

Robinson and Ream were rocks on the left side of the defense. Robinson had five interceptions and five recoveries over 90 minutes. Ream was 62/69 in passing with four clearances and three interceptions. It remains to be seen what happens to Ream this offseason and if he will remain with Fulham, but his legacy as a first-rate Championship defender who is a key piece for promotion is assured.

Robinson meanwhile looks ready for a second crack at the Premier League.


Bello sharp off the bench


Unfortunately for George Bello and Arminia Bielefeld, they dropped a 1-0 decision to Augsburg in a game that will only tighten the relegation battle in the Bundesliga.

Despite the loss, Bello played very well off the bench in his 15 minutes of action. This was by far the best he has looked in the Bundesliga since his January transfer. He was dangerous with his dribbles, smooth on the ball, and his crosses from the run of play were well driven. The only blemish is that he took multiple corner kicks at the end of the game, and they weren’t well-taken.

But Bello did nothing but help himself in this game as he seeks more minutes and his first start – which should come if he continues to train well and play like this.

Now that he is settled, a return to the U.S. national team could be in the cards as Berhalter will likely want a backup for Jedi Robinson at left back. Last window Sergino Dest was the starting right back and the backup left back. Berhalter will probably want a natural left-footed left back to backup Robinson and Bello looks like the best bet right now.


Musah starts in Valencia win


Yunus Musah earned the start for Valencia on Saturday in a 3-1 home win over Granada. In this game, he was more centrally based and got a chance to have touches all over the attacking half. He played 73 minutes and picked up a highly questionable yellow card.

Musah’s season has been all over the map. He’s been in and out of the lineup, his best performances in the Copa del Rey have been against lower-tier opponents and should be taken with a grain of salt. He’s also had a few games where he’s played quite well, even when based centrally.

This game was somewhere in between. He played fairly well against a Granada team that is battling relegation. He only had 33 touches over his 76 minutes. He was dispossessed three times but nearly had an assist on one occasion. He wasn’t terribly involved but still had moments where he tried to make things happen.

The quality is there but it’s tough for Musah to really show well without a consistent run of starts. On the other hand, he has to earn them.


Cannon embracing new role


Reggie Cannon made a position switch a few months ago for Boavista and it has really helped him. As opposed to his right back or right wingback positions, Cannon is playing on the right side of a three-man backline. It’s more of a central defense position but he still needs to use his mobility to chase attackers. This position gives him far fewer attacking responsibilities, but it does take advantage of his athleticism in a defensive role. It remains to be seen if Cannon likes this position or if he will want to stay in this role as he potentially moves clubs this summer. But he is doing well, and it could attract the interest among the growing number of clubs that now use a three-man backline. At least Cannon is embracing a role which is increasing in demand.

On Saturday, Boavista played a strong Braga team to a 1-1 draw. Cannon was an ideal fit both with his physicality and in his athleticism for the team’s defense. He won all of his duels and aerials. He also drew three fouls.


Will this translate into Cannon’s future? It remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen if this helps him with the national team because Berhalter still only occasionally plays with three in the back. But it does seem like it is an excellent use of Cannon’s skillset.


Brooks starts in Wolfsburg win


John Brooks will probably soon fade out of Wolfsburg’s lineup. The club has already announced that he will not return next season (he is in the final year of his contract). Saturday’s 1-0 win over Union Berlin now has it eight points clear of the relegation playoff position. Once the club feels completely safe, it seems likely Brooks will shift to the bench as Wolfsburg will prepare for next season which won’t include their American defender.

Brooks has been playing better as of late for Wolfsburg and in this game, he was strong over 90 minutes. He had 63 touches, was 46/55 in passing (including 7/13 with his long-ball distribution), and he had five clearances in the clean sheet win. Brooks had a lot to do as Union outshot Wolfsburg 19-8 and had 13 shots from inside the box.

Wolfsburg’s midfield struggled to dictate the flow of the game and this put a lot of pressure on their defense – which did a nice job to limit the most dangerous of chances. Wolfsburg still had the better of genuine scoring opportunities and hit the frame once.

Brooks has made himself into one of the most interesting players in the coming weeks and months. Where will his next club be? Will a team in MLS step up with a big DP offer? Will he return to the national team?

For Berhalter, it will be tough to leave him out on grounds of form given absence of playing time with McKenzie and the injury to Richards. But is Brooks the type of player you can bring into a team for crucial games if he is not a lock starter?


The rest in England


It was a mixed weekend for the rest of the players in England.

Josh Sargent got the start for Norwich in a 3-1 loss to Brentford at home. At this point, it is very difficult to see Norwich avoiding relegation. The team can just not string anything good together for the needed momentum. Now a 3-1 loss at home to a non-top 10 team is more indicative of its season. For Sargent was not dangerous in this game but don’t discount his return to the national team soon. Berhalter was in England to watch him play and while he has struggled, no American No. 9 has made a case to be the answer at the position.

Sargent has questions heading into next year. Teemu Pukki will soon be 32 years old. He has been a player who has twice been the answer for Norwich’s promotional efforts. Can he do it again? If no, can Sargent do what is needed at the Championship level? Promotion teams typically have a reliable forward who can consistently score. Sargent has yet to score consistently but at the Championship level, the pressure will be on him to do that for the first time.

Duane Holmes and Huddersfield defeated last-place Peterborough 3-0 on Friday. The win technically moved them into second place in the Championship but they have played four more games than AFC Bournemouth, who are just a point back. Realistically, Huddersfield sit in third place. But the team is playing very well as of late and is firmly in the promotional hunt.

Holmes goes through periods when he scores/assists a lot, to times when he doesn’t. Right now he’s not scoring, but remains very active and productive. He’s winning his duels and forcing turnovers. He’s bringing a lot of energy to Huddersfield’s game and he also had three key passes over his 76 minutes in the win.

Ethan Horvath made his third straight start for Nottingham Forest in a 1-1 draw at Sheffield United. The goal he conceded at the end was not his fault but Forest still is within striking distance of the playoffs in ninth place (but only three points out). The big questions for Horvath now are whether he did enough to claim the club’s No. 1 goalkeeper position with Brice Samba’s suspension now over and whether he will get called into the U.S. national team camp for March.

My own personal take is that Forest will continue to start Samba, but that Horvath has made the leash shorter. Samba’s grip on the starting spot is not as tight. As for the national team, but Zack Steffen and Matt Turner are missing games due to injury. I think Turner will be back in time to play in March but, even if not, I think Sean Johnson is still ahead of Ethan Horvath right now. Johnson has been with the U.S. national team all qualifying campaign and there is a comfort level the players have built up with Johnson in training. Horvath played well in the Nation’s League final but that was nine months ago.

Finally in the Championship, Foloarin Balogun drew a penalty for Middlesbrough’s opening goal in a 2-1 win over Luton Town. Balogun, 20, is now getting his first real run of professional minutes in a Championship promotional battle while on loan from Arsenal. It’s a great place to get his feet wet.

There have been rumors lately that Balogun is being courted to make a one-time switch to representing the United States internationally from England, whom he played for at the youth levels. Former U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos tried, unsuccessfully, to have Balogun switch in 2019 ahead of the 2019 U-20 World Cup. Balogun was born in New York but moved back to England when he was very young.

There have been a few other rumors about dual nationals floating around lately in a switch to the United States. Bayern Munich U-23's Malik Tillman, his brother Timothy Tillman at Greuther Furth, Nottingham Forest's Alex Mighten, or Tenerife's Samuel Shashoua. Some of these make sense, others do not. Sashoua and Mighten are not regular starters for second division teams. Malik Tillman has only occasionally been with Bayern Munich’s first team (it’s important to note that this year’s COVID waves have put some players around the first team level when they otherwise wouldn’t be in normal years). Timothy Tillman has been a starter at Furth, but that team is really a 2.Bundesliga team in terms of quality.

Balogun, however, makes more sense than any of them. He’s a speedy attacker and brings life to games. He can compete at the No. 9 when no other players had made a solid case for the position. He might eventually get beaten out, but he does look like a player who can at least compete for minutes. The big question, however, is how much his heart is into playing for the United States when his connections to the country are minimal.

In the third-tier League One, Lynden Gooch started and played 81 minutes for Sunderland in a 0-0 away draw in London to Charlton Athletic. Marlon Fossey continues to make a huge impact for Bolton Wanderers and the former U.S. U-20 right back added two assists in a 3-0 away win over Gillingham. He's on loan from Fulham and there will be pressure on Bolton to keep Fossey, who has been excellent nearly every game. In that game, Charlie Kelman played the final three minutes for Gillingham.


Tough weekend in Germany


When you factor out Brooks and Bello, who we covered, it was a quiet weekend in Germany. As mentioned, Richards, Pepi, Paredes, Adams, Che, and Reyna did not play for a variety of reasons.

VFB Stuttgart’s 3-2 win over Borussia Monchengladbach featured two Americans. Stuttgart’s head coach Pellegrino Matarazzo and Gladbach’s right back Joe Scally who started. For Matarazzo, it was a huge win that gives it life in the relegation zone. The team is now just one point away from climbing out of the automatic relegation zone. After trailing 2-0, Matarazzo’s squad responded exceptionally well for the win. The club recently conceded late goals to drop key points. This was a complete reversal of fortune.

As for Scally, he struggled in this game on both sides of the ball. Scally has seen his minutes drop dramatically in recent months and he appeared rusty – with turnovers, getting the ball forward, and staying with his men defensively. It fit into the patter of a tough weekend for Americans in Europe.

In the 2.Bundesliga, Ryan Malone started and went the distance for Hansa Rostock in a thrilling 4-3 win over Schalke. That away win moved Hansa Rostock two points clear of the relegation playoff position. The winning goal from Rostock was scored in the sixth minute of stoppage time and it came from American-born, but Swedish U-21 winger Nils Froling.

Also in the 2.Bundesliga, Nico Carrera made his first team professional debut for Holstein Kiel in a 3-4 loss at home to Paderborn. The Mexican-born former U.S. youth international came into the game in the 55th minute in the loss.


Limited minutes in France


Aside from Erik Palmer-Brown, who was excellent, the remaining Americans in France didn’t fare too well.

Timothy Weah did not get off the bench for Lille in a 4-0 win over Clermont Foot. Nicholas Gioacchini only played the final eight minutes for Montpellier in a 2-0 home loss to Nantes. Konrad de la Fuente was an unused substitute for Marseille in a 1-0 loss hat home to Monaco.

In Ligue 2, French youth international but U.S. eligible Amir Richardson was quite good for Le Havre in a 2-0 win over Quevilly. Le Havre is in sixth place but is six points out of the promotional playoff position.


Yanks in Italy


With Weston McKennie injured, there wasn’t too much to report on Americans in Italy.

The late injury to Gianluca Busio kept him out of Venezia’s lineup for a 4-1 loss to Sassuolo. Tanner Tessmann played just the final 15 minutes and Venezia has hit hard times in the relegation battle. The team needs wins and it is now three points deep. Both players will face questions if they will remain with the club in Serie B. It is hard to see the more expensive Busio staying with the club.

In Serie B, Andrija Novakovich came off the bench in the 53rd minute and picked up a late equalizing assist for Frosinone in a 1-1 draw with Ascoli. American midfielder Anthony Fontana is injured for Ascoli and he awaits his Acoli debut.


Yanks struggle in Belgium


Neither Genk’s Mark McKenzie and Royal Antwerp’s Sam Vines got off the bench this weekend. While Kyle Duncan was injured for Oostende.

Chris Durkin played just the final 22 minutes for St. Truiden in a 1-1 draw with Mechelen.

Bryan Reynolds started at right back for Kortrijk in a 3-2 home loss to league-leading Union SG. It was an up and down performance from the former FC Dallas defender who is still shaking off the rust from a year where he played very little since making the move abroad.


Busy weekend for Yanks in Scotland


Ian Harkes started and played well in a 2-2 draw for Dundee United against Hearts. Harkes continues to show a lot of grown as a two-way No. 8 midfielder as the physical and defensive side of his game is progressing nicely. While some argue that it is tough to develop in the mid/late 20’s ages, Harkes is coming a lot way. He’s one of the more underrated American players and could be in line for a nice transfer this summer – perhaps to an MLS team willing to give him his second stint in the league.

Cameron Carter-Vickers was solid, albeit not tested too much in a 3-1 win over Livingston. He continues to have a strong season for the Scottish leaders and is putting himself into an interesting situation this summer. Will Celtic spend the required money to buy him from Tottenham? Will the Scottish league push him enough as a player? It would give him a spot in the Champions League. In the loss, Scott Pittman played 76 minutes for Livingston while his teammate and former U.S. U-20 forward Sebastian Soto played the final uneventful 10 minutes.

American forward Joe Efford netted his first goal for Motherwell in a disappointing 1-1 draw with relegation battling Dundee FC. Motherwell has struggled since December while Efford was brought in during the January window. His performances have been mixed but this was a positive moment for him.

Chris Mueller, meanwhile, was sick and missed Hibernian’s 0-0 draw with St. Johnstone.


Holland: De La Torre strong in tough loss


In the Eredivisie, Heracles lost 3-1 to a much better PSV Eindhoven team. Luca de la Torre fought hard on both sides of the ball but Heracles was overmatched in the loss. De la Torre was 6/11 in his duels and was 23/29 in his passing. He had just one turnover, which was impressive in a game against a strong opponent. He also had an impressive nine recoveries.

Cole Bassett, meanwhile, did not get off the bench for Feyenoord in a 1-1 draw with Groningen.


Yanks Elsewhere


Aside from Musah, La Liga wasn’t the place for Americans this weekend. Sergino Dest played just five minutes for Barcelona while Matthew Hoppe and Matt Miazga did not play at all.  In the Segunda, Shaq Moore didn’t get off the bench for Tenerife in a 4-1 loss to Real Valladolid.

In Portugal, Alex Mendez did not get off the bench for Vizela in a 3-0 loss to Santa Clara.

In Turkey’s Super Lig, Haji Wright played just the final nine minutes for Antalyaspor in a 1-0 win over Sivasspor. Tyler Boyd started and played 90 minutes for Rizespor in a 2-1 loss to Giresunspor. Rizespor is now nine points deep in the relegation battle.

In the Greek Super League, Caleb Stanko played 58 minutes in defensive midfield for seventh-place PAS Giannina in a 0-0 draw with NFC Volos

In Hungary’s top-flight, Henry Wingo got the start and played the entire game for Hungarian leaders Ferencvaros in a 2-1 win over second place Kisvarda. The winning goal came in stoppage time an it was an important win that moved Ferencvaros five points atop the NB I table. Wingo is now looking for his third European title since moving abroad three years ago.

In Austria, Brenden Aaronson came off the bench in the 60th minute for Salzburg in an easy 4-0 win over Altach. Aaronson was being rested for the midweek Champions League game against Bayern Munich. Thomas Roberts wasn’t in the squad for Austria Klagenfurt’s 3-0 loss to Rapid Vienna. In the second tier, Uly Llanez started and played 57 minutes for St. Poelten in a 1-0 win over SV Horn. The winning goal was scored in the 90th minute after Llanez left.

In the Danish Superliga, Emmanuel Sabbi started and played 76 minutes for OB Odense in a 2-2 away draw over Sonderjyske. Former San Antonio attacking mid Jose Gallegos was an unused sub for Sonderjyske. Christian Cappis played the second half for Brondby in a 1-0 win over Silkeborg.

In Argentina, Joel Sonora did not get off the bench for Velez Sarsfield in a 1-1 draw with Estudiantes while on Monday, his brother, Alan Sonora, and Independiente and host Godoy Cruz which might have American-born brothers Mattias Soria and Leandro Soria on the bench.

In the Gaucho state tournament in Brazil, Johnny Cardoso and Internacional posted a 1-0 win over CE Aimore, a lower-tier team in Brazil's pyramid.

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