Weekend preview: McKennie, Reyna, Adams aim for encore
September 24, 2020
COMING INTO THIS weekend, the bar has been set very high if it wants to match the success of last weekend when we saw big performances across the board – both domestically and abroad – from key American players.
Coming into this weekend there are interesting storylines involving two of the top American players in Sergino Dest and Christian Pulisic. For Pulisic, he remains doubtful for Chelsea’s visit to West Brom on Saturday. So the question is when will the Hershey native return to the field and how will he catchup to a new and improved Blues team?
For Sergino Dest, the question is far more intriguing – and unprecedented for a U.S. international of his age. Still a teenager but already a player who has earned considerable minutes for Ajax in the Eredivisie and the Champions League. But the Dutch-born Dest is now the subject of a bidding war between two super-clubs in Barcelona and Bayern Munich. With reports that both clubs have negotiated with Dest, it will add some insight to how close the deal is should Dest play on Saturday at home against Vitesse. If the deal is indeed close, it makes little sense Ajax would play him.
In terms of the busy slate of games, I will open my personal notebook and let you know what I am watching this weekend and what I am looking for in the key games.
Best games to watch abroad
Roma – Juventus
Sunday, September 27: 2:45pm EST
Without a doubt, the best game to watch this weekend will take place in the Italian capital when Roma hosts nine-time defending champion Juventus. Weston McKennie, 22, became the first ever U.S. international to play for Juventus when he had a first-rate debut in a 3-0 win over Sampdoria. In that game, McKennie came close to scoring twice while also utilizing his defensive skills to press, defend, and disrupt the opposition.
McKennie’s approach is different than when he was at Schalke where he was more free-ranging. At Juventus, Andrea Pirlo has a more clearly defined role for the Texan and it looks like it will suit him very well. Clearly the Italian giants did their homework on McKennie when pursuing him in the transfer market.
But Roma is a much better team than Sampdoria. After a fifth-place finish last season, Roma is pushing for a return to the Champions League in this campaign. McKennie will have to be just as sharp as he was in his club debut.
Bayer Leverkusen – RB Leipzig
Saturday, September 26: 9:30am EST
Last year was a tough year for Tyler Adams, as he missed most of the first half of the season with an injury and only had limited starts in central midfield the rest of the way. Now the former New York Red Bull is back on top of his game and starting in central midfield for the 2019/20 runners up.
Last weekend Adams, 21, had a huge game in a 3-1 win over Mainz in the season opener where his passing range and defense were all first rate. He ended up finishing the game with the most distance covered at 11 kilometers. But on Saturday, the opposition will be tougher against a Bayer Leverkusen team that has hopes for a Champions League placement this season.
Augsburg - Borussia Dortmund
Saturday, September 26: 9:30am EST
Last weekend Gio Reyna showed that at just the age of 17, he was prepared and ready for the No. 10 position at Borussia Dortmund. In a convincing 3-0 win over Champions League qualified Borussia Monchengladbach, Reyna scored his first ever Bundesliga goal while also drawing a penalty.
Of course, Reyna will not always be as sharp as he was in that one and bumps along the way are to be expected. But his ceiling and ability are very high and the sky is the limit for the son of the former U.S. national team World Cup captain. Now the question will be how consistently can he make such an impact?
Augsburg is not a Champions League-caliber team like Monchengladbach but is still tricky. Last weekend, it defeated Union Berlin 3-1 on the road. American fans might be curious to know that Ecuadorian international and former FC Dallas defensive midfielder Carlos Gruezo is now a starter for Augsburg.
Boavista - Porto
Saturday, September 26: 4:00pm EST
Fresh off a sale from FC Dallas, United States national team right back Reggie Cannon earned a start for Boavista in its season opener in Portugal’s top flight against newly-promoted Nacional. Cannon, 23, was decent although the club was likely disappointed to blow three leads in a 3-3 draw.
This is one of the toughest opponents Boavista will play as Porto is one of Portugal’s best teams and is the reigning champions. In 2019/20 it scored the most goals in the league with 74. At the same time it conceded the fewest with just 22 – over 34 games. This year Porto is the favorite to win the title gain and last week it made a strong opening statement with a 3-1 win over Braga.
If Boavista is to have any chance in this one, Cannon will have to raise his defensive game to a very high level.
Schalke 04 – Werder Bremen
Saturday, September 26: 12:30pm EST
In a matchup that is interesting for American fans, although probably not for the right reasons, Schalke will host Werder Bremen. This game pits two of the most disappointing teams from the opening weekend against each other and it is realistic to see either or both of these teams battling relegation for most of this season. It’s hard to see both surviving.
Josh Sargent, 20, earned the start for Werder Bremen last week in a 4-1 loss to Hertha Berlin. The St. Louis native was starved for service and was barely able to get going. The U.S. international was coming off a strong season and opening round of the German Cup but Hertha was able to dominate Werder from the early parts of the game.
Meanwhile, Schalke was humiliated 8-0 in the opening round against Champions League winners Bayern Munich. While Bayern was always expected to win this one, Schalke barely put up any fight. Managed by former U.S national team forward David Wagner, the club saw its brutal 16-game winless run to end last season carry over into this campaign. Once one of the Bundesliga’s best teams, Schalke now looks like it is cruising to relegation.
This remains one of the best chances for either team to win. Hard questions will be asked of the loser in this one.
Mainz 05 – VfB Stuttgart
Saturday, September 26: 9:30am EST
Last weekend, Pellegrino Matarazzo became the first American-born/raised manager to lead a team in the Bundesliga. Unfortunately for the Fair Lawn, NJ native, his team dropped a 3-2 decision to Freiburg. It was a rough start as VfB fell behind 3-0 but rallied to cut it within one goal. It nearly tied it late but came up short.
Like Stuttgart, Mainz is coming into this game with a loss after falling to Leipzig 3-1. The goal this season for Stuttgart is to survive in the Bundesliga and getting points early in the season is important to avoiding a relegation fight later.
Austria Vienna - Admira
The Austrian Bundesliga
Sunday, September 27: 8:30am EST
Last weekend, Erik Palmer-Brown earned his first start of the season for Austria Vienna and put on a great performance in a 2-1 win over Reid. For his efforts, the Kansas City-native was name to the Austrian Bundesliga team of the week.
Austria Vienna wants to return to a Europa-League caliber-team and to do that, it needs to avoid the slow start it had last season. Admira is a winnable game for Austria Vienna and it comes into this one having lost its first two games of the season by a combined score of 9-1.
Heracles - PSV Eindhoven
Sunday, September 27: 10:45pm EST
It will be a massive test for Luca de la Torre, 23, and Heracles which will host PSV Eindhoven on Sunday. The San Diego U-23 hopeful has appeared in the first two games of the season for Heracles – off the bench in a 2-0 win over ADO den Haag in the opener followed by a 4-0 loss over Willem II.
Heracles is a younger team in the league and has been inconsistent early in the season. In this one, Heracles will have to be sharp to get a result as PSV is historically one of the best teams in Holland and has won its first two games of the season.
Freiburg - Wolfsburg
Sunday, September 27: 12:00pm EST
John Brooks enjoyed a strong opening game for Wolfsburg in a 0-0 draw with Bayer Leverkusen. The U.S. national team central defender was a defensive presence in that game although he missed a wide-open header from close range in the second half that should have won it for Wolfsburg.
Freiburg won its first game of the season over Stuttgart 3-2 and Brooks should start in this one, despite his uncertain status as a starter heading into this season.
AGF Aarhus – OB
Sunday, September 27: 8:30am EST
Emmanuel Sabbi, 22, is off to a terrific start to the season where he was important for OB in its 3-2 win over Copenhagen in the opener followed by a MOTM performance in a 1-1 draw with Nordsjaelland last weekend. In that game, Sabbi scored OB’s only goal with a header off a corner.
The U.S. U-23 winger has adjusted well in making his move from Hobro to OB and his athleticism is elite in the Superliga and defenders are having a tough time defending Sabbi in physical situations.
In this game, both teams have four points from the first two games.
Konyaspor – Besiktas
Sunday, September 27: 9:00am EST
United States national team winger Tyler Boyd has been linked to a potential move (either loans or transfers) within Turkey but the New Zealand-born Boyd continues to start for Besiktas. On Thursday, Boyd played 85 minutes in shootout loss (after a 1-1 stalemate) to Rio Ave in a Europa League qualifier.
But both Boyd and Besiktas have played well the first two games of the season. Boyd has started both games and scored in the opening win over the 2019/20 runners up Trabzonspor. It seems to be a fluid situation with Boyd.
In this game, Besiktas will visit a Konyaspor team that drew its only game of the season so far.
Other Americans abroad games
Duane Holmes has been cleared to play and could make his first Championship appearance of the season on Saturday for Derby County when it hosts Blackburn.
Queens Park Rangers and its American captain Geoff Cameron will host Middlesbrough on Saturday in the Championship
Two American attacking midfielders should feature in third-tier League One on Saturday when Lynden Gooch and Sunderland host Peterborough whole Swindon Town hosts Indiana Vassilev and Burton Albion. Last weekend, Gooch scored an outstanding goal for Sunderland while Vassilev (on loan from Aston Villa) made his club debut for Burton Albion.
In the Bundesliga on Sunday, Hoffenheim hosts reigning European champions Bayern Munich and U.S. U-23 central defender Chris Richards will attempt to make his second straight appearance for Bayern.
On Friday, Timothy Chandler should be on the bench for Eintrach Frankfurt when it visits Hertha BSC.
On Sunday, Zack Steffen should be the backup keeper for Manchester City when it hosts Leicester City. Also, on Sunday in the Premier League, DeAndre Yedlin will hope to make the bench for Newcastle when it visits Tottenham – where Cameron Carter-Vickers is not expected to play.
In the 2.Bundesliga, Julian Green was outstanding for Greuther Furth last weekend and will try to build on that performance when it visits Erzgebirge Aue on Friday. Staying within that league, Leon Flach and Kevin Lankford will likely be on the bench for St. Pauli on Sunday when it hosts Heidenheim.
In France’s top flight, Tim Weah will hope to make more than a late cameo on Friday for Lille when it hosts Nantes.
In Holland’s second tier, NAC Breda hosts U.S. U-23 No. 10 Richard Ledezma and Jong PSV on Saturday. On Monday, Sebastian Soto (who was reportedly considering a Chile call-up this week) and Telstar hosts Den Bosch on Monday. Soto is still searching for his first start for the club where is on loan from Norwich City.
In the Eredivisie, Wolfsburg loanee Ulysses Llanez might make his debut for Heerenveen on Saturday when it hosts VVV Venlo.
In the Premier League, Fulham hosts Aston Villa on Monday. Tim Ream is looking to return to the starting lineup for the Cottagers while Antonee Robinson is looking to make the bench for the first time.
In Serie B, Andrija Novakovich and Frosinone will open their season against Empoli. Novakovich and Frosinone narrowly missed out on promotion last season – losing in the playoff final where it was even on goals with Spezia but the tiebreaker gave it to Spezia by virtue of being the highest seeded team.
In the Scottish Premiership, Hamilton Academical hosts Dundee United on Saturday. Ian Harkes is likely to start for United while fellow American midfielder Dillon Powers will hope make his second start for the newly promoted team that his playing relatively well in sixth place.
In Turkey’s top flight, Eric Lichaj and Faitih Karagumruk host Istanbul Basaksehir on Friday.
In France’s Ligue 2, Valenciennes host Caen on Saturday. American attacker Nicholas Gioacchini is likely to get the start for Caen. Normally a forward, the Kansas City-born Gioacchini has been starting at right wing. Caen is doing well with two wins and two draws to start the season. Gioacchini, 20, has also been sharp and scored a goal two weeks ago. Last week, however, he was subbed out at halftime of a 0-0 draw vs. Chambly.
In Belgium, four Americans will hope to get playing time: Brenden Hines-Ike and Kortrijk host Antwerp on Friday. Chris Durkin and Sint Truiden visit Mechelen on Saturday. And Joe Efford, who has one goal and three assists for struggling Waasland Beveren will visit Beerschot on Saturday. Ethan Horvath is likely the backup goalkeeper for Club Brugge in its derby matchup at home vs. Cercle Brugge on Sunday.
Molde is likely to use mostly backups on Saturday against Sandefjord due to its upcoming midweek Champions League clash. As a result, Henry Wingo is likely to be a sub in this one.
Red hot American forward Aron Johannsson at Hammarby is looking for a return to the national team and has six goals in his last eight Allsvenskan games. He should feature in this one on Sunday away at Falkenberg.
Jordan Siebatcheu will likely be a sub for Swiss champions Young Boys away at Sion on Saturday.
United States U-20 forward Charlie Kelman and a very poor Southend United team host Morecambe on Saturday in England’s fourth-tier League Two.
Finally, Johnny Cardoso could feature in defensive midfield for Brazilian contenders Internacional when it hosts Sao Paulo in a huge matchup in Brazil’s Serie A on Sunday.
Best domestic games to watch
Wednesday’s busy 13 game slate in MLS raised a lot of questions heading into the season’s stretch run. The teams that can and should contend are now a lot more clear than they were since the restart of the season.
Here is what I will be watching for this weekend.
Toronto – Columbus
Sunday, September 27: 7:30pm EST
Columbus is five points clear on top of the Eastern Conference and has the league’s highest point total. Lucas Zelarayan has been one of the best players in the league since his arrival earlier in the year. Meanwhile, Toronto is one of three teams even on 25 points for the East’s second spot.
For American fans, this will pit two U.S. national team forwards between Gyasi Zardes and Jozy Altidore. While Altidore has long been considered a national team starter and Zardes a backup, it is Zardes who is outperforming his counterpart this year. Zardes currently has nine goals in 2020 compared with just one for Altidore. While Toronto defeated NYCFC 1-0 (against the run of play) midweek, Altidore and U.S. U-23 eligible forward Ayo Akinola both struggled mightily.
But this one should be fun – played at a neutral site in Hartford – between two teams vying for a top playoff seed and a couple of key American goal scorers.
FC Dallas – Orlando City SC
Sunday, September 27: 8:30pm EST
FC Dallas is a fun team to watch with its young core of American players which includes Brandon Servania, Tanner Tessmann, Jesus Ferreira, Ricardo Pepi, and Bryan Reynolds. It looks like a decent playoff team at times but it is still prone to stumbles. Such was the case midweek when it fell to Atlanta United 1-0.
If Atlanta was tough, FC Dallas will be in for a much tougher test on Sunday against an Orlando City team that is firing on all cylinders at the moment – with five wins and two draws over its last seven games. What is even more impressive is that Orlando City was able to defeat then Western leading Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday without top forward Daryl Dike and Chris Mueller – who is having a league Best XI this season. In this game Mueller and Dike should be well rested and ready to go.
But for American fans, FC Dallas is always worth watching given its huge footprint on the U.S. youth national team. For Orlando, Dike can and should be on the U.S. U-23 team, whenever it resumes, and Mueller is making a strong case for his first U.S. national team call-up in 2021.
Colorado Rapids – Sporting Kansas City
Sunday, September 27: 9:00pm EST
The Colorado Rapids are quickly improving since MLS is Back with just one loss in seven games and three wins out of its last four games. That run has it even on points for fourth place in the West. American fans will want to take note that three U.S. youth internationals are playing massive roles in this run. U.S. U-20 midfielder Cole Bassett has four goals and four assists in his 565 minutes this season. U.S. U-23 winger Jonathan Lewis has five goals in 530 minutes. U.S. U-23 left back Sam Vines has a goal and two assists over 1073 minutes. Occasional U.S. national team midfielder Kellyn Acosta has also impressed.
Now in the thin air of Colorado, the Rapids will host Sporting Kansas City which has been up and down but still sits third in the West behind Seattle and Portland. U.S. U-20 midfielder Gianluca Busio should return to the lineup for SKC where he is thriving in his new deeper central midfield role.
Los Angeles Galaxy – Seattle Sounders
Sunday, September 27: 10:30pm EST
The Los Angeles Galaxy are impossible to read. After a tough MLS is Back tournament, the team returned to home-market play in great form where it won four straight games – including two over rivals LAFC and one over MLS is Back winner Portland. But that was all without Mexican legend Chicharito who was injured. Since Chicharito’s return, the Galaxy have been shutout three straight games and have lost their past two in a pair of 2-0 defeats to Colorado and RSL. At some point the Galaxy are going to figure things out because there is just too much talent with Chicharito, Jonathan Dos Santos, Cristian Pavon, and U.S. international Sebastian Lletget. But will the team figure it out in time just to make the playoffs?
This will be a tough game for the Galaxy against the Western leading Seattle Sounders but at least the team is playing at home on real grass. It should also be boosted by the return of U.S. U-20 right back/midfielder Julian Araujo who was suspended against RSL.
Seattle, of course, has players who know how to win in this league. Raul Ruidiaz has eight goals on the season and Jordan Morris might be the best American in the league at the moment. Nicholas Lodeiro is also one of the most winning designated players in league history. Stefan Frei is also one of the best goalkeepers in the league over the past decade.
Notes from the rest of MLS
NYCFC will host Cincinnati on Saturday and there is plenty for American fans to watch. NYCFC lost to Toronto midweek but didn’t play poorly. In fact, Keaton Parks was terrific and is playing very well these days. The same can be said for Frankie Amaya on the much-maligned Cincinnati team. Amaya, who should make the U.S. U-23 team these days, is an exceptionally hard worker who can give Cincinnati a chance to win games it shouldn’t he was the reason the team was able to play a heavily favored Philadelphia team to a 0-0 draw midweek.
If the Philadelphia Union want to hold hope for catching Columbus, it will need to find a way to beat Inter Miami which was pounded by the Red Bulls 4-1 midweek. Philadelphia, like FC Dallas, has a young core of domestic players and some key veterans, like former U.S. national team stalwart Alejandro Bedoya. The big news came this week when reports surfaced that the club will sell its No. 10 Brenden Aaronson to Salzburg after the season. Aaronson remaining with the Union is a boost to Jim Curtin’s team but the teenager is being used a ton and might benefit from squad rotation.
Portland is very much in contention to be the top seed in the West and it trails rivals Seattle only on goal differential. It has an excellent chance to win on Sunday against a poor Vancouver team that was embarrassed by LAFC midweek 6-0 (it was 5-0 by the 33rd minute). Jeremy Ebobisse is looking like he’s not only the starting U.S. U-23 forward but a genuine national team option as well. Eryk Williamson, meanwhile, should be a fixture in the U.S. U-23 midfield.
Meanwhile the Red Bulls looked impressive midweek in a 4-1 over Inter Miami and will push for its second win in a row against Montreal. U.S. national team central defender Aaron Long hasn’t had the best 2020 but has improved considerably in recent weeks.
In the other games on Sunday, DC United hosts New England, Chicago takes on Atlanta, Minnesota hosts Real Salt Lake, and LAFC hosts a sinking San Jose team. On Saturday, Nashville hosts the Houston Dynamo.
On one final note, this weekend it will be interesting to see if MLS could set huge numbers in terms of participation from domestic youth national team-eligible players. Last weekend had 58 USYNT-eligible players play and eight CANYNT players play. The next goal should be 60 USYNT players and 70 combined with a decent goals and assists numbers to match.