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Americans abroad show progress in preseason and early-season steps

While Europe crowned a new champion, many American players were hard at work during the preseason and the early parts of the season to help improve their standing for the year ahead. ASN's Brian Sciaretta walks you through it all with some insight into the big picture. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
August 23, 2020
2:10 PM

THE WEEKEND ABROAD saw a mix of Americans involved in both preseason and regular season games and there were plenty of takeaway as this highly unusual year progresses and many leagues are set to open next month.

Preseason games can be misleading at time where minutes, and even success on the field, doesn’t always translate to minutes in the regular season. There are often many factors at play. Still, a bunch of young Americans played a lot recently and I’ll try to put that into perspective.

Meanwhile, the regular season rolls on in places like Scotland, Belgium, and in the Scandinavian leagues.

Reyna scores again for Borussia Dortmund

Gio Reyna, 17, scored his fourth goal of the preseason for Borussia Dortmund in a win over Duisburg and the future U.S. national team attacking midfielder looks poised to play a big role for Dortmund in the upcoming Bundesliga season. The son of the former national team captain has made huge strides in 2020 where he is quickly making the transition from a youth prospect and into an impact player.

While preseason can typically be tough to read, Reyna’s overall grown and his current preseason suggest big things are in store for Reyna.


Robinson completes Fulham move

It’s old news now, but U.S. national team left back Antonee Robinson, 23, completed his move to newly promoted Premier League Fulham and he will join Tim Ream as the second American defender on its first team. He also becomes the 11th player with at least one U.S. national team cap to have played with the London club.

What’s to make of this move? For one, this will give Robinson his first taste of one of the biggest leagues in the world and he earned the chance after showing steady and significant improvement at Wigan over the past two seasons. Not only is he a speedy and athletic fullback who can get into the attack, but he’s also a more polished defender who reads the game really well.

In an interview with ASN last month, Robinson said he wanted his next club to be one where he will be a starter. Did he achieve that?

Joe Bryan, 26, is the team’s current left back and he was also an expensive purchase in 2018. Bryan has also been consistently healthy and was also the hero in the promotional final where he scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Brentford. But Bryan has also been the subject of transfer rumors by bigger clubs in the Premier League.

Robinson’s arrival might be a sign that Bryan is available for sale. Otherwise, Robinson has some tough competition ahead of him. Still, Robinson has improved so much that his ability to win competitive battles for minutes shouldn’t be discounted.

Celtic & Harper edge Dundee United & Harkes

On Saturday in Scotland’s Premiership, newly promoted Dundee United hosted reigning champions Celtic. It wasn’t a surprise that Ian Harkes, 25, got the start for Dundee United as he has been playing well to start the season. It also wasn’t surprising that Texan Dillon Powers was on the bench for Dundee United as well.

What was surprising was that U.S. U-20 winger Cameron Harper was on the bench for Celtic. Harper, 18, is one of the top youth players at Celtic and, when speaking to those around the current U-20 national team, is one of the best players in his age group right now. In an interview last year, Harper also told ASN that he turned down invitations from Scotland’s youth national teams to remain with the United States.

While it is true that Celtic are exploring the possibilities of loaning out the California native, Harper’s appearance on the bench in a Premiership game can be read in different ways. For one, it might help find stronger loan destinations or it might also be a sign that Celtic might have room for him this season. Celtic is also in the middle of Champions League qualifying rounds so it needs depth at this point. Either way, Celtic rate Harper and this is one way to give him confidence no matter where he plays this season.

Koffi and Gioacchini in Ligue 2 opening weekend

Two American players were involved in the opening weekend of France’s second tier. The results and performances were different.

U.S. U-23 eligible Nicholas Gioacchini made big strides in 2019/20 with SM Caen and could be sold further up the European hierarchy if he continues to progress at that rate. The Kansas City-born Gioacchini started for Caen in its opener away at Clermont Foot. The game finished as a scoreless draw but Gioacchini was strong and he played on the right wing. Over 83 minutes, he had 27 touches and one key pass. He also contributed defensively with four tackles.

For U.S. U-20 eligible Patrick Koffi of Paris FC, it was a season opener to forget. He made his first team debut last season but is aiming for a bigger role this season.

On Saturday, Paris FC visited Chambly and Koffi came off bench in the 71st minute with his team up 1-0. Minutes later he missed an open net and he was sent off in the 88th minute with a straight red card. While Paris FC won 3-0, Koffi had a rough time on the field and will miss his club’s next game.

Matarazzo & Stuttgart fall to Liverpool

It was a huge test for American manager Pellegrino Matarazzo who recently led Stuttgart to promotion and is now preparing to lead the club in the Bundesliga where he will become the first ever American-born manager in Germany’s top flight.

Facing Liverpool in a preseason game was a huge test and the reigning Premier League champs came away with a 3-0 win. Despite the loss, Matarazzo felt it was a positive experience and he has restated that his goal is to have the club survive in the league and build for future seasons.

Carter-Vickers makes Spurs appearances

Cameron Carter-Vickers, 22, played the second half for Tottenham of a 3-0 friendly win over Ipswich Town on Saturday. All the scoring was in the first half.

Carter-Vickers earned strong reviews for his performance against an Ipswich Town where he once played on loan from Spurs. Carter-Vickers is clearly trending in the right direction after a very good loan at Luton Town where he helped play a huge role in helping the club avoid relegation out of the Championship.

It is hard to see Carter-Vickers staying at Tottenham but these types of performances might convince a club to meet Tottenham’s asking price (reportedly £2.5 million) for a permanent transfer – which is what Carter-Vickers needs. He has already been on five different loans to clubs in the mid/lower end of the Championship. He has already spent time as a backup on Tottenham.

A good test for Carter-Vickers would be making a move to a team that is actually in the upper-half of the Championship and a place he could play for a possible promotion. That would be something different for Carter-Vickers and an opportunity he has earned.

Llanez & Brooks play for Wolfsburg

Wolfsburg hosted Holstein Kiel on Saturday and John Brooks earned the start while promising young American winger Ulysses Llanez was on the bench.

The game was rather dull and was scoreless in to the 57th minute when Josip Brekalo put Wolfsburg up 1-0 on the 2.Bundesliga team. Llanez came into the game in the 75th minute to play out the rest of the game. It was his first appearance in a real game or a friendly or Wolfsburg.


His best moment came in the 79th minute when he beat a defender and forced a save with a shot. Other than that, it was a quiet outing for the Californian.

Saief returns to Lechia Gdansk

Kenny Saief, 26, will return to Lechia Gdansk, on loan from Anderlecht, for the upcoming season. The American-born left midfielder is not wanted by Anderlecht and he underperformed during his loan to FC Cincinnati in 2019. He managed to perform relatively well after joining Gdansk on loan in February where he made 11 appearances in three starts where the club finished eighth in the 16-team league.


Saief likely didn’t have many options, short of returning to Israel – where he was raised and developed. Lechia Gdansk is probably the best of a rather bleak situation.

Hoppe shows promise for Schalke II

Matthew Hoppe, 19 is certainly in the mix to be a big player for the U.S. U-20 team. The center forward is competiting with Charlie Kelman, Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, and Ricardo Pepi for a spot on the team.

Hoppe didn't put out great numbers for Schalke's U-19 team last year with three goals in 17 appearances. But he has been in outstanding form for Schalke II in the preseason with three goals and four assists in the club's first four preseason games. On Saturday, he had a goal and two assists in 3-0 win over Sportfreunde Baumberg.

For Hoppe, he has a very good chance to quickly climb the ranks at Schalke, whose first team is in a dangerous position and could be facing a relegation battle in 2020/21.

Other notes

United States U-23 hopeful Luca de la Torre, 23, earned the start for Heracles on Saturday in a 2-0 loss to Dutch second-tier side De Graafschap. De la Torre is talented but will likely have to work through the rust of not having played many minutes against adults during his seven-year youth career at Fulham.

Richard Ledezma played the final seven minutes for PSV Eindhoven in a 2-1 loss to Eintrach Frankfurt. He also played in the team’s previous friendly, a 1-1 draw with Willem II.


Despite a turnover shortly after entering against Eintracht Frankfurt, Ledezma managed to get a good shot off right before the final whistle and he forced a save. What was particularly noteworthy is that Ledezma was only one of four Jong PSV players who dressed for this game and he was the only one of the four who played.

In the end, Ledezma remains a very promising player for the elite Dutch club. He has taken steps forward this preseason – baby steps, but he’s moving in the right direction.

In one particular note of concern, potential U.S. U-20 defensive midfielder Bryang Kayo started for Wolfsburg II in a friendly against Borussia Dortmund II and was on the wrong side of a 9-1 loss. You never want to read too much into a youth/reserve preseason friendly but that was rough. 

Finally, former U.S. youth national team midfielder Mukwelle Akale, 23, recently left Villarreal in Spain where he featured for the youth teams and reserve teams. Today it was announced that he had signed for Pafos FC in Cyprus while his brother Masango Akale, 18, would join the club's U-19 team. 

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