Anticipated weekend could see history in Europe, playoff chases domestically
September 17, 2020
LAST WEEKEND WAS a fun one for Americans abroad but this one should be far more revealing as the Bundesliga, Serie A, and Portugal’s Primiera Liga all get underway - in addition to other Americans having big opportunities. In MLS, fans are finally seeing what many have been hoping for years - young domestic players to be given meaningful chances. "Playing You Kids" is happening before our eyes in record numbers.
There are a few injuries that will keep some key Americans out. Christian Pulisic suffered a setback this week and will remain sidelined for Chelsea. Derby County manager Phillip Cocu announced that Duane Holmes was still not training with the club and he would be out for at least the next two weeks.
We’ve also seen U.S. U-20 attacking midfielder Indiana Vassilev sent out on loan this week from Aston Villa to Burton Albion of League One for the remainder of the season. While that should be a big opportunity for him, his U-20 teammate Owen Otasowie at Wolves could be close behind in terms of a loan as it looks like Wolves be looking for a place to get him minutes.
But the big story will be the season openers for Reggie Cannon, Gio Reyna, and Weston McKennie, who are looking to make big inroads this year. Cannon should be a regular starter for BoaVista. Reyna is aiming to make a statement this year with Dortmund, and McKennie will become the first U.S. international to play for Juventus.
On the managerial front, VfB Stuttgart boss Pellegrino Matarazzo will make history on Saturday when he will become the first ever American-born manager to lead a team in the Bundesliga.
On the domestic side of the game, it has been a very interesting season as U.S. national team players Aron Long, Gyasi Zardes, and Jordan Morris have all been very sharp as of late. In New England, Matt Turner is likely making huge inroads in the national team goalkeeping chart.
Regarding the youth movement, every round of games seems to see at least 50 U.S. youth national team-eligible players take the field. Many of these players are proving they are ready to be consistent contributors and are part of an improving generation of American players. The two clubs who play the most youth players – Philadelphia and Dallas – are also nearing the top of the standings.
With all that said, here is what I am watching this weekend and here is my notebook ahead of a huge slate of games.
Best Abroad Games To Watch
Juventus vs. Sampdoria
Sunday, Sept. 20: 2:00pm EST
Will Weston McKennie start? Will he play? How will he fare at the most storied club in Italy? I’ve been saying repeatedly that I think McKennie is going to get a very real chance with Juventus. The club looks to be financially invested in him with serious money behind the loan. McKennie fits the modern game and his athleticism is at an elite level. Even when Schalke was terrible last season, McKennie was still doing a lot of things (like winning aerials, forcing turnovers, covering lots of ground) all while still having the ability to hit a game changing pass or score a big goal. He never played down to the level of his teammates.
Juventus saw all of this and came in with a serious offer. Now McKennie will have the chance of a lifetime. It’s up to him to seize it but why would you bet against him? He’s passed so many big tests in his career and now he will be surrounded by a supporting cast that could only elevate him even further.
Nacional vs. Boavista
Saturday, Sept. 19: 11:00am EST
United States national team right back Reggie Cannon should make his debut for Boavista as it opens its season on Saturday. By all accounts, Cannon has impressed since arriving in Portugal and he looks like he will be a regular starter. The most recent sales of players by MLS clubs have generally done quite well in Europe and there is no reason to think Cannon will be any different. He left FC Dallas after two and a half years as a starter where he showed steady improvement every year.
Boavista finished 12th last season in the top flight while Nacional is newly promoted after winning the top flight. But Boavista is under new management which has bigger goals for the club. Cannon is part of that - while he also has ambitions to move to France soon.
Ajax vs. RKC Waalwijk
Sunday, Sept. 20: 10:45pm EST
Sergino Dest, 19, is the subject of all sorts of headlines in very different areas. Last week, it looked as if he had lost his starting position at Ajax and this was confirmed when he began the season opener on the bench. He was thrown a lifeline when left back Nicholas Tagliafico was issued a red card. Dest came in and played very well over the final 57 minutes in a 1-0 win.
Then midweek, Dest was linked to a potential transfer to Bayern Munich. So, is he really not a starter at Ajax anymore? Or is he on the verge of a huge move to the newly-crowned Champions League winners? That’s quite a swing.
If Dest doesn’t play in this one, perhaps a transfer deal is close. If he does play, is this his finale at Ajax? If no deal is in place for a move to Bayern, Dest needs to play well if he gets on the field in this game to reclaim his spot. The situation is tough to read but there are a lot of telling events which could unfold.
Leeds United - Fulham
The Premier League
Saturday, Sept. 19: 10:00am EST
Fulham lost their opening game of the season last weekend to Arsenal by a lopsided 3-0 score. U.S. national team defender Tim Ream was to blame for the opening goal while fellow American defender Antonee Robinson did not make the matchday 18. Meanwhile Leeds United lost to Liverpool 4-3 in its opener but showed some impressive talent, despite the loss. Former New York City FC winger Jack Harrison scored one of the best Premier League goals of the opening weekend.
For Fulham, this is a game it needs to be competitive in if it wants to show it can avoid an immediate relegation. Both of these teams were promoted last season. Ream will need to be sharper and perhaps Robinson can make the matchday 18 and get on the field for his Premier League debut. For Robinson, he will need to beat out Joe Bryan for the left back position and Bryan signed a contract extension this week.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Saturday, Sept. 19: 12:30pm EST
Last season, Gio Reyna was a very good player for Dortmund off the bench. He started just one game for the club – a loss in the season finale. But overall, it was a great intro season for the 17-year-old. The son of the former U.S. captain came into preseason in great form and scored a free kick goal last weekend in an easy win in the German Cup vs. Duisburg.
Reyna has shown signs that this could be a breakout season for the youngster. But this will be a big test in the season opener against a Borussia Monchengladbach team that qualified for the Champions League last season with a fourth-place finish.
Werder Bremen vs. Hertha Berlin
Saturday, Sept. 19: 9:30am EST
Like several other young Americans in Europe, Josh Sargent had a great preseason for Werder Bremen and both scored and earned the MOTM last weekend in a lackluster 2-0 win over Carl Zeiss Jena to open the German Cup.
Werder Bremen is one of the bigger clubs in the Bundesliga but was nearly relegated last year (only escaping via the playoffs). If Werder wants to avoid another relegation battle, it needs Sargent to be a consistent producer.
There is a lot of pressure on the St. Louis native to score and assist on a regular basis and the club has a lot of faith in him. Getting off to a strong start is key for Sargent.
VfB Stuttgart vs. Freiburg
Saturday, Sept. 19: 9:30am EST
Pellegrino Matarazzo will make history on Saturday when he becomes the first American born/raised manager in the Bundesliga. He took over Stuttgart last January and was successful in leading it to promotion. Now he will aim to keep the team in the Bundesliga with a best-case goal of finishing midtable.
It is a huge opportunity for Matarazzo with a Stuttgart team that wants to return to prominence in Germany. If he succeeds, he could be a manager with a very bright future in front of him.
RB Leipzig vs. Mainz 05
Sunday, Sept. 20: 9:30am EST
Tyler Adams had an uneven first half of 2020 where he was often played at right back or used as a substitute. But it ended on a very high note as he scored a dramatic winning goal in the quarterfinal of the UEFA Champions League and became the second American to ever play in the tournament’s semifinal.
This season, Adams will look to reclaim his starting position in central midfield – which he had when he first arrived in Germany in 2019. He showed promise last weekend when he was the MOTM in a cup win over Nurnburg of the 2.Bundesliga. Now he will aim to carry that over into the Bundesliga season.
Marseille vs. Lille
Sunday, Sept. 20: 3:00pm EST
Tim Weah, 20, has been easing back into action with Lille to start the Ligue 1 season. In the first three games, he has made two late sub appearances – where he has looked active and lively. The most important sign is that he is moving well and is comfortable again after a lost season. It seems like Lille will eventually increase Weah’s minutes but it is unclear when that will happen.
Marseille is a big test for Lille as it was the runner-up last season in France. Entering into this game, Lille has seven points from three games while Marseille has six from three.
Caen vs. Chambly
Saturday, Sept. 19: 1:00pm EST
Nicholas Gioacchini, 20, is an American player who has never represented the United States at any level but who is on a sharp rise. Last season he broke into SM Caen’s starting lineup and featured in center forward, on the right wing, and as a No. 10 for the Ligue 2 club. This season, Caen is looking to be a promotion contender and is sharp out of the gate with seven points from three games.
Last weekend Gioacchini, playing right wing, scored his first of the season with a 3-0 win over Rodez. After an impressive start, a national team call-up is within reach for the Kansas City-born Gioacchini.
AIK vs. Hammarby
Sunday, Sept. 20: 8:30am EST
Aron Johannsson, 29, is one of the more feel-good stories in American soccer. After injuries nearly robbed him of his career, Johannsson is playing his best soccer in years in Sweden. He enters into this game with six goals from his last seven Allsvenskan games. His Hammarby team is currently in seventh place but is on the ascent. AIK has one just once in its last five games
Johannsson has not played for the national team since 2015. A few more goals and he might make a surprising return.
Besiktas vs. Antalyaspor
Saturday, Sept. 19: 12:00pm EST
Tyler Boyd, 25, opened his Super Lig in strong fashion last weekend with a goal in a 3-1 over last season’s runners-up Trabzonspor. Boyd has always been capable of very impressive bursts of strong play but it will be a goal to be a consistent contributor in his second season at Besiktas.
On Saturday, Besiktas will play its first home game of the season against a Antalyaspor team that also won its opener last weekend.
Other notes for abroad
In the Danish Superliga, Emmanuel Sabbi played a very strong game last weekend in his debut OB in a big 3-2 win over FC Copenhagen. While he didn’t score, he was dangerous throughout. Now he will take on a Nordsjaelland team (still without Jonathan Amon) on Saturday.
Last weekend in Turkey, Eric Lichaj made his debut for Fatih Karagumruk in an opening day win. On Sunday, he will hope to make his first start against Gaziantep.
American defensive mid Johnny Cardoso came off the bench and hit the winning assist for Internacional in a 4-3 Copa Libertadores win over America de Cali. The teenager will aim for more minutes in Brazil’s Serie A on Saturday against Fortaleza.
Julian Green was MOTM last weekend for Greuther Furth in a 6-1 AET cup win. Now the Florida-born Green will likely start in Furth’s 2.Bundesliga opener vs. VfL Osnabruck.
Jordan Siebatcheu made his debut for Swiss champions Young Boys in a Champions League qualifying loss to Midjylland. Now he will aim to make his league debut against FC Zurich.
U.S. U-20 winger Cam Harper will hope make his first team debut for Celtic on Saturday against Livingston.
Ian Harkes, Dillon Powers and Dundee United will hope to avoid a four-game losing streak in Scotland’s Premiership when it hosts St. Mirren on Saturday.
American manager Jesse Marsch and Austrian champs Red Bull Salzburg won its opener last weekend vs. Wolfsberger and will hope to get its sixth point from two games vs. Altach on Saturday.
In Belgium’s top flight, St. Truiden’s Chris Durkin will look to rebound from a tough outing vs. Royal Antwerp last weekend when his team takes on Circle Brugge on Monday.
Staying in Belgium, Georgia-born winger Joe Efford and struggling Waasland Beveren will take on Anderlecht on Saturday.
In Austria, Erik Palmer-Brown will look for his first start of the season for Austria Vienna when it hosts Ried on Sunday.
Henry Wingo is a great story right now as he is just one win from the Champions League group stages with Molde. After going 120 minutes midweek vs. Qarabag, he might not start against Valarenga on Saturday but he should make the bench.
Luca de la Torre, 23, made his Eredivisie debut last weekend off the bench for Heracles last weekend in a 2-0 win over ADO den Haag. He could start vs. Willem II on Sunday.
Paris FC sits atop the Ligue 2 standings with nine points from three games. U.S. U-20 eligible Patrick Koffi came off the bench in the season opener but was sent off with a direct red. He will hope to return to the field on Saturday when Paris FC hosts Nancy.
Timothy Chandler and Eintracht Frankfurt open their Bundesliga season on Saturday against newly promoted Arminia Bielefeld.
U.S. national team starter John Brooks has found himself in a tough spot with Wolfsburg where he has likely lost his starting spot. Wolfsburg open its season on Sunday against Bayer Leverkusen and if Brooks plays, he must seize the moment to improve his standing.
Uly Llanez just joined Heerenveen on loan from Wolfsburg this week but probably won’t play on Saturday against Fortuna Sittard in the second weekend of the Eredivisie.
Geoff Cameron is one of very few American captains in Europe as he wears the armband London-based Queens Park Rangers in the Championship. QPR won its season opener last weekend 2-0 over Nottingham Forest and it will visit Coventry on Friday.
A few other Americans who are looking to sneak into their club’s first team bench’s this weekend: Chris Richards at Bayern Munich, Nick Taitague at Schalke, and Richard Ledezma at PSV Eindhoven.
Best Domestic Games To Watch
Sporting Kansas City vs. FC Dallas
Saturday, Sept. 19: 3:30pm EST
Two of the best teams in the Western Conference will meet on Saturday as leaders Sporting Kansas City host an FC Dallas that is in fourth place but is just four points behind SKC (with FC Dallas having played one fewer game).
Dallas has won two in a row and the addition of Andres Ricaurte to go along with the team’s young core has proven to show huge potential. The Colombian playmaker has seen the club’s offense surge and midweek Dallas romped over Colorado by a 4-1 score. Last weekend, he scored his first Dallas goal in a 2-1 win over Houston.
A lot is working out for Dallas right now. Bryan Reynolds is showing a lot of promise in taking over for Reggie Cannon. While head coach Luchi Gonzalez has utilized squad rotation, young players like Jesus Ferreira, Brandon Servania, and Edwin Cerillo might play in this one. Meanwhile, U.S. U-20 midfielder Tanner Tessman started the last two games but might begin this one from the bench.
For Sporting Kansas City, the club is atop the Western Conference with a dependable Peter Vermes-coached team but one that is struggling a bit with just one win in its last five games. Gianluca Busio has adjusted well to the No. 6 position and that has been a nice move by Vermes. Sporting Kansas City is coming off a 1-0 win over Minnesota at home and the club will look to carry that momentum into this game.
Columbus Crew vs. Nashville SC
Saturday, Sept. 19: 7:30pm EST
The Eastern conference leading Columbus Crew are looking to keep rolling on Saturday against an improving Nashville team. Columbus boasts a league best +14 goal differential and the addition of Lucas Zelarayan along with Darlington Nagbe has made it a fun team to watch. But both Nagbe and Zelarayan are questionable in this game and it will test Caleb Porter to find solutions. U.S. national team forward Gyasi Zardes has been effective recently particularly as an aerial threat off set pieces.
Nashville is coming off a buzzing 4-2 win over Atlanta and it was a game the club was highly motivated to play. If Nagbe and Zelarayan play, it will be tough for Nashville to play with the emotion it used against Atlanta. Without those two players, Nashville has a real shot.
LA Galaxy vs. Colorado Rapids
Sunday, Sept. 19: 10:30pm EST
The LA Galaxy have four wins and a draw in its last five games. The teams is one of the most improved over the course of 2020 – and Chicharito is barely a factor. Instead it has been Cristian Pavon and Sebastian Lletget leading the way along with better defense. Before last weekend’s 0-0 draw, U.S. international Lletget had four goals and two assists since MLS is Back while Pavon has perhaps been the best player in the league.
Colorado, meanwhile, is trying to find a way to claw into the playoffs and an upset win in this one would go a long way. It actually played well for long stretches in its midweek 4-1 loss to Dallas but was poor defending the counter. A few adjustments and Colorado could be a tough out. It just depends on getting over Wednesday’s disappointing loss.
Montreal Impact vs. Philadelphia Union
Sunday, Sept. 20: 7:00pm EST
This will be an interesting game for a lot of reasons. Philadelphia has played like the best team in the East since MLS is back and it is a very balanced team – both positionally as well as with youth/experience. For most of the season, starting No. 10 Brenden Aaronson and central defender Mark McKenzie have earned a lot of deserved attention for being among the league’s top young American players and Aaronson is the playmaker on one of the league’s best teams. But last weekend in a 2-1 win over New England, it was fellow homegrown Anthony Fontana who had both goals – including a spectacular winner in the fifth minute of stoppage time. Will the Delaware native start in this one?
Montreal is in fifth place in the East but the Canadian teams remain unproven as they have been playing each other since MLS is Back. This will be Montreal’s first game against an American team since July and it will be a test for Thierry Henry who seems to have his team playing well in his first season a head coach in this league.
Seattle Sounders vs. LAFC
Friday, Sept. 18: 10:00pm
A rematch of the 2019 Eastern Conference final pits a Seattle team looking to climb into first against an LAFC team that has is inconstant and struggles with defense. Jordan Morris is making a push for league MVP and could put Seattle into first place with a win and a loss by SKC.
These are the top two teams in the league in terms of goals scored (Seattle with 23, LAFC with 25). It should be a fun one to watch and it will be a big challenge if Bob Bradley can have his team sharpen up defensively. If so, LAFC could contend. Otherwise, it could be a short postseason.
Other notes on the domestic front
The New York Red Bullls and Atlanta United have been the best teams in the East in recent memory but this has been a murky transitional year for both – who are now playing under interim managers. The Red Bulls recently defeated DC United and have a winnable game vs. Cincinnati (although lost to them at MLS is Back). A win there could see the team start to get its act together. Atlanta United meanwhile is still trending downward and will now take on Inter Miami.
Toronto will break out of its Canadian bubble with a matchup against a poor DC United team on Saturday. In this game, American fans should be watching Jozy Altidore who has just one goal in 2020. Can he return to being a lethal team for a Toronto team that was once on the verge of winning the CONCACAF Champions League less than three years ago?