Midweek kickaround

Cremaschi on USMNT radar, Open Cup preview, Yanks impress in UCL & Libertadores

U.S Open Cup games have brought us some news and players to watch - including Ben Cremaschi who is now closing in on a USMNT call-up. Meanwhile, Yanks abroad had a great Tuesday impressing in UCL qualifying and the Copa Libertadores. ASN's Brian Sciaretta offers up this thoughts on it all. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
August 23, 2023
1:30 PM

WE’VE HIT MIDWEEK and it’s been fun. Champions League qualifiers, U.S. Open Cup, Libertadores, transfer talk, national team talk – it’s got a bit of everything.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the U.S. Open Cup semi-finals and the next stop of the Lionel Messi North American Tour


Cincinnati vs Inter Miami


The first semifinal is the one that will draw the most attention. In Cincinnati, FC Cincy will host Inter Miami on Wednesday at 7pm EST on CBSGoalazo.

While still sitting in last place of the Eastern Conference, the new look Inter Miami team will attempt to advance to a second final inside of a month after winning the Leagues Cup.

Inter Miami have been perfect since Lionel Messi, Tata Martino, Jordi Alba, and Sergio Busquets have all signed onto the project. Their presence has lifted everyone. Drake Callender is now playing well. Josef Martinez is playing well. DeAndre Yedlin is now playing well.

But Miami can be beaten. Nashville and FC Dallas took them to shootouts and FC Cincinnati has been the best team in the league most of the season. But Pat Noonan has been correct in saying that stopping Messi is going to take every second of 90 or 120 minutes.

“You could spend 89 minutes doing as good of a job as you can to stop an important player,” said Noonan. “And in one moment, even with the right defensive structure, the right numbers around the ball, he still has the ability to change the game with the spectacular.”

Matt Miaza agreed.

“We have a couple of young guys in the team, so hopefully I can use my experience and lead by example and through communication,” Miazga said after training Tuesday at Mercy Health Training Center, the final team training ahead of the match. “It’s all going to come down to being a group and sticking together.

“I think that I can lean on my experience in these situations. I’ve won trophies in the past. I’ve played in the semifinals that I’ve won and I’ve played in the semifinals and lost. So I’ve been around the block and been through these moments.”

The question remains is whether or not we see the Cincinnati team that pounded Chivas in Leagues Cup or the one that was ripped apart by Columbus over the weekend.

The odds favor the best test for Miami yet as Cincinnati has an undefeated 15-0-3 record.

USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter will surely be watching. There are a lot of Americans of note in this game who are bubble battlers for the U.S. national team both now and in the future.

Brandon Vazquez: The forward has been very productive for Cincinnati the past two years and will likely soon move to Europe. He was part of the national team this summer under B.J. Callaghan but how about under Berhalter? Even being in Europe isn’t enough to get on the national team. Folarin Balogun, Ricardo Pepi, Josh Sargent, Haji Wright, Jordan Pefok, and Daryl Dike are in Europe. Vazquez and Jesus Ferreira are in MLS. But those are eight center forwards who have been capped inside of the last year. Most will be cut.

Matt Miazga: the FC Cincinnati central defender is trying to boost his case for a September call-up in a time when most centerbacks in Europe are not playing either due to injury or form (Chris Richards, Erik Palmer-Brown, Auston Trusty, and Cameron Carter-Vickers have all been missing time).

DeAndre Yedlin: The veteran fullback is still in the mix although likely to fade for younger options. Still, he has been playing much better on the new look Miami.

Drake Callender: The Inter Miami goalkeeper has been making USMNT rosters this year and he’s had an excellent season. Matt Turner is the top USMNT keeper now that he is playing. But with Zack Steffen and Ethan Horvath not playing, Sean Johnson getting up in years, and Gaga Slonina still very green, the backup spot on the USMNT is open and Callender has a path if he keeps playing well.

Ben Cremaschi: the Inter Miami midfielder is one of the top teenagers in MLS. He’s also wanted by the youth teams for both the United States and Argentina. But would Berhalter be prompted to call up Creamaschi ahead of schedule because of his potential and his dual national options? Let's make this our own section. 

Cremaschi on USMNT preliminary roster

Cremaschi is on the USMNT preliminary roster for September. It would not be surprising at all to me if he is called up. With his talent, this recent level of play increasing, and him playing a position of need, it is very easy to see Berhalter being aggressive with Cremaschi. He’s done that with other young players. It doesn’t always work out (Otasowie, Llanez, de la Fuente), but sometimes it really does.

Cremaschi, 18, has played mostly with U.S. youth national teams in 2022 and he excelled. He was then called up by Argentina's U-20 team in December. But that was always him playing up a cycle. A new U-20 cycle is starting and he's been in touch with both federations. Lionel Messi is even speaking with him directly. Gregg Berhalter is clearly being proactive with Cremaschi and he wants to keep one of the best prospects in the U.S program. 

It's aggresssive but the U.S. is looking at a strong 2005-birth year that will soon begin their U-20 cycle. We already see that Cremaschi has interest from Argentina. Noel Buck will also likely be called up by an English youth team. Esmir Bajrektarevic is linked with Bosnia. The U.S. doesn't want to see the cream of the crop of this prospects peeled off to other national teams. Cremaschi would be a nice win and he has shown so much growth this year. 

Houston – Real Salt Lake


Houston is one of the most improved teams in the league this season and organizers are likely hoping Houston wins since that would automatically make the winner of the Miami-Cincy game the host for the final. Real Salt Lake will host the final if they win. A final in Miami against Houston would be ideal.

But Houston under Bed Olsen has turned things around. Hector Herrera has been the team’s engine along with French midfielder Amine Bassi.

Real Salt Lake, however, look as if they could contend and the addition of Cristian Arango is huge. The concern over Pablo Ruiz’s knee injury, however, could limit their ability to make a run.

From an American perspective, there isn’t much in terms of immediate national team interest but Diego Luna should be a strong contender for the Olympic team.


MLS notes


First of all, while I was on vacation, I still followed Leagues Cup. I think the tournament was a very good thing. While it wasn’t perfect and it was based entirely in the USA and Canada (with the bigger Liga MX teams likely happy to be playing in the USA where they are also popular), it still added spice to a stretch of the season which is usually the most lackluster time (late July through early August). MLS is better in the late spring, early summer, and fall. This threw something better in the weakest time.

Also, any chance MLS teams have to play real games outside of MLS needs to be explored and considered. Plus, now we get this.

Messi vs. South American teams is going to be wild.

As for the games this weekend, here are few belated thoughts.

Gio Savarese was axed as the Timbers manager after a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of the improved Houston Dynamo. Savarese ran his course in Portland but he clearly had some great moments – advancing to two MLS Cups, winning MLS is Back, and generally being a threat in knockout performances.

But he wasn’t working well with this current group and things have fallen off since Diego Valeri left. Evander has been disappointing. But for me, it was also disappointing to see the how Savarese was unable to incorporate young players through the academy. That has been a must for so many good teams – from Philadelphia to even Inter Miami. Savarese will eventually land on his feet but hopefully he will address this aspect in his next gig.

Who is next on the hot seat? Why not Nick Cushing at New York City, who dropped a 2-0 decision at home to Minnesota. Yes, NYCFC didn’t adequately replace Taty Castellanos but Cushing isn’t getting the job done. They shouldn’t be 13th in the 15-team Eastern Conference. Their Leagues Cup run was short and ended with a loss to RBNY. Their Open Cup run was one and done.

Minnesota, meanwhile, is trending up and certainly far more dangerous than their record suggests.

Will the Red Bulls make the playoffs? They’re three points out following the 1-0 win over DC United. They’re not bad in most areas but they have no presence up top and the fact that Lewis Morgan has been out almost all season (he carried the team last season) is crushing. Yes, they get nice wins like this when John Tolkin hits a big free kick. But all this continues to point to the fact the Red Bulls just aren’t dangerous in the attack from forwards, attacking midfielders, or wingers. No one on the team has more than two goals from the run of play.

How is that all of sudden going to change?

Just when you think St. Louis is going to fade, they then return to a high point. The 6-3 rout of Austin FC was great. How about Niko Gioacchini? He hit 10 goals on the season. It didn’t work in Orlando, but it is working in St. Louis.

St. Louis has thrived on finding young or young-ish players who were struggling at other clubs, and found a way to make them succeed. Aziel Jackson, Akil Watts, Indiana Vassilev, Josh Yaro, and Gioacchini. It’s been beyond impressive.

Columbus routed Cincinnati 3-0 in the Ohio Derby. And Diego Rossi made his club debut as second half sub. Just wait until he gets going. Columbus is going to be a tough out in the playoffs.

The East is hard to predict. It’ll either be Philly, Nashville, Cincinnati, Orlando City, Columbus, Atlanta, or New England.

How about Atlanta after defeating Seattle in Seattle by a 2-0 score? Both are teams that are hard to figure out. For all the problems with each team, Atlanta is in a better position with a younger and hungrier core including Giakoumakis and Almada. Seattle is past their expiration date and needs a lot of work.


Midweek abroad


PSV traveled to Glasgow and played Rangers to a 2-2 draw in their first leg of the Champions League playoff. This puts PSV in a great position returning to Eindhoven next week. Sergino Dest played well at left back and it says a lot he was making his club debut the day after he was announced. He’s going to play a lot.

Two Americans did not play in this game – Ricardo Pepi and Malik Tillman were both unused substitutes. Pepi is the team’s backup No. 9 behind captain Luuk de Jong, 32. It’s understandable and the club was clear they were going to give time to let Pepi mature. Tillman, meanwhile, seems like a backup right now.

One nice development was Sam Vines, who played the final 34 minutes for Royal Antwerp in a big 1-0 win over AEK Athens. Vines came into the game with Antwerp up 1-0 but after starting fullback Jelle Bataille was sent off. Vines did a great job defending and helping Antwerp see out the win at home.

Hanging onto the 1-0 lead in Greece is going to be hard and Vines might get the start with Bataille’s suspension. Antwerp, meanwhile, will not play this weekend in Belgium to be ready for this game.

In the Copa Libertadores, meanwhile, Johnny Cardoso had a strong game for Internacional in a 1-0 win over Boliviar in Bolivia.


Novakovich on the move


Andrija Novakovich, 26, has completed a transfer within Serie B. He will leave Venezia and head to newly promoted (we think, as the matter is actually in court) Lecco. The big takeaway is Novakovich’s choice of scenery. Going from the island of Venice to the bank of Lake Como. This move gives us an excuse to post cool pictures. 


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