Champions League analysis
Horvath shines, Adams & Dest win in banner European day
October 21, 2020
TUESDAY WAS A HUGE day for American players in Europe as five United States internationals featured in the Champions League, a single day record. While Americans have played in this prestigious tournament, this was striking in the number of players who were playing on powerful teams with big ambitions to go far into the knockout stages.
The five appearances also tied the record number of Americans that played in a single group stage. With more Americans and managers likely to take part in the days and weeks ahead. A new record will surely be set.
There were a few other games across the globe outside of the Champions League which involved American players an we’ll touch on that, but here is a look at the Champions League performances.
Horvath impresses in win
U.S. Soccer proudly pointed out that 10 American players (which could grow to 11 if Jens Cajuste files for a switch) made the rosters for the Champions League group stages. While that is something to brag about, not all were expected to play. Club Brugge goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, 25, was always one of the more unlikely players to see the field given that he has been the backup to Simon Mignolet and has not played 392 days – a Belgian Cup appearances against a lower-level team.
But on Sunday, Mignolet announced that he tested positive for COVID-19 and would not be able to play for Brugge’s upcoming games. This opened the door for Horvath on a big stage in the Champions League away at Zenit St. Petersburg. Horvath has played in the Champions League before, and has two wins and draw in his previous three games. In fact, in those games, he had never allowed a goal.
But this was going to be a test for Horvath given that he has not played in over a year and needed to deal with possibly being rusty.
Horvath responded remarkably well and made three big saves in this game as Brugge scored in the second minute of stoppage time to secure a dramatic 2-1 win.
After Brugge took a 1-0 lead, Zenit equalized on what was technically an own goal for Horvath but was more a complete fluke – and not the Colorado native’s fault.
Despite that own goal, the most impressive aspect of Horvath’s performance in this game is that he responded very well immediately after with two strong saves. His confidence was clearly at a very high level and he did not let the goal affect him.
But this save from Horvath, unreal ???? pic.twitter.com/6IAczEJTsm— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) October 20, 2020
When the final whistle sounded after Brugge won it late, Horvath was emotional when speaking to the media. Clearly it has not been easy for him to ride the bench for so long but then it made this performance all the more rewarding.
So, what does this mean for Horvath?
Well, it served as a reminder that Horvath can handle a big stage. With Mignolet a very respected goalkeeper, Horvath will not overtake the starting job when everyone is healthy. But, this makes Horvath a valuable asset to clubs in future transfer windows. Brugge might decide to sell Horvath in future windows because he will have the value to some clubs as a No. 1 keeper whereas his value to Brugge is much lower as a backup.
For the United States national team, Horvath is in the picture and there is a pretty interesting competition between him and Matt Turner as the next in line after Zack Steffen – with Steffen also a backup at the moment. 2021 will be important years as all three might eventually look for new clubs (with a loan possible for Steffen and Turner playing so well he might get interest in future windows too). Who will end up in the best position? Who will start? Who will play well?
Adams comes off bench in Leipzig win
While typically a starter for Leipzig, Tyler Adams came off the bench in its Champions League opening win over Istanbul Basaksehir. Adams started over the weekend for Leipzig in a 2-0 win over Augsburg. He missed time over the international break (and the last game before the international break) dealing with a minor back injury.
Leipzig took a 2-0 lead early in the first half behind two goals from Angelino – who spent a season early in his career at New York City FC. Adams entered the game in the 57th minute and was essentially tasked with the job of seeing out the win in a clean manner.
Adams, 21, was unspectacular but effective and did exactly what was needed of him. When he starts a game, in addition to his defense, pressing and covering of a ton of ground, he typically needs to see the ball a lot and serve as an important starting point in the transition of the play into the attacking half or third. Sometimes, he can be part of dangerous chances with effective runs into the box.
When he comes off the bench to help see out wins, his job is mostly defense. He prevents opponents from moving up the middle of the field and uses his athleticism, speed and stamina to press and prevent the opponent from doing what it wants to do.
In this game, Adams did that. Istanbul Basaksehir never really was able to mount an effective comeback or generate any kind of momentum the final 30 minutes. That means that Adams did his job.
His numbers weren’t spectacular, but no one should be complaining.
- 33 minutes plus stoppage time
- 20 touches
- 0 shots
- 1 key pass
- 0 fouls
- 0 dribbles
- 0 tackles
- 0 interceptions
- 2 clearances
- 1 foul
- 76.5% passing 13/17
- 0 long balls
- 0 crosses
What will be interesting in the games ahead will be when RB Leipzig needs more defense and pressing to start games. Istanbul Basaksehir at home was the weakest opponent for Leipzig and one where it would generate a lot of offense. It will be far harder in games against Manchester United, Paris St. Germain or Istanbul Basaksehir on the road. Adams might make more sense as a starter in the more difficult games ahead.
Dest starts as Barcelona rolls
Sergino Dest, 19, earned the start on Tuesday for Barcelona as it welcomed Hungarian champions Ferencvaros to the Nou Camp. This game was expected to be lopsided for the Spanish giants and they did not disappoint en route to a 5-1 win.
Dest ended up going the full 90 in this one with the first 70 coming at left back before he finished out the game at his preferred right back position.
Essentially everyone on Barcelona played well with the exception for Gerard Pique who was issued a red card when he was beaten for speed, committed a penalty, and was sent off. He will now miss the next game against Juventus – where he will be sorely needed.
Dest linked up well with Ansu Fati throughout this game and was always pressed further up the field. His crossing from the left side needs improvement but, as an attacking fullback, he is a very dangerous player even at the highest of levels. He is still a little tentative but he will only improve as he grows within this team.
With a high number of touches, Dest was very active in Barcelona’s attack. After only having been at this team for a few weeks, Ronald Koeman should be pleased.
- 90 mins
- 78 touches
- 1 shot
- 0 key passes
- 90.8% 59/65
- 0 aerials
- 1x fouled
- 3 tackles
- 0 interception/clearances
- 0/2 crosses
- 1/1 accurate long balls
But big challenges await Dest. How will he handle Juventus defensively? How quickly can he improve his crossing from the left side?
Barcelona is obviously at a transitional phase and the humiliating loss to Bayern Munich over the summer still hurts. Messi, while still great, is not the player he once was and the club is preparing for a new era without him. Media reports out of Spain have suggested there is tension among the players and Koeman admitted his side is not one of the favorites to win the Champions League – as it typically is.
It is an extremely interesting time for Dest as he is not only at a club where the spotlight is bright but he is also there during a period that will also soon see one of the biggest “changing of the guard” moments in modern soccer history.
Reyna strong but BVB fall
It was probably surprising to most that American phenom Gio Reyna, 17, didn’t earn the start on Tuesday for Borussia Dortmund as it visited Lazio in Rome to open its Champions League campaign. Reyna had been among the team’s best players to start the Bundesliga season and Dortmund’s three wins and loss is reflective of a team that should once again be among the best in Germany.
Whatever approach Lucien Favre had to start this game, it backfired as Lazio took a 2-0 lead in the first half. The first goal coming off a terrible giveaway from Dortmund as it tried to play out of very deep position inside its own half.
Reyna came on to start the second half to try to provide a spark and that he did. In the 70th minute he made a nice move down the right side and sent an extremely impressive pass into the box to Erling Haaland – who finished emphatically.
Reyna and Haaland are one of the most intriguing combinations in Europe right now given the youth of both players and that both come from countries that are not world-powers in the sport. Together, they have assumed a very important role in one of Germany’s best clubs.
But Reyna’s spark was not meant to be. Lazio would soon add another and it finished the scoring in a 3-1 victory for the Italians.
Reyna’s numbers were good in this one and the education he has in the sport, still short of his 18th birthday, is second to none. At this point, he is among the very best players in the world from the 2002 birth year. One day he will fetch Borussia Dortmund an enormous sum of money but for now, he can compete for very impressive silverware.
- 45 mins (2nd half)
- 35 touches
- 0 shots
- 1 key pass
- 1 assist
- 86.7% passing 26/30
- 0 dribbles
- 0x fouled
- 1 clearance
- 0 tackles
- 0 interceptions
- 1 foul
- 0 long balls
- 0 crosses
The other two teams in this group, Zenit and Club Brugge, provide matchups which Borussia Dortmund should be favored to win. The rematch against Lazio in Germany should also help Dortmund. But the pressure will now be on Favre to have his team play confidently and not down to the level of its opponents. That is not easy with young players like Haaland and Reyna needed to secure wins. For Reyna, the weeks and months ahead will be yet another important series of tests.
Pulisic starts in scoreless draw
Christian Pulisic, 22, started for Chelsea as it welcomed Sevilla to London to kickoff its Champions League campaign. While Chelsea always have ambitions to go far, this game was reflective a team that is not playing up to the sum of its parts. Over 90 minutes, the team lacked fluidity and showed a lack of chemistry in playing together.
Pulisic wasn’t great but he was by far the team’s biggest problems. Kai Havertz was poor and Timo Werner was much poorer than he showed over the weekend in a 3-3 draw with Southampton.
The best that could be said for Chelsea is that they fixed the terrible defense committed a series of comical errors against Southampton. So while they fixed that, it was now the offense that looked like it never played together.
Chelsea can still be a threat in this tournament but it needs to find away to play complete games in a complete manner. Pulisic role on the left side needs to be cemented and Lampard needs to build a cohesive unit or else he runs the risk of being fired.
Pulisic’s numbers in this one were decent.
- 89 minutes
- 43 touches
- 0 shots
- 1 key pass
- 76% passing (19/25)
- 1 aerial
- 3 dribbles
- 1x fouled
- 2 tackles
- 2 interceptions
- 0 clearances
- 0/1 crosses
- 0 long balls
It is still important to note that Pulisic still only has three appearances in all competitions this season with his only two starts coming over the past four days. He is still essentially in preseason form. He should be fine, but for him to succeed, the other attacking players all have to be better as well.
Other games in Europe
In the Championship, Duane Holmes came off the bench for Derby County in the 63rd minute in a 1-0 loss to his former club, Huddersfield Town. The goal was scored before Holmes came on but the American attacking midfielder was unable to help Derby find an equalizer. It was still an improved performance for Holmes from Friday’s 1-0 loss to Watford. He might sneak back into the starting lineup but Derby desperate needs wins. Through six games to start the season, it has one win and five losses.
In League One, Lynden Gooch continues to play well for Sunderland. After providing an assist over the weekend in a 2-0 away win over Swindon Town, Gooch picked up the only assist of the game (via a terrific cross) on Tuesday in a 1-0 win over Crew Alexandra. Most local media awarded Gooch the MOTM in his effort and fifth-place Sunderland is playing like a team with genuine promotional hopes this season.
Also, in League One, U.S. U-20 attacking midfielder Indiana Vassilev started for Burton Albion in a 1-0 loss to Rochdale. It is good that Vassilev is finally earning minutes but Burton Albion is off to a terrible start to the season. With just four points from seven games and a -7 goal differential, it sits dead last in League One. It’s a tough situation for Vassilev to take his first steps as a pro player and, if there is a recall provision, perhaps Aston Villa will explore it in January.
In the Dutch second tier, Jong PSV drew NEC 1-1. U.S. U-23 midfielder Richard Ledezma started and went 83 minutes. He left with Jong PSV up 1-0. Former U.S. U-20 left back Chris Gloster went as an unused substitute.
On the Domestic Front
On Monday, Philadelphia defeated New England 2-1. The game wasn’t great and the turf hurt the overall quality. But special attention should be given to Philadelphia Union youngsters Anthony Fontana and Mark McKenzie, who were both terrific in this one. The Union are in good hands when it can sell Brenden Aaronson and still feature other young players who can be difference makers.
Fontana’s goal, for a 2-0 lead, was particularly impressive. He already has scored six goals this season – all after the MLS is Back tournament. The key for him will be to be consistently dangerous throughout games, as opposed to a big chance or two throughout a game.
Anthony Fontana’s 6th of the season is a clever little chip over Matt Turner. With Aaronson leaving, Fontana should have a big role next season, but he’s producing this year. Most of his goals are impressive. Could make the U.S U-23 team too pic.twitter.com/IX8GNIjJYQ— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) October 20, 2020
McKenize, on the other hand, is one of the league’s best defenders at the moment.
Mark McKenzie: raw # for Philly in 2-1 win vs NE Revs:— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) October 20, 2020
3 blocked shots
10/14 accurate long balls
- led all players in clearances, blocked shots, & accurate long balls (field players). Big game pic.twitter.com/vzYj9UZJPQ
On Tuesday, Nashville downed FC Dallas 3-0 in what was an exceptionally poor performance from FC Dallas who could not get anything going offensively. In turn, this puts ridiculous stress on the defense and the team tends to fall apart once an opponent scores. While it is admirable that the team plays youth, we still need to see Jesus Ferreira and Brandon Servania take the next steps in their development and thus far, they aren’t improved from 2019. Part of that is one them, but it also might have to do with the subpar performances from the team’s veterans – which has been a problem with FC Dallas for years.
As for Nashville, this team is probably going to make the playoffs. That isn’t saying much this season when 10 teams will make it out of the East but Nashville was predicted, by many, to finish in last. Instead, they have a defensive approach to games that is boring, but surprisingly effective. Building this team with an emphasis on defending first and has it in better shape than Miami – which has the offensive star power but lacks the role players. Role players don’t sell tickets but they can help winning – and winning sells.