Weekend preview

Huge weekend ahead for Americans in Europe as the Bundesliga resumes

With the Bundesliga back from winter break, it has made for a huge weekend for several key American players. ASN's Brian Sciaretta previews the weekend and runs down what he will be looking for in the days ahead. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 18, 2019
3:00 AM
THE BUNDESLIGA returns from its winter break with a major bang that could be a real treat for American fans as three games could potentially feature key United States internationals facing off against each other – including Tyler Adams who is fresh on the heels of his transfer.

The past few weeks have featured a lot of major stories off the field – like Christian Pulisic signing for Chelsea, Tyler Adams moving to RB Leipzig, Sergino Dest inking an professional Ajax contract, a huge number of MLS moves in preseason, and various other transfer rumors. While the transfer window might be open for another few weeks, focus now becomes more of what happens on the field.

Here is what I am watching this weekend.

Forwards with divergent careers collide
Hannover 96 - Werder Bremen: Saturday: 9:30am ET

Josh Sargent, 18, began his Bundesliga career in fine fashion with two quick goals in December. While there is a lot of hype, the club has tried to temper it a bit.

"He's a young player, so he's not going to start every week, nobody expects him to play all 17 games" said Werder's manager Florian Kohfeldt. "But we play a deliberately narrow 4-3-3. Since Kruse always comes back into the midfield, there is a lot of space opened up in attack, and we can use Josh for this."

So will Sargent continue the momentum from December and a strong winter camp? Standing in his way will be fellow U.S. national team forward Bobby Wood and relegation threatened Hannover 96.

Wood, 26, has three goals in 14 games for Hannover – which has just 11 points and is even on points for last place in the Bundesliga. For the second straight season, Wood is fighting relegation and this season he is hoping to avoid what happened last year at Hamburg. While everyone is excited about Sargent, it is easy to admire the challenges Wood has had to go through in his career – including long-term injuries, sore knees, and relegation battles. A win on Saturday would be a huge boost for him and Hannover.

Top young Americans square off
RB Leipzig - Borussia Dortmund: Saturday: 12:30pm ET

This is a game that has the potential to be either a monumental moment for American soccer or a major letdown.

Tyler Adams, 19, arrived at RB Leipzig on January 1 and featured in recent friendlies. Now he will likely be in the matchday 18 for the fourth-place Bundesliga teams. A very likable personality, Adams is a great representative of the modern full-path of development in MLS.

He went from the Red Bulls academy to the USL team and then the first team. He used that to get on the U-17 World Cup national team, then the U-20 World Cup team and then the full national team. Now he’s in the Bundesliga a month before he turns 20. He’s paid his dues and many people now want to see him do well and make a quick transition to a very good Bundesliga team.

But awaiting RB Leipzig is the Bundesliga leaders with Christian Pulisic. While Adams just moved to Germany, Christian Pulisic, 20, is leaving the Bundesliga after the season to join Chelsea. After setting a record transfer fee of over $70 million, Pulisic gained enormous headlines earlier this month.

Adams and Pulisic were once teammates on the U-17 World Cup team in 2015, and now they are opponents. The stories and the significance of their various paths of development since then are two of the most important stories in the modern era of American soccer.

If they get on the field and play each other, it will be a huge moment. But it is also possible Adams and/or Pulisic won’t play, which will be disappointing.

McKennie and Wright host Brooks
Schalke – Wolfsburg: Sunday: 12:00pm ET

Weston McKennie, 20, and Haji Wright, 20, will open the second half of the season for Schalke when they host fellow American John Brooks and Wolfsburg. McKennie will likely play and has a decent chance to start while it is uncertain how Wright will fit into the plans for Schalke. Brooks, however, is highly likely to start.

Wolfsburg had a strong start to the season, then hit a rough patch, but then concluded the first half of the season in fine form where it currently sits in fifth place. Schalke, meanwhile, has been a disappointment in the Bundesliga after a second-place finish last season. While a relegation battle is unlikely, it finds itself in 13th place and only three points from safety. All this despite advancing to the knockout stages in the Champions League.

The second half of the season will be interesting for McKennie for him to establish his consistency. As for Brooks, it is similar. At times he plays like a world-class central defender and other times he is way too mistake prone. Wolfsburg is in a spot to contend for a Champions League spot. Can Brooks be part of the solution?

Haji Wright, meanwhile, is tough to read. He had some positive moments since his promotion to the first team but that was promotion was due to a dearth of attacking options at Schalke. But now as the second half of the season starts, what will his role be?

Big relegation test for Yedlin
Newcastle United - Cardiff City: Saturday: 10am ET

DeAndre Yedlin, 25, has been through a lot in his European career. He struggled for playing time at Tottenham, he’s been through a successful relegation battle with Sunderland, and a successful promotional battle with Newcastle. Now he’s in a relegation battle with Newcastle.

It has been an up and down year for Yedlin but the Seattle native is going to need to be at his best in the months ahead – especially in games that Newcastle can win. On Saturday, 18th place Newcastle will host 17th place Cardiff City with just one point separating the two. If Newcastle wants to survive, these are the games it needs to win. These games are far more critical than games against high-profile opponents.

Yedlin has a lot of experience now in these types of games. Will it pay off?

Can Holmes continue to make impact?
Derby County – Reading: Saturday: 10am ET

Duane Holmes, 24, is an interesting player. Since making the jump up to Derby from third-tier Scunthorpe (where he was the player of the season last year), he’s looked solid whenever he’s been on the field. But he still can’t find a run of regular starts. Derby County, meanwhile, in on the cusp of a promotional battle where it sits in sixth place of the Championship.

Holmes has seen his minutes increase over the past month but it will be interesting to see if he can continue to get minutes as the season progresses and the games become bigger?

Either way, he is an exciting player to watch and things could be very interesting for him if he plays a role with Derby in a promotional hunt.

Kelman aims to follow-up impressive debut
Bradford City - Southend United: Saturday: 10am ET

Everyone has seen what U.S. U-18 forward Charlie Kelman, 17, did last week in his professional league debut for Southend United. With his club trailing 3-1, Kelman hit a shot from inside his own-half over the keeper and into the net. It was a stunning effort that even drew praise from U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos.

“I think that was an amazing goal - not just the fact he scored the goal but that he thought about it at the time,” Ramos said. “That is quick thinking. Not everybody is thinking that the keeper might be out. I really like that.”

Following that goal, Kelman signed a professional contract with Southend United of League One but it will be interesting to see how he is used during the second half of the season. Will he play significant minutes for the mid-table club or will he ride the bench?

After an impressive debut and career where he scored goals for Southend’s youth teams at a staggering rate, he has become an interesting player to monitor for American fans.

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