London Derby, Brooks vs. Adams, Hoppe's Encore, and Boyd's return top weekend
January 15, 2021
IT SHOULD BE ANOTHER busy weekend ahead for Americans abroad as the Premier League is in full swing along with each of the top leagues in Europe. That alone should give us many games and many storylines to follow.
A lot of questions remain in U.S. Soccer and it is interesting to hear the news coming out of the national team camp as that the U.S. national team depth chart is in flux. How will the upcoming camp change this?
The U-23 aspect of the current camp is particularly interesting because the players involved in the current camp likely consists of most of the players that will end up on the Olympic qualifying team. So it will be telling in terms of who gets moved up to the full national team and who plays well in the likely upcoming friendly against Serbia.
In Europe, the core five players are pretty much established – Christian Pulisic, Sergino Dest, Weston McKennie, Gio Reyna, and Tyler Adams. While McKennie might still be injured for this weekend’s huge game for Juventus at Inter Milan, the rest of the players should be taking part.
In terms of a national team perspective, the depth chart after those five players remains wide open and there are constant changes. In recent weeks, DeAndre Yedlin has reclaimed the starting spot at Newcastle United and that could put pressure on Reggie Cannon. Mark McKenzie has arrived in Belgium to join Genk although the current weekend might be too soon for him. Tim Weah is seeing more minutes at Lille, and this is helping his case. Meanwhile, Julian Green is constistently putting in strong performances with Greuther Furth. Then, of course, Matthew Hoppe now has elevated expectations after a stunning hat trick for Schalke.
This past week also saw some news that could also continue to help players early in 2021. Duane Holmes is reportedly inching towards a return Huddersfield Town where he developed as a player from the U-9 levels all the way to the first team. That should give him a better comfort level playing close to home for a better Championship team than Derby County. Then you have Tyler Boyd who is now active for Besiktas after a new rule change to allow for more foreign players in Turkey has him on the active roster. While not a national team player, Michael Hoyos will have the opportunity to play in the Libertadores after moving to Ecuadorian champions Barcelona SC.
But the news isn’t great for all players. Uly Llanez is struggling to play on loan at Heerenveen. Alex Mendez is still out at Ajax.
The news is constantly changing and shifting and this weekend will see more changes and unveil new storylines.
Here is what I will be watching for.
Fulham – Chelsea
The Premier League
Saturday, January 16: 12:30pm EST
This London Derby on Saturday could see three U.S. internationals play when an improving Fulham team hosts Chelsea.
While still technically in the relegation zone, Fulham has played two fewer games than most in the Premier League due to COVID. Its prospects have improved after it lost the first six games of the season. Still, it needs to make up ground and a win would definitely move it to safety. But it has drawn its last five Premier League games – so while it is earning results, it is not winning.
Antonee Robinson should start at left back for Fulham and he was strong in the recent draw against Tottenham. Tim Ream could be on the bench, but might return to the starting lineup eventually.
Chelsea’s hopes of qualifying for Europe next year are fading and its ninth-place standing (and six-point gap out of Europe) is not sitting well with club supporters. Christian Pulisic should feature in this one but pressure is mounting on Chelsea and manager Frank Lampard.
VfL Wolfsburg - RB Leipzig
Saturday, January 16: 9:30am EST
Two starting U.S. national team players will square off against each other in a matchup of two top-six Bundesliga when John Brooks and sixth-place Wolfsburg host Tyler Adams and second-place RB Leizpig.
Both teams are coming off disappointing performances. John Brooks struggled last weekend when Wolfsburg drew Union Berlin 2-2. A win would have seen it move into the top five. Meanwhile, Tyler Adams and all of Leipzig had a poor game in a 3-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund and a win would have seen Leipzig move past Bayern Munich towards the top of the table.
Both players should be hungry for an improved performance but with Adams, it is always a question of what position he will play – central midfield, outside midfield, or right back. Last week it was outside midfield and the results were mixed. If he gets to play in the middle, he needs to seize the opportunity and a good performance against a Bundesliga team vying for the Champions League is a good test.
For Brooks, he’s had a good season but recent performances haven’t been up to his standard. If Wolfsburg is going to qualify for the Champions League, he will have to be a dependable player on a consistent basis.
Eintracht Frankfurt – Schalke 04
Sunday, January 17: 12:00pm EST
All eyes will be on Matthew Hoppe, 19, who not only scored his first Bundesliga goal last weekend but he became the first American to ever register a hat trick in the Bundesliga. His three goals fueled a 4-0 win over Hoffenheim and snapped Schalke’s 30 game winless streak in league play.
Hoppe was so impressive in the game and it wasn’t simply the goals he scored but rather his exceptional off-ball movement to get open and his display of a wide-variety of finishing skills. Over the past week, Schalke received over 50 interview requests from media members to speak with the California teenager.
Schalke is still in a massive up-hill climb to avoid relegation but at least it is no longer in last-place after overtaking Mainz. It is still four points behind Koln for the relegation playoff and six points from automatic safety. But Hoppe has brought a breath of fresh air and a bit of optimism for the struggling club.
Eintracht Frankfurt will be a tough test for Schalke as Eintracht has won three Bundesliga games in a row. Timothy Chandler should be on the bench for Frankfurt.
Werder Bremen - Augsburg
Saturday, January 16: 9:30am EST
While Josh Sargent only has one goal so far this season, he has some games where he has played very well. One was against Bayern Munich and last week he was sharp against Bayer Leverkusen. In that game, he won a huge majority of his duels and aerials while playing effective defense via a press. At some point, however, the goals and chances will have to come.
Augsburg can be a tricky opponent but it is a winnable game for Werder Bremen at home. This should be a game where the low-scoring Werder Bremen comes out of its shell and attempts to create most of the offensive chances. Werder is only four points clear of the relegation zone and it could get tricky if it doesn’t begin earning wins in games like these. 11th place Augsburg is the favorite (sitting three points ahead of 12th place Werder) but this is winnable for Werder and anything less should be disappointing.
As for Sargent, this will be a good test for him to have a more meaningful role in the attack.
Borussia Dortmund – Mainz
Saturday, January 16: 9:30am EST
Gio Reyna, 18, continues to start and play for a very good Borussia Dortmund team. While playing relatively well, he hasn’t been making the regular impacts in recent weeks as he was earlier in the season. This could big a big game for him against the worst team in the Bundesliga in Mainz. A win, combined with other results could move Dortmund back into second place.
The potential is there for players like Reyna, Sancho, and Haaland to have a field day in this one.
VfB Stuttgart - Borussia Monchengladbach
Saturday, January 16: 9:30am EST
It’s been a touch month for VfB Stuttgart in terms of a challenging period of its schedule but American manager Pellegrino Matarazzo has doing a nice job guiding his team safely into midtable. There have been some tough losses – including 1-0 defeats to Wolfsburg and Leipzig while big wins such as the 5-1 rout over Borussia Dortmund.
This will be a big challenge for Matarazzo and company as Borussia Monchengladbach is has won its last two – including a 3-2 win over Bayern Munich last weekend. But a win here could send Matarazzo’s team as high as seventh place due to its strong goal differential (its +8 is sixth highest in Germany). After guiding Stuttgart to promotion in the first half of 2020, it has been an exceptional year for the manager from Fair Lawn, NJ.
Tondela - Boavista
Saturday, January 16: 3:30pm EST
Boavista is in a dangerous spot at the moment. It still has the same ownership group that used to own Lille, but had to sell this past month due to financial problems. It’s difficulty in winning games has it in the relegation zone at 17th place in the 18-team league.
There is good news for Boavista in that due to a logjam in the bottom-half of the table, one win could see it move almost to midtable. It’s opponent on Saturday, Tondela, is just one point ahead of it in the standings. This is a winnable game for Boavista and a huge opportunity for it to pick up points. The team has one just one of its 13 games this season.
United States national team right back Reggie Cannon is learning some tough lessons in his first season in Europe but he is playing well in some areas – particularly defensively. On the flip side, however, his spot on the U.S. national team is not secure. He is likely the backup right back to Sergino Dest but DeAndre Yedlin’s reemergence puts pressure on him. In addition, there is also Julian Araujo, Bryan Reynolds, Tristan Blackmon, and Kyle Duncan raising their games. So each game is big for Cannon these days in many different areas.
Besiktas - Galatasaray
Sunday, January 17: 11:00am EST
United States national team winger Tyler Boyd was finally cleared to return to Besiktas after a brutal few month span where he was dropped from the club’s active roster due to a limit on foreign players. According to Turkish reports (which match what ASN has heard), the decision to drop Boyd off the roster did not come from the club’s manager but rather the front office. Before being dropped, Boyd was a regular starter.
Due to a new rule in Turkey which increases the foreign-player limit from 14 to 16, Boyd was added back to the roster for first-place Besiktas.
It remains to be seen if Boyd will walk back into the field for Besiktas but this is an enormous game with a lot of pressure between two teams with soccer-crazy supporters. Besiktas are atop the Super Lig table and ahead of second place Fenerbahce on goal differential. Sunday’s opponent, Galatasaray is two points back in third.
If he sees the field, this a chance for Boyd to get back on track for both club and country.
Eupen – Anderlecht
Belgian Pro League
Friday, January 15: 2:45pm EST
Matt Miazga is a dependable starter for Anderlecht and he has been among the team’s best players this season. Unfortunately, the team’s offense has let them down on occasion and Anderlecht has fallen 10 points off the top of the table into fifth place.
A climb to third place should be the goal for Anderlecht and that would be a positive finish as it attempts to return to being one of the most powerful clubs in Belgium. Miazga’s situation is worth monitoring because he is at the club on loan from Chelsea but there is growing chatter he might return to Anderlecht for another year in 2021/2022. The club wants him to return and that speaks volumes about the level he is playing.
Eupen should be a team that Anderlecht would defeat and it is important that it do so.
Lille – Reims
Sunday, January 17: 11:00 am EST
Tim Weah has seen his minutes gradually improve over the past month in France’s top flight but Lille has fallen out of the league lead and into third place. The problem for Weah is that his position is very undefined. He plays as a center-forward some games, other times on the wing, other times as a right wingback. Given his gradual improvement, the next step for him will be to grow into a role where he can make an impact on a consistent basis.
Reims is in 14th place but has three wins and two draws from its last five Ligue 1 games. So, this will be tricky for Lille against a team with momentum. If Weah plays, it will be noteworthy to see where on the field he plays.
FC Utrecht - Heracles
Saturday, January 16: 2:00pm EST
In terms of Americans flying under the radar, Luca de la Torre fits the bill. The San Diego native is starting most games for Heracles – which has won three of its last four games. The veteran of the 2015 U-17 World Cup and the 2017 U-20 World Cup team is finally playing regularly as a professional and is doing well. At first this season he was playing on the wing, but is now playing centrally.
The next test for de la Torre will be to add more goals and assists to his stats this season. But this is the first season he has played regularly so this is an important time.
Both Utrecht and Heracles are even on points for 10th and 11th place so the winner will move safely into the top 10 of the Eredivisie.
For de la Torre, he might become an option for the U.S. U-23 team this summer if he continues to play well.
AC Ajaccio – SM Caen
Saturday, January 16: 1:00pm EST
With just one win from its last five, SM Caen’s promotional hopes are fading. For U.S. international forward Nicholas Gioaachini, 20, the games remain important as most of Ligue 2 is cash-poor at the moment and he is one of their most valuable assets. If he can play and score in the games ahead, he might be on the move upward in the summer. He has age on his side and his national team resume will only help that.
While Caen now sit in eighth place, Ajaccio is in 13th, so this is a game Caen should expect to reverse its skid.
For Gioacchini, the forward pool on the national team is becoming more and more competitive while also becoming deeper. He needs to continue to score to remain in the mix.
Hamilton Academical - Dundee United
The Scottish Premiership
Saturday, January 16: 10:00am EST
It has been a good season for Dundee United fresh off promotion. The club is solidly midtable in Scotland and is trying to push further into the top half as it is now at sixth place in the 12-team league.
Dundee United plays two American central midfielders on a regular basis. Ian Harkes typically starts while Dillon Powers come off the bench. Powers, 29, is coming off one of the best games of his career midweek in a 2-2- draw with St. Johnstone and might get the nod again on Saturday long with Harks.
Hamilton Academical is in a relegation battle so this should be a winnable game for Dundee United – whose two American players are some of the better feel-good “under the radar” stories in American soccer.
Elsewhere around the globe
European champs Bayern Munich hosts Freiburg on Sunday and U.S. international defender Chris Richards will hope to make the bench for Bayern.
In the 2.Bundesliga, Julian Green should start for fourth-place Greuther Furth when it hosts Paderborn on Friday. Alfredo Morales and Fortuna Dusseldorf visit Erzgebirge Aue on Saturday. Leon Flach, Kevin Lankford and St. Pauli visit Hannover on Saturday while Jan George and Jahn Regensburg host Sandhausen on Sunday. On Monday, Bobby Wood and Hamburg host Osnabruck.
In the 3.Liga on Saturday, Terrence Boyd and Hallescher host Bayern Munich II with Chris Richards also possible to participate if he does not play for Bayern’s first team.
In the Premier League, Owen Otasowie is back from an injury and should be in the lineup for Wolverhampton when it hosts West Bromwich on Saturday. Zack Steffen should be on the bench for Manchester City when it hosts Crystal Palace on Sunday. DeAndre Yedlin and Newcastle United visit Arsenal on Monday.
In the English Championship on Saturday, Cameron Carter-Vickers and AFC Bournemouth host Luton Town, Matthew Olosunde and Rotherham United visit Derby County which probably won’t feature Duane Holmes as he is rumored to be returning back to Huddersfield. Geoff Cameron, Charlie Kelman and Queens Park Rangers host Wycombe Wanderers.
In League One on Saturday, Indiana Vassilev and Burton Albion host Ipswich Town while Lynden Gooch and Sunderland visit AFC Wimbledon.
In France’s Ligue 2, Patrick Koffi will hope to return to the bench for Paris FC when it visits Valenciennes on Saturday.
In Spain’s Copa del Rey on Sunday, Shaq Moore and Tenerife hosts Villareal while Yunus Musah and Valencia visit Alcorcon.
In Italy’s Serie A, Weston McKennie will hope to participate for fourth-place Juventus in the Sunday’s huge game against second-place Inter Milan. McKennie was subbed out of last weekend’s win over Sassuolo in the first half due to a muscular injury. He then missed the midweek cup game.
In Serie B, Andrija Novakovich and Frosinone visit L.R. Vicenza Virtus on Friday. Meanwhile, former Long Island University midfielder Giuseppe Barone is still looking for his pro debut for Salernitana and hopes it happens when they visit Empoli on Sunday.
In Belgium’s top flight, Mark McKenzie is probably not set to make his Genk debut when it visits Royal Excel Mouscron on Saturday. Colorado-born defender Brenden Hines-Ike is playing well right now for Kortrijk and the visit Oostende on Saturday. Joe Efford and Waasland Beveren host Zlute Waregem on Saturday. Ethan Horvath is likely the backup goalkeeper for Club Brugge when it visits Beerschot on Sunday. Chris Durkin and St. Truiden host Oud Heverlee on Sunday.
In Greece’s Super League, Gboly Ariyibi and Panetoilikos visit Asteras Tripolis on Saturday.
In the Eredivisie, Desevio Payne is still out for FC Emmen which hosts Vitesse on Saturday. Uly Llanez will hope to return to the bench for SC Heerenveen when it visits VVV Venlo on Sunday.
In Scotland, Cam Harper will hope to remain in the lineup for COVID-stricken Celtic when it hosts red-hot Livingston on Saturday. Livingston has won five league games in a row.
In Brazil’s Serie A, United States international defensive midfielder Johnny Cardoso and Internacional hosts Fortaleza on Sunday night. Johnny, 19, has returned from injury but has yet to see the field since November.
Finally, in Spain’s Super Cup on Sunday, Sergino Dest and Barcelona will host Athletic Bilbao. Dest was rested midweek in the shootout win over Real Sociedad.