Midweek musings

McKenzie off to Genk, McKennie scores, Dest wins, Alonso out, & more

Mark McKenzie is now the latest Export from MLS and the Philadelphia Union and he is receiving nothing but praise out the door. Meanwhile in Europe, Weston McKennie continues to triumph in Italy. ASN's Brian Sciaretta shares his thoughts on all the news from midweek
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 07, 2021
8:45 AM

THE MIDWEEK HAS BROUGHT a lot of news in the world of American Soccer in both transfers, news from national team camp, and on-field activity.

Here is a brief run-down and some thoughts on what is going on

McKenzie’s Genk transfer announced

After being reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer last week, Mark McKenzie’s transfer to Genk was formally announced today by both the Union and Genk. Per Transfermarkt, the deal is the third highest transfer in Genk history. That does not include a sell-on percentage that the Philadelphia Union will keep.

The quotes out the door were remarkably classy from Union director Ernst Tanner and head coach Jim Curtin.

“I’ve been able to coach and watch Mark develop firsthand since he joined the Union Academy, and his trajectory since then has been nothing short of impressive,” said Curtin. “Mark has been a reliable and skilled center back, one of the best defenders in our league this year. His dedication to training, learning and drive to improve paired with his passion, moral grounding, and personality off the field, makes him an invaluable member of any team and locker room. He will most certainly be missed at the Union, but I am so proud of him and have no doubt Mark will excel with Genk."

McKenzie is a Philadelphia Union homegrown and developed through the system, into the first team, where he was named to the league’s Best XI en route to a Supporters Shield in 2020. With Brenden Aaronson, he became the second young player to leave the Union this year.

Both transfers reflect that the Union is a great place for local players to begin their respective careers and success will bring both playing time and a fair chance of being sold if they play well.


At Genk, McKenzie will join a club that sits second in Belgium – just one point behind Brugge – and has a reputation at being one of the best clubs in the league at developing players. With the high price the club is paying, McKenzie will surely get a chance to prove himself.

“Before working towards my goal of playing in Europe I remember sitting in the stands watching my home team, the Union, and hoped that one day I’d get the chance to play for my city in front of my family, friends, and fans. I am so thankful to have been given the chance to do so,” said McKenzie.  “I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am and have this opportunity to further my career without my coaches, my family, and the Philadelphia Union fans. I am so appreciative to everyone who has dedicated their time, knowledge, love and put their faith in me. I specifically want to thank God, my family, the club, and the city. The city and the Union will always be a part of me, and the future looks nothing but bright for myself and this club.”

As many hope MLS will embrace selling players while continuing to spend and by others, the Union made an important statement in terms of development. It is not just simply selling players. It is playing and winning with these players that is also critical. It is giving them chances to establish roots with their clubs. It is also neither asking for astronomical and unrealistic fees nor is it settling for a very low offer. Celtic reportedly was interested in McKenzie at a fraction of the price Genk is paying.

The past several seasons have seen several good young players (not all American either) earn sales abroad – Tyler Adams, Alphonso Davies, Jack Harrison, Brenden Aaronson, Kemar Lawrence, Michael Murillo, Alberth Elis, Zack Steffen, Mark McKenzie, Reggie Cannon, Carlos Gruezo. Now it will be up to the next generation to continue to continue the trend as the league being a hub for the growth of the American game.

For the United States national team, McKenzie earned his first cap in February but is in the mix to be a regular contributor moving forward. 


McKennie scores at San Siro


Wednesday was a huge game in Serie A when leaders AC Milan hosted reigning champions Juventus. If Juventus was going to show signs of making a climb to contend, this was a game that it needed to win.

Weston McKennie, 22, started the game on the bench but was electric as a 64th minute sub and scored the final goal in the 76th minute of a 3-1 win. Five minutes before his goal, McKennie forced a big save after taking a pass from Cristiano Rolnaldo. The three points moved fourth-place Juventus to within seven points of leaders Milan. It has played one fewer game than Milan, Inter Milan, and Roma who occupy the first three spots.

McKennie came into the game and was very energetic on both sides of the ball. Most of his touches were out wide, on either side, and his goal came off a counter attack. His athleticism and ability to cover a ton of ground keep Milan on its heels and prevented it from mounting an attack.



But it highlights just how great McKennie is thriving as the stages get bigger and bigger. Since early December over the past 32 days, the Texan has scored in some remarkable venues

  •          Allianz Stadium in the Derby della Mole
  •         Camp Nou in the Champions League against Barcelona
  •         San Siro against Serie A leading AC Milan.

That is absolutely enormous and his comfort towards handling the biggest of big stages. He will continue to start most games and the sky is truly the limit for McKennie these days.


Dest starts in Barca win


Sergino Dest, 20, is typically known for his potential to be explosive on the right side. In recent games, however, Dest hasn’t generated huge offensive opportunities but is still competent defensively where he is making very few mistakes.

On Wednesday, Dest started against Athletic Bilbao and left with Barcelona up 3-1. The positive side for the development of Dest is that he is playing against much higher competitions these days in Spain compared with the Eredivisie. He is also surrounded by teammates that are more demanding.

The mistakes he made from time to time with Ajax are declining at Barcelona. The offense will come and should be the least of concerns with Dest. His numbers against Bilbao were solid.



Steffen wins Manchester Derby


When Manchester City overcome its COVID outbreak, Zack Steffen will surely return to the backup goalkeeping spot once Ederson is healthy. Eventually, he will need to find a place he can play regularly. But for now, at least, he is getting a chance to play in games that are meaningful and important.

On Saturday he started in the Premier League against Chelsea – a 3-1 win. On Wednesday he started against Manchester United in a 2-0 win. While that was simply the EFL Cup, any Manchester Derby game brings pressure to win.

In neither game Steffen was asked to do particularly much. Against United he made two saves. But keeping a rhythm under pressure is important at this stage of his career as he will eventually seek out a starting role.


Notable games in France


Two United States internationals were involved this week in games in France.

On Wednesday, Lille lost to Angers 3-2. Tim Weah came off the bench and played right wingback. Aside from a few decent moments, it was mostly uneventful for Weah who had a lot of touches but didn’t have much of an impact.


With the loss, Lille is now falling into the standings. Standing in first in December, the club is now in third.

In League 2, Niko Gioacchini started and played 76 minutes for SM Caen in a 1-1 draw with Auxerre. While Gioacchini was not on the field for the equalizer, he was effective in winning aeriels and duels during his time on the field. Unfortunately for Caen, it has fallen into eighth place and its promotional hopes are all but over.


USMNT camp update


The United States national team will open camp this weekend and one of the notable absences was forward Gyasi Zardes, the long-time veteran and member of the MLS Cup winning Columbus Crew. The forward was not on the roster and U.S. Soccer did not have an explanation at the time. On Wednesday it was revealed that Zardes underwent a medical procedure but would have attended otherwise.


Miami parts ways with Alonso


After rumors of turmoil between head coach Diego Alsono and Inter Miami’s front office, the two parties have agreed to mutually part ways. Miami is now on the market for a new coach.

While Alonso was hired to much fanfare, the club struggled but still managed to make the playoffs on the season’s final day. Expectations must have been higher in Miami and the club is now looking for a new manager to guide a team that wants to incorporate a lot of stars.

We’ve seen this before with NYCFC when it started play in the league. The club had a lot of stars and foreign ownership that expected to win right away. Jason Kreis could not survive that and neither could Alonso.

Inter Miami might find success in the years ahead, but if it things aging foreign stars are going to lead it there, it might be disappointed.

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