Midweek musings

Midweek thoughts: Orlando City wins USOC, 8 Yanks play in the UCL

ASN's Brian Sciaretta writes up his observations on the eight Yanks who played in the Champions League, including a big-time effort from Gio Reyna, as well as his thoughts on Orlando winning the 2022 U.S. Open Cup. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
September 08, 2022
4:00 PM

THERE WAS A lot of news to cover this week in American soccer as the Champions League group stages saw many Americans take the field, the U.S. Open Cup conclude in Florida, as well as a bunch of news off the court.

Here is a breakdown


The Champions League


Reyna Shines in Dortmund win


This was the type of performance everybody has been wanting to see from Gio Reyna for over a year. As everyone knows 2021/22 was essentially a lost season for Reyna and it was particularly worrisome not because of the injury itself to his hamstring, but it was the subsequent reinjuries that made people question whether or not he would be injury prone in his career. Understandably, Borussia Dortmund have been very careful about managing Reyna’s minutes to start this season. So far, his outings have been limited to very brief appearances off the bench - typically for about 10-15 minutes an appearance.

This game, however, is when Borussia Dortmund have taken off the kid gloves and have allowed Reyna to play more meaningful minutes, and it happened all by chance too. In the 23rd minute, Thorgan Hazard was unable to continue due to injury. Reyna then got the nod for the remaining 67 minutes. He showed no signs of rust and was the game's best and most impactful player

Dortumund ended up winning 3-0 with Reyna assisting on the team’s second two goals in the 42nd and 83rd minutes.


This performance raises the expectations of what is possible for Raina both at the World Cup and this season for Dortmund. He showed he can still deliver big plays in top competitions. The enthusiasm, however, still has to be tempered a bit because we don't know how much workload he can handle on a regular basis. Can he start a game? That seems more realistic now. Can he start consecutive games on seven days apart? We don't know. Would he be able to start multiple group stage games at the World Cup in November? Again, we don't know.

Everything we saw this week was encouraging, but we do not yet know the extent of how much work he can handle in a given time frame.

This all happened by chance too. We don't know what Dortmund's plans were for Reyna heading into this game. The Hazard injury changed a lot. But it is clear that the club is pleased with where Reyna is at right now.


McKnennie scores in Juve loss

It wasn’t the result Juventus wanted, but American Weston McKennie gave the Italian club at least a chance against PSG when his 53rd minute goal pulled Juventus within one goal of Paris St. Germain at 2-1 in France. Unfortunately, McKennie’s goal would be the game’s last and Juventus dropped its opening group stage game.

McKennie did not start the game and came into the game to start the second half with Juve down 2-0. That was to be expected because McKennie had been struggling so far to start season. Aside from the goal, it was a good game for McKinney on an individual level. He passed well, he won his duels, and he brought some needed toughness into the Juventus midfield.

The question now becomes whether this is the start of a positive trend for McKennie, or will his early season struggles continue? He remains one of the most important American players in the game, and his form is very important to the national team as the World Cup approaches.


Pulisic & Chelsea enter transition

It has been a very eventful week for Chelsea and the events have put the club into a transitional phase. On Tuesday, Chelsea lost 2 Dinamo Zagreb 1-0 to open it's Champions League campaign. On the heels of a lackluster start to the Premier League, a decision was made on Wednesday to fire head coach Thomas Tuchel - who won the Champions league with Chelsea just 18 months ago.

Christian Pulisic came off the bench in the loss to Dinamo, but was ineffective. He started over the weekend in the win over West Ham, but it was the substitutes who came in after him who won the game. Over the past year, Pulisic has been just one of several Chelsea players who have been struggling under Tuchel. Over the summer, there was widespread speculation over Pulisic’s role with the club and whether he would be transferred. Many American fans were hoping that he would get a clean slate and move to another club, but now he is going to get a clean slate while remaining with Chelsea.

Replacing Tuchel will be Graham Potter who left after an impressive run with Brighton & Hove Albion.

Potter is known for being tactically flexible so it remains to be seen how this will affect Pulisic. Potter’s teams can change formations during games and throughout the season. There should definitely be a role for him, but it comes down to Pulisic making the most of his opportunities. But this is a clean slate for Pulisic and for everyone.


Dest makes Milan Debut

The list of players who have played for three different teams in the Champions League before their 22nd birthday is short. But that list grew by one this week as Sergino Dest made his AC Milan debut in the Champions League after having played in the tournament for both Barcelona and Ajax.

With AC Milan even at 1-1 with Salzburg in Austria, Dest came into the game in the 57th minute but neither team scored after he came on.

Dest played well and impressed in his 33 minutes. It was a reassuring performance for Dust given that he has missed a lot of time and being in the doghouse at Barcelona. There were no immediate signs of rust, and he looked smooth with the ball when Milan was going into the attack.

On an important note, Milan announced that backup right back Alessandro Florenzi would be out for five months due to an injury. That leaves Davide Calabria and Dest as the team’s two right backs – so Dest should have plenty of opportunities ahead. This is a much better situation than the one he left in Barcelona.


CCV & Celtic fall to Madrid

Cameron Carter-Vickers got the expected start for Celtic in its Champions League opener on Tuesday in a tough assignment at home vs. Real Madrid.

Madrid ended up winning 3-0 and, while the loss was expected, Celtic is surely disappointed as the Scottish champs had the better of opportunities the first 20 minutes but could not capitalize.

It was a tough outing for the American central defender as he showed that he could handle the pace of this level and he could do well for long stretches. But on the flip side, he made some noticeable mistakes and it proved to be costly for his team. For instance, on the second Madrid goal, Carter-Vickers left his line to make an attempted tackle in the midfield. He was unsuccessful and Madrid ended up making an attack up the middle of the field for a goal.

For long stretches, it was a good game for Carter Vickers. But ultimately it was an unsuccessful one and at this level only one or two mistakes could mean the difference between a win or a loss. Still, Carter-Vickers has helped his case to make the World Cup team and it will come down to the wire for him.


Cohen’s CCL debut

American goalkeeper Josh Cohen made his Champions League debut on Tuesday when his Maccabi Haifa team traveled to Benfica in Portugal for Group H. It was expected to be a tough test for Cohen as his team is widely expected to finish last in the group. The Portuguese team proved to be too much and posted 2-0 win over the Israeli champs. But Cohen still played well, and he had no reasonable chance to save either goal. He ended up making three saves including two diving stops from shots inside the box.

At the age of 30, Cohen has put himself into a good position for the next few years. Even if his team does not advance to the knockout stages, he will gain a lot of name recognition by playing in the Champions League. If he can play well and make some good saves it should open up doors that were never open to him in the past. MLS teams are surely taking note and playing in the top domestic league in his home country was always a goal for him. Unfortunately for Cohen, when he was playing in USL, MLS teams did not show interest. That should change soon. There is also the possibility that he could head into mainland Europe with offers there as well. He should be giving himself good options in the years ahead.

Maccabi Haifa did not play poorly in this game, and finding a way to earn a result is not completely out of the question with similar efforts.


Rangers struggle in Ajax loss

On Wednesday, Rangers traveled to Amsterdam to face Ajax in its Champions League opener. The reigning Eredivisie champs posted a comfortable 4-0 win to cap a brutal week for Rangers. On Saturday, Rangers lost to Celtic by the same score and uh tough Old Firm loss.

In an important note, neither of the two American players on Rangers have played well in either game. Against Ajax, both James Sands and Malik Tillman earned the start. Tillman was removed at the half with Rangers down 3-0. it was tough for him to get going as Ajax had a 75% possession edge, but Tillman was rarely on the ball and completed just four passes out of six attempts. Sands, meanwhile, had a tough outing again. The second goal was deflected off of him midway through the first half. He was also part of the failed build up which led to a turnover for the final goal.

Both of these players are on the bubble to make the World Cup team. With this past week complete, both have probably seen their chances decrease. For Sands, his chances have taken a big hit. Especially when compared with the other central defenders who are also trying to make a push. Players such as Erik Palmer-Brown, Tim Ream, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Mark McKenzie are all playing much better.

Tillman will be much closer. To start the season, he has shown quality such as his goal against Union SG and in his defensive effort against PSV which resulted in a goal. But he is still very new to first team minutes and has also looked too passive at other times. He is certainly a very good prospect, but whether he is good enough for this World Cup team it is a completely different question. .


Champions League Notes

Timothy Chandler did not get off the bench for Eintracht Frankfrut in its 3-0 loss to Sporting CP.

Owen Otasowie did not play for Club Brugge in its 1-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen.

John Brooks was an unused substitute for Benfica in its 2-0 win over Maccabi Haifa. Brooks recently joined the club after it was hit with a waive of injuries to its central defense pool.


Orlando wins Open Cup


Orlando City SC are the 2022 U.S. Open Cup champions after defeating Sacramento Republic 3-0 on Wednesday night in front of a sold-out crowd in Florida. The result was completely deserved, but it was still a heartbreaking ending for Sacramento who was looking to become the first non-MLS team to win the Open Cup since the Rochester Rhinos won it in 1999. Rochester is still the only team to have won the tournament in the MLS era starting in 1996.

This game was scoreless into the 75th minute when Facundo Torres scored off a mistake in the back from Sacramento. Then in the 80th minute Torres converted a penalty. The score was rounded out in the sixth minute of stoppage time when Benji Michel moved through a tired Sacramento backline and slid a shot under Sacramento goalkeeper Danny Vitiello.

The game was surprisingly even for the first hour and Sacramento appeared to have Orlando exactly where they wanted where one moment could give them the opportunity for an upset. But around the 65th minute, Orlando found another gear and Sacramento could not counter. At that point, it looked like a much wider gulf in talent and Orlando found the quality to put it away.

“I think it is important to recognize that Orlando has won the first title here and we are proud of the community and the club and the players,” Orlando head coach Oscar Pareja said. “To have this opportunity to lift this trophy means a lot against a really tough rival. [It was] a very competitive match. In the first 50 and 60 minutes it looked like a really tough final. After that, we could open the score as we gained more confidence against the block that they had in the back. We are proud. Congratulations to all involved in this trophy. We are very grateful for tonight. Just have to continue and just give a lot of joy to the community.”

For now, the top two trophies in American soccer (MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup) are held by both of the 2015 MLS expansion teams.

Facundo Torres, meanwhile, played like a very promising young designated player who the team could build around.

Orlando has also won four straight in MLS and are now into fourth in the Eastern Conference. If the team can avoid letdowns and use the Open Cup as momentum for the stretch run of the season, they should be a tough out.

Meanwhile, Orlando has now qualified for the 2023 CONCACAF Champions League


Turner makes his Arsenal debut


Matt Turner made his Arsenal debut on Thursday in the Europa League for a 2-1 away win over FC Zurich. It was a mixed game for Turner who made a mistake in the first half when his pass was intercepted which created a chance for Zurich that was hit off the post from a tough angle.

The lone Zurich goal came from a penalty where Turner guessed the opposite side.

Turner ended up making two saves – neither of which were too challenging.


Other news items


In very unfortunate news, Atlanta United and U.S. national team central defender Miles Robinson was arrested over the weekend after being accused of theft at a bar in taking a $5 shot off a drink and failing to pay for it.

Atlanta United said they are aware of the incident but are awaiting more facts to comment.

Miles suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in May and will miss the rest of the year. 

Meanwhile, U.S. national team head coach Gregg Berhalter threw out the first pitch on Saturday at Yankee Stadium as the Yankees hosted the Minnesota Twins. Berhalter is the son of former Red Sox legend and Hall of Famer Carl “Yaz” Yastrzemski.

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