MLS Week 1, huge test for Dest & Ajax, debuts for Miami & Nashville
February 28, 2020
ON THE EVE of the weekend, there are already a lot of peaks and valleys for American Soccer fans. For one, there are still so many injures that are limiting top American players and players who play for top teams. On the other hand, the opening of the 2020 MLS season will kickoff the 25th edition of the league.
The list is rather eye opening. Here is a list of the American players based abroad who are injured.
- Christian Pulisic
- Tyler Adams
- Tim Weah
- Matt Miazga
- Duane Holmes
- Zack Steffen
- Antonee Robinson
- Julian Green
There is also a domestic list of injured American players that is tough. Michael Bradley, Brandon Servania, Paxton Pomykal, and Paul Arriola all won’t play opening weekend.
Of course, there are playing time concerns as well. DeAndre Yedlin is not playing much at Newcastle, Fabian Johnson is on his way out at Borussia Monchengladbach, and Ethan Horvath is glued to the bench at Club Brugge. Then after promising signs in England a few months ago, youngsters Owen Otasowie at Wolves and Indiana Vassilev at Aston Villa have returned to their respective second teams.
It is indeed a murky time for Americans abroad, but there is still a lot of interesting games. Sergino Dest and Ajax have perhaps their biggest game of the Eredivisie season. John Brooks has been great in his return from the bench and Andrija Novakovich is helping to get Frosinone back to Serie A.
Josh Sargent won’t play as Werder Bremen’s game was postponed – but that didn’t stop from it sinking further into the relegation zone thanks to Eintracht Frankfurt’s win over Hertha BSC.
On Friday, Tyler Boyd got a rare start for Besiktas and played 78 minutes in a 2-1 away win over Alanyaspor – a solid result. But Christian Cappis and Emmanuel Sabbi each started in Hobro’s 12 draw this season (in just 23 games). Combined with just two wins, Hobro will have a tough time staying up.
In MLS, two new teams will kickoff with their first game. Four teams will enter the season with the Champions League still on their mind: Los Angeles FC, Montreal Impact, Atlanta United, and New York City. Meanwhile, the Seattle Sounders were shockingly upset at the hands of Olimpia and will now look to shake that upset off quickly.
With all that said, here are the games that I will be following the most this weekend from an American perspective.
Ajax – AZ Alkmaar
Sunday, Mar. 1: 2:00pm EST
Ajax is out of the Europa League after a midweek elimination from Spain’s Getafe. But it will need to shake it off quickly because Sunday’s game vs. AZ Alkmaar in Amsterdam will go a long way towards deciding which team will win the Eredivisie title. It pits the first two teams in the league as leaders Ajax has just a three point lead on AZ. A win by AZ, however, could turn the race upside down.
Sergino Dest, 18, has had a great season and is the subject of high profile transfer interest. But the young U.S international hasn’t been great the past two games for Ajax and will need to raise his performance in what could be the biggest Eredivisie game of the season.
FC Dallas – Philadelphia Union
Saturday, Feb. 29: 6:00pm EST
Two of the best teams at playing young domestic players will meet in the season’s opening week as FC Dallas hosts Philadelphia on Saturday. But more importantly, both teams qualified for the post season in 2019 and are going to be looking to show improvement in 2019.
Philadelphia could potentially be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and won its first playoff game in team history last year. This team will remain mostly intact with designated player/midfielder Jamiro Monteiro having returned. American fans will be looking to see the growth of U.S. U-23 players such as defender Mark Mckenzie and playmaker Brendan Aaronson.
FC Dallas will be without significant pieces of its youth component as Paxton Pomykal and Brandon Servania are still injured. Jesus Ferreria, coming off his American citizenship and U.S. national team debut, has the potential for a breakout season while Reggie Cannon has had a terrific 12 months and is now a U.S. national team regular. The club signed U.S. U-20 midfielder Tanner Tessmann midweek and the promising youngster might make his debut on Saturday.
Borussia Dortmund - Freibrug
Saturday, Feb. 29: 9:30am EST
Gregg Berhalter has already said wonderkid Gio Reyna, 17, will be on the upcoming U.S. national team roster. It makes sense given his rise in recent months where he has been a regular off the bench for a Dortmund team that is now in third place in the Bundesliga and within striking distance of second.
Reyna has impressed despite limited minutes. What is even more striking is that Reyna is coming into important games at important moments – such as with Dortmund trailing in the Champions League – and he is delivering. Will he get his first start? That is also probably sooner than later.
Nashville SC - Atlanta United
Saturday, Feb. 29: 8:00pm EST
Nashville SC will take its first steps as a club when it hosts Atlanta United in a difficult matchup for the expansion side. A huge crowd is expected and a large continent of the Atlanta base is expected to make the trip to Tennessee for the game. Expectations are low for Nashville which is without star power or much youth. It does have some competent defensive-minded players that should keep it in games but a finish at the bottom of the standings is expected.
For Atlanta United, it will be interesting. Frank de Boer is entering his second season and players should have a further grasp of how he wants to play. Pity Martinez looked terrific in the Champions League the past two weeks and Emerson Hyndman is growing in the midfield. Meanwhile, Josef Martinez looks to be his dominant self. Atlanta United should be improved from 2019 and a finish atop the Eastern standings is expected.
Greuther Furth - Stuttgart
Saturday, Feb. 29: 7:00am EST
The race for the promotional places in the 2.Bundesliga is red hot and last week Stuttgart climbed into second place with a win over Jahn Regensburg. One of the best stories in the world of Americans abroad is at Stuttgart where American manager Pellegrino Matarazzo is off to a great start since taking charge during the winter break. In his five league games in charge, the club has accumulated 13 out of 15 possible points.
But Matarazzo and company should face a tough test on Saturday playing away at Greuther Furth. Furth has just one point from its last three games but is still in sixth place and will be playing at home.
Frosinone – Salernitana
Saturday, Feb. 29: 12:00pm EST
American forward Andrija Novakovich scored last weekend for Frosinone which is now in second place in Serie B – where the standings remain jam packed. Frosinone is on a great run at the moment with five wins in a row.
Novakovich, 23, only has two goals this season but he has five assists and is helping his team win in different ways. But Saturday will be a tough test at home against fifth place Salernitana.
American success in Italy has been rare with very few players having been regulars for Serie A clubs (the past 50 years, only Michael Bradley and Alexi Lalas have been regulars in Italy’s top flight). If Novakovich can get Frosinone back to the top flight, he will likely join a very short list next season.
FC Koln - Schalke
Saturday, Feb. 29 12:30am EST
Weston McKennie and Schalke will be looking to quickly move beyond a horrible 5-0 defeat last week at the hands of RB Leipzig when they head on the road to face an improving FC Koln team that now sits in 14th place and has been moving beyond the relegation zone since the start of the season’s second half.
Schalke is still in sixth place – which would land it in the Europa League. But any hope of sneaking into fifth place and the Champions League is diminishing as that gap is now seven points. Schalke is facing a challenge from a Wolfsburg team that is now within just two points of sixth after two straight wins.
Coached by former U.S. international, Schalke has serious problems at the moment. It is winless in five games and has scored just a single goal in that span.
LAFC - Inter Miami
Sunday, Mar. 1: 5:30pm
Inter Miami will play its inaugural game on Sunday when it travels to California to visit Los Angeles FC at The Banc. Inter Miami has been spending a lot of money to make a big entrance with Mexican international Rodolfo Pizarro being the marquee name and youngster Matías Pellegrini also expected to produce this season. The big question, however, will be whether or not the team has enough depth and role players to allow the stars to shine. Head coach Diego Alonso will have a lot to figure out.
For LAFC, the team is one of the favorites to win MLS Cup but coming off a thrilling win over Leon in the CONCACAF Champions League, the club might prioritize that competition in the season’s opening weeks. Bob Bradley will have important decisions to make in terms of squad rotation with his stars such as Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela. If Miami wanted to open with a major upset, it might have that chance.
Fulham vs. Preston North End
Saturday, Feb 29. 10:00am
United States national team defender Tim Ream and Fulham have had a strong season in the Championship and is firmly in the promotional hunt for a return to the Premier League. Midweek it was able to snap a three game winless skid with a thrilling 1-0 win over Swansea via a stoppage time winner. Fulham sits in third in the 24 team league and would be in line for the playoffs if the season ended. To climb into the automatic playoff spots, it has to make up a five-point gap on Leeds United.
Saturday’s game vs. sixth-place Preston North End will be tough for the London side as its opponents are desperate just to make the playoffs at this moment.
Houston Dynamo - LA Galaxy
Saturday, Feb. 29: 3:30pm
When Houston hosts the LA Galaxy on Saturday, it should pique a lot of people’s curiosity. Houston is looking to become relevant in the league once again and it made headlines in November when it hired former U.S. national team leader Tab Ramos who was coming off a very successful eight-year run as the head of the U.S. U-20 team. Houston doesn’t have one of the league’s most talented rosters but will Ramos be able to build a foundation in the years ahead?
For the Galaxy, Zlatan is out but Chicharito is in and the leading Mexican scorer is expected to score a lot of goals. What will also be interesting is how the talented Galaxy offense plays together as a unit with the departed Zlatan.
Chicharito is also expected to be a popular road draw and it will be nice to see the stadium full in Houston.
Columbus Crew – New York City FC
Sunday, Mar. 1: 12:30pm EST
New York City, along with Atlanta, is expected to be one of the contenders in the Eastern Conference. The club was well prepared and in control of its Champions League win over Costa Rica’s San Carlos. NYCFC should be in a good position to start the season but, like LAFC, squad rotation ahead of the Champions League quarterfinal vs. Tigres could very well come into play.
Columbus is coming off a bad year in 2019 but is gradually building up a different roster and one that should suit Caleb Porter’s style. Darlington Nagbe is ready to play for Porter for a third different team. The addition of Lucas Zelarayán in attacking midfield will also improve Columbus to increase its chances or returning to the playoffs.
For both teams, it will be a good early test.
Union Berlin – VfL Wolfsburg
Sunday, Mar. 1: 7:30am EST
John Brooks was benched to start the second half of the Bundesliga season but after getting back on the field due to a red card to newly acquired Marin Pongra?i?, Brooks has been very good once again. For Brooks, he is exceptionally streaky but can hit long periods of being on top of his game. Right now he’s doing that at a great tome for Wolfsburg who can sneak into sixth with a win and a failure of Schalke to win its game.
But a win won’t be easy as Union Berlin has had a nice season since earning promotion last year. It sits in 10th place and has avoided any threat of relegation. Climbing inside the top 10 would impressive for the club.