Pefok into Champions League, Sargent shines, transfer talk, USMNT roster projection, & more
August 24, 2021
THE MIDWEEK ROLLS and it is the final week of club soccer before the international window opens up and big games get underway.
Commitments away from soccer have kept me away from writing earlier in the week and I wasn’t able to chime in on the MLS weekend games. But here are some combined thoughts from the early week news.
Pefok vs. Wingo
Jordan Pefok and BSC Young Boys have advanced to the Champions League group stages thanks to a 3-2 (6-4 aggregate) win over Hungarian Champions Ferencvaros on Tuesday. Seattle native and former Sounders right back Henry Wingo started for Ferencvaros in the loss.
Young Boys actually scored first but Ferencvaros rallied, and it was Henry Wingo who started the rally with his first goal for Ferencvaros. While Ferencvaros was able to equalize on aggregate with a 2-1 lead, Young Boys scored two goals in the second half for a win.
Here are the takeaways from the game
Pefok plays but was poor: It was an open question if Jordan Pefok was going to be able to play in this game after he picked up an injury in the first leg. The good news for Young Boys and the U.S. national team is that Pefok was able to play and that puts him in good position to play in the upcoming qualifiers. The bad news, however, is that he was poor in both legs – but especially on Tuesday.
He simply couldn’t get anything done and wasn’t dangerous. His style is that he rarely beats anyone on the dribble or is involve in hold up play. Pefok can finish well and his strength is that while he needs service, he doesn’t need great service to finish. In this one, he wasn’t able to receive service and he did little when he had the ball. He even missed a penalty in the second half, and he did not look confident. That is bad news heading into qualifiers.
He now gets to play in the Champions League, but he’ll have to be better.
Wingo was up and down: In this game, Ferecvaros had to push for goals and was trying to force the issue. Wingo, at one point, looked like an impact player and he scored the big goal. Overall he played well except for one moment when he conceded the penalty – which was botched by Pefok. Wingo will miss out on the big chance to play in the Champions League and that would have brought a ton of exposure to him – and Wingo is a relatively unknown player in the United States. But now he will get to play in the Europa League group stages.
The EFL Cup is generally not a big deal. It’s the third most important domestic tournament in England behind league play and the FA Cup. The importance, however, is more on an individual basis. It gives some players a chance to improve, get acclimated into a new team, and gain confidence and momentum.
Josh Sargent got the start for Norwich City against AFC Bournemouth of the Championship, and it was a big moment for him. He joined the club late in the window and he was forced to rapidly adjust to his new team. Predicted to be in a relegation battle, Norwich is in the middle of a brutal four-game stretch to start their Premier League campaign and Sargent was limited to two late-game cameos is lopsided losses in the first two games.
This game allowed him to start and properly show what he was about. He firmly took advantage of it with a two goal, one assist effort en route to a 6-0 rout over Bournemouth. Sargent played extremely well – and it’s important to point out that he also played well in his final game for Werder Bremen in the 2.Bundesliga two weeks ago.
The EFL Cup is not taken seriously by every club and Bournemouth was not really into this. They started an experimental roster and paid the price with a terrible performance. Still, Sargent got to flex his muscle a bit, give himself confidence and momentum heading into September. It was also enough for him to play more minutes in the Premier League – even if Teemu Pukki remains the starter.
Robinson scores for Fulham
Staying in the EFL Cup, Antonee Robinson came off the bench late in the 86th minute for Fulham and scored a stoppage time goal to ice a 2-0 away win over Birmingham City.
Robinson, 24, is typically a starter and Fulham was starting an experimental squad – but still came away with the win. Without drawing too many conclusions, it’s just fair to point out that Fulham is playing great right now and it has a deep roster that is all buying into Marco Silva and the new coaching staff.
For the first time in his career, Robinson is not involved in a relegation battle and is playing for a team that can expect to win week-in and week-out. It’s a different approach and it is showing Robinson to be able to contribute in different ways – and not just a player who can use his athleticism to defend and look for a counter. Now he’s showing more skill. Robinson assisted over the weekend and scored on Tuesday. He is another player with momentum heading into the international window.
Horvath starts for Forest
A lack of playing time has been an issue for Ethan Horvath in recent years. The impressive thing about Horvath is that despite long spells between minutes, he seems to come in an perform well – and the rust never seems to stick to him.
Horvath got the start for Nottingham Forest against Wolverhampton in the EFL Cup and it was a big opportunity as the club’s first team starter, Brice Samba, has been struggling to start the year. Nottingham Forest has lost all four of its games to start the season and the squad is in shambles.
Wolverhampton won this game convincingly, 4-0, and Nottingham Forest played mostly backups.
It’s tough to rate Horvath because Forest was completely pummeled, and the numbers are somewhat staggering. It was simply non-competitive. Playing at home, Forest had just 26% possession and was outshot 28-2. The shots on target were 13-0 and Horvath had to make nine saves (some were of high quality). Any goalkeeper playing for Forest would have succumb to a multigoal defeat.
So, did Horvath do enough to get an opportunity to start a Championship game? It’s up to the coaching staff – which might not last longer as Forest has been brutal. The problem is that while Samba has been poor, the team has far worse problems than in goal.
Robinson plays for Chile
The Miami Herald reported on Monday that Inter Miami forward Robbie Robinson has been called up by Chile for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. It marks his first international involvement. Having been born, raised, and played his career entirely in the United States, he has never received any real interest from U.S. Soccer even dating back to his youth days.
A bit of a late bloomer, Robinson this season is showing why many followers of the college game rated him higher than Daryl Dike – and Robinson was the first overall draft pick in 2020 while Dike was the fifth overall pick. He’s playing with a lot of skill these days and is focused. After a tough rookie season in 2020, he’s been helping Inter Miami play much better.
Even if Robinson wasn’t a dual national or had no interest in playing for Chile, he wouldn’t be in-line for a U.S. national team call-up soon. Still, the striker pool is promising but unproven – Sargent has yet to score consistently, Pefok can be up and down, Zardes is getting older, Dike is also still only a year into his professional career. Even other younger prospects like Ricardo Pepi and Matthew Hoppe are both promising and unproven.
You can’t keep every dual national and part of this is just a result of the overall improvement of the American player. Such an improvement will benefit other countries too. Still, it is not impossible to envision a scenario where the U.S. team would have liked to have had Robinson.
Dual National Panic
Robbie Robinson has elected to play for Chile and David Ochoa has switched to Mexico. It seems like Julian Araujo is also seriously contemplating a move to Mexico too. Top young American midfielder Bento Estrela, a New York Red Bull homegrown, is playing for Portugal's U-16 team this window. This would have been helped had the U.S. youth national teams been playing this window. Their absence has simply gone on too long.
As I mentioned, the bigger the player pool – the more likely players are to move. The U.S. has always lost players – but now there is a chance it could lose real players.
The big one to watch right now is Ricardo Pepi. The FC Dallas forward now has nine goals so far this season and is one of the best teenage American forwards to play in this league in a very long time – at least since Jozy Altidore blew up with the Red Bulls and forced a move to Villarreal.
This is a different scenario since the U.S. team needs more good, young forwards to push Sargent and Dike – and perhaps overtake them. Unlike Araujo, who is really good and really talented, Pepi plays a position of need.
With Gyasi Zardes injured and Daryl Dike not playing to rest and recover, Pepi could be in-line for a call-up in September. The question, however, becomes if he declines. It’s one thing to decline a Gold Cup invitation to avoid being cap-tied (like Araujo did) or limit oneself to non-binding youth events. It’s another to turn down World Cup qualifying invitations at a time when your country needs help. It’s a tough look.
There is one week to go in the summer transfer window in Europe. The New England Revolution made a huge splash on Tuesday with the announcement that they sold Tajon Buchanan to Club Brugge for $7 million, a sell-on. On top of that, Buchanan will remain with the Revolution for the remainder of the 2021 season. That kind of money plus a five-month loan-back shows just how highly he is rated by Brugge.
While Buchanan is Canadian, his move reflects a growing increased valuation of domestic players coming out of the league. That perspective of the talent in the league has huge implications for American players as well. Buchanan is a potential star and his success in Belgium would be yet another boost for other young and emerging players in MLS.
It’s been a very busy summer for American players (including players in the U.S. national team pool and youth national team pool) to be on the move.
Some of the key players who have moved either on a transfer or via a loan include: Josh Sargent, Matt Miazga, Tyler Boyd, Sam Vines, Gianluca Busio, Tanner Tessmann, Christian Cappis, Ethan Horvath, Christian Ramirez, Haji Wright, Jeremy Ebobisse, Matko Miljevic, Chris Mueller (announced move in the winter), and Caden Clark (announced move in the winter).
As for what to expect among American players in the week ahead, there are some potentially big moves.
Weston McKennie has a big price tag but could be sold if a team approaches Juventus north of around £25 million. Various reports have said Tottenham are interested and that would be a mega deal. It’s a step down for a club but a step up in terms of a league. I wouldn’t necessarily count on such a move happening, but stranger things have happened.
Erik Palmer-Brown and Jack DeVries have been strongly linked to Venezia – with Palmer-Brown as a potential transfer to Manchester City and DeVries as a loan from Philadelphia for the season. Both deals have not been announced but both players were in Italy last week. DeVries, of course, has the issue of a concussion and he has been in protocol for months and was only just cleared. For such a loan, he must also be cleared by Venezia.
Cameron Carter-Vickers is likely on the move soon and reportedly he wants a full-move and no more loans (he’s been loaned six times to the Championship). He made an appearance for Tottenham in a Conference League qualifier that is of little interest to the London club. They want to move him, but they also want to make money. It’s tough for Carter-Vickers as the season has started and he’s behind the curve. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the many clubs in the Championship who know him reemerge in the bidding race. Bournemouth could use him back, but do they have the cash. At some point, Tottenham will have to move him just avoid letting him go for free.
Daryl Dike has been linked to a few English clubs – Crystal Palace being on in the media. It seems likely Orlando will move him at some point but they might keep him for this season and the playoffs.
Matthew Hoppe seems like a logical choice for a move out of Schalke - which has been horrible again in the 2.Bundesliga. The poor start likely makes the decision to sell Hoppe even easier as the club does not look to be in a position to get promoted anytime soon. The only justification for keeping Hoppe is another relegation fight.
Other players to watch for this window and then potentially in the winter – Julian Araujo, Miles Robinson, Russell Canouse, John Tolkin, Eryk Williamson, DeJuan Jones, Kyle Duncan, Kellyn Acosta, Cole Bassett, Ricardo Pepi, and Justin Che.
Predicted USMNT roster
The big news will probably drop on Thursday with the announcement of the U.S. national team’s first World Cup qualifying roster. I am not expecting too many surprises. I think the roster will draw heavily from the Nations League and Gold Cup rosters.
The only potential players I seriously think have a shot who were not part of either roster are Konrad de la Fuente, Chris Richards, Joe Scally, and Luca de la Torre (and I don’t think all of them will be included.
Here is my final 28-player predicted roster
Goalkeepers (3): Zack Steffen, Matt Turner, Ethan Horvath.
Fullbacks (5): Sergino Dest, Antonee Robinson, Reggie Cannon, DeAndre Yedlin, Sam Vines
Central Defenders (5): John Brooks, Miles Robinson, Chris Richards, James Sands, Mark McKenzie
Central midfielders (7): Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Kellyn Acosta, Sebastian Lletget, Eryk Williamson, Brenden Aaronson, Cristian Roldan
Wingers and Forwards (8): Christian Pulisic, Matthew Hoppe, Gio Reyna, Tim Weah, Konrad de la Fuente, Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok, Ricardo Pepi
Injured: Yunus Musah, Tim Ream, Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola, Daryl Dike
In the Mix: Walker Zimmerman, Matt Miazga, Luca de la Torre, Nicholas Gioacchini, Joe Scally, Caden Clark, Bryan Reynolds, Gianluca Busio, George Bello, Tanner Tessmann, Shaq Moore, Kevin Paredes, Moses Nyeman, Justin Che, Jackson Yueill, Julian Araujo.