Champions League analysis

Pulisic continues to raise the bar for all American players, & more

It's hard to say things about Christian Pulisic that haven't already been said - but it's important to add that is is only fair that the Hershey native become the first American player to suit up in the Champions League final and win the top tournament. ASN's Brian Sciaretta gives his thoughts on Pulisic, Steffen, the CONCACAF Champions League, and the Copa Libertadores - where Michael Hoyos is on the rise. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
May 06, 2021
5:25 AM

WEDNESDAY WAS a monumental day in the world of American Soccer history as Christian Pulisic raised the bar for individual accomplishments at the club level when he assisted on Mason Mount’s goal to seal Chelsea’s place in the Champions League final. In the 3-1 aggregate win over Real Madrid, Pulisic finished with a goal and an assist.

A U.S. international has never played in the Champions League final before and that will likely change with Pulisic and Chelsea on May 29 when they face Manchester City in the Champions League final at Attaturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey.

Despite scoring the only goal for Chelsea in the first leg against Real Madrid, a 1-1 away draw, Pulisic was on the bench at the start of the second leg. Timo Werner scored the opening goal of the second leg but that didn’t change much as Real Madrid came into this game needing to score at least one goal due to Chelsea’s away goal from the first leg.

Pulisic came into the game in the 67th minute to try to put the game out of reach. In the 85th he did just that when he made a very smart and effective play in the box to set up Mason Mount for a 2-0 lead.


Pulisic’s assist was enough to seal the victory. But just like in the first leg, it wasn’t just his involvement in the goal – it was his complete performance that was so impressive.

Pulisic didn’t take a beating like he did in the first leg, but that is because Real Madrid was more desperate and chasing the game at the end of the second leg. But Pulisic still got on the ball roughlt every minute, won most of his duels, and completed a high percentage of his passes. In total he had two key passes, three chances created, and, of course, one assist.


In terms of club accomplishments, this has been building. There are now U.S. internationals starting at Barcelona, RB Leipzig, Juventus who are all under the age of 23. There are even younger players at Champions League clubs such as Lille, Salzburg. Next year Americans could be involved in the Champions with other clubs from the top five leagues such as Wolfsburg, Eintracht Frankfurt and smaller clubs such as Young Boys, Brondby, and Ferencvaros.

That is just the players we know about. The upcoming summer transfer window and preseason will shake things up even more. With the improvement of MLS development and embrace in selling along with the overall improvement of the American player, this wave doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

But it’s very fitting that Pulisic is the first American out of this growing bunch to advance this far. He’s been raising the bar for American players in Europe since he arrived at age 16 – whether it be starting at Dortmund as a teenager, scoring in the knockout rounds of the Champions League, earning the highest transfer ever played for a U.S. international by over 3.5x the previous record.

Soccer, like all sports, isn’t fair and, in fact, can be quite cruel. Sometimes, however, it works out the way it should. Pulisic should be the one that gets his first crack in the sport’s biggest annual game.


Steffen and Manchester City


Zack Steffen will also be in Istanbul for the Champions League final and is scheduled to be on the matchday roster for Manchester City. Barring something unexpected, however, he won’t play. Being the backup to Ederson has kept Steffen typically glued to the bench in Premier League and Champions League games.

It’s still been a great season for Steffen. Last season he was limited following the Bundesliga winter break due to knee tendinitis and it was a problem that bothered him dating back to his days on the Columbus Crew. This season, he has been able to not put as much stress on his knees while also training at a very high level.

At some point being the backup, even at what could be the best team in the world, won’t be enough. Steffen is in the prime years of his career and he will need to play. But the good news is that a Premier League title and possibly a Champions League medal, even as a backup, will open doors. He should be able to find a good place for a loan or a transfer either this summer, or sometime soon. His value is higher as a result of this season.

It’s up to Manchester City when Steffen will get the chance to move somewhere else where he can start.  


CONCACAF Champions League


Over in the CONCACAF Champions League, Philadelphia is the last remaining MLS team after dispatching Atlanta United 4-1 on aggregate. The result was not surprising as Philadelphia played brilliantly on the counter attack in a 3-0 win over Atlanta in the first leg in Atlanta.

In the second leg, Philadelphia controlled the game from the start but it was Atlanta United which scored first. In first half stoppage time, Santiago Sosa scored his first goal for Atlanta since joining in the offseason from River Plate. The Argentine was impressive in this one and if he can get going, Atlanta should compete in the Eastern Conference this season.

The goal wasn’t nearly enough. Philadelphia’s Kacper Przbylko equalized the second leg in the 88th minute and the Polish forward has now scored in all four Champions League so far.

The most interesting moments came in the post-game press conference when Union head coach Jim Curtin used and expletive to describe Atlanta manager Gabriel Heinze.  

When you look at the drama so far this season between Adrian Heath and David Ochoa, Ryan Hollingshead and Giovanni Savarese, and now this – it makes for great entertainment. The more emotion out in the open, the better.

The other results were not so kind to MLS teams and it should come as no surprise. Portland, Columbus, and Toronto did not just run into Liga MX teams but rather they ran into the best Liga LX teams by quite some margin in Club America, Monterrey, and Cruz Azul – respectively.

Portland and Columbus each drew their first legs at home. The fact that they didn’t win at home, and conceded away goals, likely meant that advancing with a win in Mexico was always unlikely. While Portland and Columbus were both the better teams in the first leg, they were each done in by defensive breakdowns and bad misses. For MLS teams to typically advance against the best Liga MX teams, it requires special playmaking – as we saw from players in the past like Sebastian Giovinco or Carlos Vela – and first-rate defense and goalkeeping. Unfortunately for Portland and Columbus, that did not happen.

The result was Monterrey winning 3-0 in the second leg and Club America winning 3-1.

As for Toronto, their matchup against Cruz Azul (the current Liga MX leaders) was always unlikely. Toronto is a team struggling in MLS and has a much older roster. On top of that, league MVP Alejandro Pozuelo is out injured and new and expensive designated player Yeferson Soteldo has yet to suit up for the team. In missing that much firepower, Toronto was given an uphill climb.


Copa Libertadores


In the Copa Libertadores, American winger Michael Hoyos and his Barcelona SC team are off to a fantastic start in South America’s premier tournament. On Tuesday night, Barcelona defeated Boca Juniors 1-0 at home to move to a perfect nine points from three games in Group C.

That is no small accomplishment as Group C consists of Barcelona, Bolivia’s The Strongest FC, and legendary South American powers in Santos FC and Boca Juniors.

Hoyos, 29, has started all three Libertadores games for Barcelona while playing his typical position at right wing. While he had big impacts in the wins over Santos and The Strongest, he was a bit quieter against Boca Juniors as he had just 16 touches over 76 minutes of action – with one shot.

In Ecuador’s Primera, Hoyas has two goals from five games to start the season. In that league, Barcelona is in second place with 21 points from 10 games – two points behind leaders Emelec.

Born in California, Hoyas began his career in his parents’ native Argentina. He told ASN that he wanted to play for the United States internationally but felt pressure from his club to accept call-ups from Argentina’s youth national teams. While rising up through their program, his career was derailed by a serious car-crash. Eventually he moved to Ecuador to revive his career and he has been very successful there - first with Dportivo Cuenca, followed by Guayaquil City, and now with Barcelona.

While he is no longer a young player and it seems unlikely, he has said his dream is to eventually earn a call-up to the United States (as he is not cap-tied to Argentina). Advancing deep into the Copa Libertadores, however, against the likes of Santos and Boca Juniors only helps his case. And even if he falls short of the U.S. national team, he has stated that he would like to play in MLS. An opportunity has never seriously presented itself but that is another goal that seems more realistic now given his recent performances.

Post a comment