Week in Review
Pulisic has Covid, Aaronson's big winner, full slate in MLS top busy week
August 19, 2021
THERE HAVE BEEN A lot of games and a lot of news this past midweek in American soccer. In Europe the Champions League playoff round got underway and on this side of the Atlantic, there was a full slate of MLS games midweek.
Here is ASN’s take on what we saw
Pulisic tests positive for COVID-19
It was announced that Christian Pulisic has tested positive for Covid-19. Pulisic has also said that he has been vaccinated and that he is showing no symptoms right now. That is good but from a U.S. national team perspective, it is now a race against time for him to be ready for the beginning of World Cup qualifying in just 13 days – in El Salvador. Camp will likely open in Nashville several days before that.
This is tough timing, but it would have been far worse for it to happen next week. Even if Pulisic isn’t ready for the opening game, perhaps he’s ready for the second and third games of this window.
But this is a good reminder that what the U.S. national team did this summer was focus on building up depth.
Potential wing options beyond Pulisic are: Brenden Aaronson, Gio Reyna, Tim Weah, Konrad de la Fuente, Paul Arriola, Matthew Hoppe.
Aaronson’s big winner
U.S. national team winger/attacking midfielder Brenden Aaronson, 20, wasn’t in the starting lineup for Red Bull Salzburg on Tuesday when his team hosted Danish champs Brondby in the first leg of the Champions League playoff. The winner across these two legs gets a birth in the Champions League group stages.
This game came at an unfortunate time for Brondby who was forced to play without several starters due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the team. One of the players missing was young American midfielder Christian Cappis who has settled in nicely at Brondby.
While Aaronson wasn’t in the starting lineup, he made the most of his opportunity off the bench. Brondby scored first in this game, against the run of play, and carried a 1-0 lead into the break. Aaronson came on to start the second half and completely turned the game around for the hosts.
In the 56th minute, Karim Adeyemi equalized for Salzburg when he put home a rebound on a saved shot from Aaronson.
As it appeared as if both teams would return to Denmark even at 1-1, Aaronson put Salzburg up 2-1 in stoppage time.
Right now, you must like Salzburg’s chances to advance. The team completely controlled the game from the run of play with over 70% of possession. While Brondby was shorthanded, it will be tough to hang with Salzburg even at home and with the return of a few other players. The edge was that big. This game was closer to 3-1 or even 4-1 than it was to being even. Combined with the fact away goals aren’t in effect, Brondby is at a tough spot.
For Aaronson, this was the best he’s looked so far in the early goings of the 2021/22 season. He hasn’t had this effect in the early Austrian Bundesliga games, despite Salzburg having a perfect 12 points from four games.
It’s perfect timing. Aaronson looks strong for the first time playing under a foreign manager. He’s peaking in form heading potentially into his first Champions League group stage games, and World Cup qualifiers.
Positionally, he plays centrally for his club and out on the wing for his club. He wants to play centrally but as he eventually moves on from Salzburg, will he get shifted out wide? Will he eventually forces his way back into the middle or will he stay on the wing? That remains to be seen.
For the national team, he has growing competition in the middle. Gio Reyna is shifting into the middle right now at Dortmund and that will be tough to break into.
On another note, let’s hope Cappis can play in the middle.
Young Boys edge Ferencvaros
In another Champions League qualifier, Swiss champs BSC Young Boys edged Hungarian title holders Ferencvaros 3-2 in Switzerland. This game featured two American players in the starting lineup as U.S. national team forward Jordan Pefok started for Young Boys while Seattle native and former Sounder Henry Wingo started at right back for Ferencvaros. Each American is looking for his first berth in the Champions League group stages.
This game was wild, sloppy, and could have gone either way. Ferencvaros went ahead early when capitalizing on a bad error from Young Boys. In the 25th minute, Ferencvaros was awarded a penalty and Young Boys was reduced to 10 players, but the Hungarians failed to convert the kick.
Despite being down a man, Young Boys rallied and took a 3-1 lead with some fantastic individual efforts. Then in stoppage time, Ferencvaros pulled within one before the final whistle.
Now returning to Hungary, Ferencvaros will have to overcome a 3-2 deficit and it’s unfortunate for them that the away goals rule is not in effect. They had the opportunities to win the first leg and Young Boys made some great players that will be tough to replicate. But with the game 11 vs. 11, Young Boys will have an edge.
Neither American player played particularly well in this game and Pefok left in the 55th with a knock. In terms of who has the edge heading into league two, it’s probably Young Boys but this could go either way.
Matarazzo vs. Marsch
On Friday, RB Leipzig will host VfB Stuttgart in a historical moment for American soccer. For the first time ever in one of Europe’s “Big Five” leagues, two American born/raised managers will face each other. Wisconsin native and Leipzig manager Jesse Marsch will take on Stuttgart and Pellegrino Matarazzo – a native of Fair Lawn, NJ.
Matarazzo has done an exceptional job with VfB Stuttgart. When he was hired during the winter break of the 2019/20 season, the club was in the second tier. He guided the team to promotion and then led it to a top 10 finish in 2020/21. At the start of the season, Stuttgart has been impressive and last weekend it demolished Greuther Furth 5-1 in the Bundesliga opener.
Meanwhile, Marsch as a manager has been a champion twice in Austria and then a Supporters Shield winner in MLS. His first game in the Bundesliga, however, was a disappointing 1-0 loss away at Mainz and he is looking for his first Bundesliga win against Matarazzo.
The two managers have a great deal of respect for each other. They played against each other in collage when Matarazzo was at Columbia and Marsch was at Princeton. Both have spoken favorably in the press about each other.
This should be a big game for American fans. It wasn’t long ago that American managers in Europe were non-existent at any level. It’s a slow process to reverse that trend but there are now two American born/raised managers in the Bundesliga. Both have been class-acts in how they have carried themselves. Now they get the chance to meet up against each other.
This is a must watch.
Red Bulls have a pulse
There was a lot to unpack from the midweek games in MLS and high on the list was that the New York Red Bulls have life following a hard-fought 1-0 lead over the Columbus Crew on Wednesday night in Harrison, NJ.
Unlike previous games, this team was able to hold onto a lead and now squander points. The reason for this is rather simple – the return of Sean Nealis. It what has been obvious to anyone who has watched this team, they’ve need more central defenders to step up since the injury to Aaron Long. Nealis isn’t always healthy, but when he is, he might be the Red Bulls most important player.
In this game, Nealis gave the Red Bulls everything they were lacking. 11/16 duels won, 10/13 aerials won – against Bradley Wright-Phillips of all people in his return to Red Bull Arena.
As Jack here points out, Nealis can have a huge impact.
Sean Nealis splits for #RBNY this season— Scruffy Jack (@BeardedJack) August 19, 2021
When he plays 90: 6W 1D 4L (19/33 points, 1.73 ppg)
When he doesn't play 90: 0W 3D 5L (3/24 points, 0.375 ppg)
Since the loss of Long to injury, Nealis has a good argument for most important player on the team. https://t.co/O6wds8GjKL
The Red Bulls aren’t quite back yet. They still don’t create nearly enough chances from the run of play, but with a central defender in form, they have a pulse. That’s just a lot of pressure on Nealis.
On another note, John Tolkin scored the goal for the Red Bulls and he is quickly becoming one of the best teenager players in the league.
Congrats to John Tolkin. The promising 19 year old left back from Chatham, NJ scores his first MLS goal for #RBNY. Good player you might just hear from very soon at ASN - hint, hint pic.twitter.com/CULrESXVTy— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) August 19, 2021
As for the Crew, they haven’t played well all year. Nothing is working and Caleb Porter’s ideas to right the ship are not helping the team generate opportunities from the run of play.
From a U.S. national team perspective, Gyasi Zardes was forced out of this game with a hamstring injury. The U.S. team is deep across the board but this isn’t good ahead of World Cup qualifiers. Along with Zardes, Daryl Dike, and Jordan Pefok are also hurt. Matthew Hoppe hasn’t played since the Gold Cup for a variety of reasons. Josh Sargent is all that is holding the forward position from a crisis.
Araujo impresses in Atlanta debut
As I wrote about after this past weekend, Atlanta United is back and has a wave of momentum at their back. Yes, they’re still in a coaching transition but unless new boss Gonzalo Pineda is going to come in and change a winning formula, Atlanta United should keep rolling and improving.
Heading into today, they had Josef Martinez playing the best soccer since his ACL tear and Miles Robinson continuing his form from the Gold Cup that is at the level of a designated player. Ezequiel Barco is also playing his best soccer since arriving in Atlanta.
Enter Luiz Araujo – the $13 million attacker from French champions Lille. The 25-year-old Brazilian made his club debut on Wednesday in Atlanta’s 1-0 win over Toronto. While it wasn’t a perfect performance, it was a very strong club debut.
Araujo was 5/5 in long balls, was successful in 5/8 of his dribbles, completed 28/30 of his passes, and was 7/14 in his duels. He’s only going to get better from here.
Everyone should be bullish on Atlanta right now. They’re tied for eighth place with Columbus, who can’t score. They’re three points behind Montreal and DC United – only needing to catch one of those teams. Everything is coming into place for Atlanta United right now. If they make the playoffs, they’re going to be a tough out.
Colorado doesn’t have the money of Atlanta United, LAFC, the LA Galaxy, but they’re performing well in a manner like Philadelphia. Savvy veterans, hungry kids who are producing, and very good coaching. On Tuesday, Colorado traveled to California and beat a very good Galaxy team 2-1. They also did so without one of their best players in U.S. national team midfielder Kellyn Acosta.
There are a lot of reasons for their success, but Cole Bassett is a good place to start. He was the best player in the entire game. The young homegrown completed all 31 of his passes.
Bassett, 20, is one of the players who lost out most on the U-20 World Cup being cancelled as he could have been the team’s captain.
Cole Bassett was 31/31 in passing in this game (22/22 in the attacking half) with 5 shots, 1 off the woodwork. His duel winning (2/10) wasn’t great but overall he’s playing very well - as are the Rapids. Robin Fraser has been doing a terrific job turning this team around https://t.co/eGLY3WH88H— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) August 18, 2021
Bassett is a player that can and should be sold to a “Big 5” league in Europe after this season. He’s leading a small-budget team and having it be one of the best in the Western Conference. They’re only one point behind the third-place Galaxy and three points behind Sporting Kansas City but have played two fewer games.
Speaking of which, Robin Fraser needs to be talked about as one of the league’s coaches of the year.
Revs down DC United
The New England are the best team in the league right now and it they’re doing so while mostly sitting out the “Play Your Kids” movement. Instead, Bruce Arena is rolling with most veterans and a solid group of imports.
On Tuesday, the Revs downed DC United 3-2 and it was convincing. The most telling thing is that they’re doing it without Charles Gil. It’s a big sign of depth.
As for DC United, injuries are beginning to take their toll and it will be interesting to see how they hold up to the high pressing system and get through the injuries. Defense is a big question mark right now.
Philadelphia gets Monteiro back
It’s been a good week for the Philadelphia Union. After leaving the team to seek a transfer, the club’s only designated player, Jamiro Monteiro, has returned to the team. On top of that, the squad defeated NYCFC in impressive fashion on Wednesday 1-0. Monteiro played the final 27 minutes.
This team has proven a lot – playing like a playoff team after selling two Best XI players last season and then losing Monteiro for a bit. It has managed to still be in the playoff positions because it’s been well-coached, and it has an excellent captain in Alejandro Bedoya – who scored the winning goal.
Philly is interesting. They’ve sold a bunch of key players - 2 Best XI’s last year. Their lone DP was recently away trying to transfer. But they remain solid. Part of that is Curtin. Another is Bedoya being an excellent captain. Great emotion here pic.twitter.com/s7HEfxIjo0— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) August 19, 2021
On a flip note, the team needs to get Leon Flach more involved in the middle of the field. In this win, he had just 27 touches over 90 minutes. He was once floated about being a national team player but he needs to get more involved.
Conference and Europa rundown
The UEFA Conference League and Europa League had a bunch of qualifiers this week and a bunch of Americans got opportunities. These games are of mixed importance to some teams.
For example, Cameron Carter-Vickers started for Tottenham in a 1-0 loss to Pacos de Ferreira. It’s a good moment for Carter-Vickers but he is still in the process of looking for a loan or a transfer where he can play regularly. An elimination in this tournament limits his opportunities at Tottenham.
In another note, Sam Vines made his Royal Antwerp debut in a Europa qualifier against Mix Diskerud and Omonia Nicosia. Unfortunately for Vines, he and the entire team struggled in a 4-2 away loss in the opening leg.
In a Europa qualifier, U.S. national team right back DeAndre Yedlin started and played the full 90 in a 1-1 away draw with Randers in Denmark.
In a Conference League qualifier, American forward Christian Ramirez started for Aberdeen in a 1-0 away loss to Qarabag FK in the first leg.
Also in the Conference League, Bryan Reynolds came on in the 88th minute for AS Roma in a 2-1 away win over Trabzonspor in the first leg.
Josh Cohen started in goal in a 3-3 draw for Maccabi Haifa against FK Neftchi in the first leg of its Conference League qualifier.
The transfer window is drawing to a close, and unfortunately that makes speculations and half-truths seem credible.
Owen Otasowie completed his loan from Wolverhampton and Club Brugge and this is an excellent deal. He can finally play regularly and perhaps even settle into a position. He is an elite prospect but was not in a good spot at Wolverhapton.
As ASN first reported on twitter, Philadelphia Union homegrown attacker Jack DeVries is nearing a loan to Venezia in Italy. This was in the works for months and was going to be official once he left concussion protocol – which he has done. Holding a Dutch passport, DeVries doesn’t need to fit under the non-EU limitations. He has been in Italy since Monday.
Other American players who should have some clarity on their situations next week are Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, Reggie Cannon, and Matt Miazga. Miazga is linked to Deportivo Alaves in Spain and that is indeed credible. Reggie Cannon has been linked to Nottingham Forest and that is not impossible, but unlikely. Another loan for Carter-Vickers right now seems most likely – and the Championship seems like a good bet. Erik Palmer-Brown seems likely to finally seal a move to Veneiza soon.
Matko Miljevic has signed for CF Montreal - which ends a disappointing saga where he fought with his previous club, Argentinos Jrs, and hasn't played a game since February 2020. He was slated to be one of the top players on the 2021 U.S. U-20 team but fell behind others due to falling out of favor.