Pulisic heads to elite stage, MLS strong in CCL, Morris injured
April 15, 2021
THE MIDWEEK BROUGHT US a lot of important games in continental championships and from an American perspective, they were entertaining and fun to watch. The UEFA Champions League saw a third American to advance and likely play in the semifinals of the prestigious tournament. The CONCACAF Champions League, meanwhile, has seen MLS teams impress and likely send five teams to the quarterfinals.
In the CONCACAF Champions League, there will be one quarterfinal matchup between two MLS teams and the other three quarterfinals will feature an MLS vs Liga MX matchup.
It’s a fun time to be a fan for a lot of reasons and here are some thoughts on it all.
Pulisic & Chelsea into semis
Chelsea lost to Porto on Tuesday 1-0 at home but advanced on aggregate after winning the first leg 2-0. Pulisic, playing on just three days rest, put forth any concern over his ability to go 90 minutes despite being plagued by injuries this season.
Pulisic was the best player in this game despite the loss. Most noteworthy, he drew 11 fouls but still managed to be routinely dangerous and win a huge number of duels. He played with remarkable determination and made a strong reminder that he is still the best American player in the game.
Christian Pulisic: raw # for Chelsea in 1-0 loss (2-1 agg win) over Porto:— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 13, 2021
2 key passes
29/35 passing (83%)
16/24 duels won (!)
1/3 long balls
3/3 on dribbles
11x fouled (!!)
1/5 aerials won
1 blocked shot#USMNT
Since the beginning of March, Pulisic has returned to the level he was at last summer when he came out of the COVID-19 shutdown on fire.
He’s back at that level again and he is carrying that into the UEFA Champions league semifinal where he will likely become the third American to ever play at that stage of the tournament – joining DaMarcus Beasley and Tyler Adams. Awaiting them will be a very strong Real Madrid team and Chelsea is probably the underdog but the opportunity is remarkable.
Reyna and BVB eliminated
Gio Reyna, 18, was on the bench for Borussia Dortmund in the second leg against Manchester City – who won the first leg 2-1. Dortmund took a 1-0 lead in the first half on a 15th minute from English teenager Jude Bellingham. Combined with the away goal from the first leg, that put Dortmund ahead in the tie. But controversial officiating on a handball gave Manchester City a penalty in the 55th minute - which was converted by Riyad Mahrez.
In the 68th minute, Reyna was the first sub off the bench for Dortmund which needed a goal to equalize the tie. Reyna played well and looked comfortable at this elite level but Manchester City put everything out of reach in the 75th minute with a splendid goal from young English attacker Phil Foden.
While he didn't start, it was still a great experience from Reyna who has played better in recent weeks after a tough few months since the firing of head coach Lucien Favre.
Reyna remains in a great place at Dortmund and the arrival of Marco Rose will provide stability and quality coaching for Reyna. For now, he has to hope Dortmund can secure at least a spot in the Europa. Qualifying for the Champions League next year will require a huge uphill climb, but Reyna's improvement will give them an important edge.
Zack Steffen will join Christian Pulisic in the Champions League semifinals where his Manchester City team will face Paris St. Germain. The likelihood he plays, however, is remote.
Toronto upsets Leon
Leon is the defending Liga MX champion and certainly one of the best teams in Mexico – most of the time. After Toronto and Leon played to a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Mexico, Leon was still the favorite in the second leg – which was played in a small Orlando stadium. Toronto was without Alejandro Pozuelo and Jozy Altidore for this one
But Toronto played a terrific match, despite still being in preseason form. A lot of that was due to Michael Bradley, who played a great match and played like the great matches he did in his prime years. The veteran U.S. national team midfielder dominated the midfield on both sides of the ball
Michael Bradley: raw # for TFC in 2-1 (3-2) win vs Leon— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 15, 2021
3 key passes
35/43 passing (81%)
3/5 accurate crosses
2/5 accurate long balls
3/4 dribble attempts
- big outing from Bradley #USMNT
But Toronto was also able to win this game due to the performance of three homegrown players in 21-year-old Jacob Shaffelburg, 20-year-old Noble Okello, and 18-year-old Ralph Priso. All three of these players started on Wednesday night and each has been with the Toronto academy since their early teenage years.
It’s a growing trend that the academies are continuing to push out talent that should only continue to elevate the league. The best part is that it seems to be sustainable.
Atlanta sneaks past LD Alajuelense
Of all the MLS teams to advance out of the Round of 16, Atlanta looked the shakiest. In the 1-0 win in the first leg over Alajuelense on the road, Atlanta was lucky. The team was reduced to 10 players after a red card to Brad Guzan and a fortunate penalty call off a hand ball.
In leg two, Atlanta was even shakier. While the team did not suffer a red card, Alajuelense was the better team for most of the game. The best story for Atlanta was Rocco Rios Novo, the 18-year old keeper on loan from Lanus in Argentina. Born in Los Angeles, Rios Novo is technically with Atlanta United II and has temporarily been promoted to the first team.
Atlanta won the second leg 1-0 as well after a late goal from Jurgen Damm but the team still looks to be finding its way back from a disappointing season in 2020. Adjusting to Gabriel Heinze will take time but the roster generally fell apart since the departure of Tata Martino and Josef Martinez is not yet fully back.
Atlanta will face Philadelphia in the quarterfinals.
Philadelphia routs Saprissa
On Wednesday, Philadelphia overwhelmed an overmatched Saprissa team 4-0 in the second leg of its round of 16. That was enough for a 5-0 aggregate. Due to visa problems and COVID protocols, Saprissa was missing several starters in this one and Philadelphia was by far the better team.
The key factor in this one was the superb performance of Jamiro Monteiro who put on one of the best performances for a Philadelphia Union player ever. The Dutch-born attacking midfielder was superb in every metric of the game. Following the win, Union boss Jim Curtin said when Monteiro is on is game, he is impossible to defend.
Jamiro Monteiro vs. Saprissa— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 15, 2021
4 key passes
43/48 passing (90%)
2/2 accurate crossing
6/6 accurate long balls
5/10 duels won
- essentially a flawless outing. Terrific in every metric. #DOOP https://t.co/1dgmsG8p2x
Also, strong in in this one was American forward/attacking midfielder Anthony Fontana who continues to put up very good numbers. And this season will be a huge test for him as he moves from mostly a sub player and into a starter who will hope to keep the Union among the top in the East.
Anthony Fontana had a good game tonight for Philly:— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 15, 2021
1 drawn penalty
18/19 passing (95%) https://t.co/5TPxMoELSO
Philadelphia was sharp and will enter into the quarterfinals as the favorite against Atlanta United.
Portland trounces CD Marathon
After a 2-2 draw in the first leg in Honduras, Portland Timbers cruised past CD Marathon 5-0 on Tuesday to advance to the quarterfinal against Club America.
For Portland, Yimmi Chara had a hat trick and Diego Valeri was once again a leader but from an American perspective, Eryk Williamson was dominant in a performance that was reminiscent of a young Darlington Nagbe.
What a player Eryk Williamson is. pic.twitter.com/nNU35KqSxf— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) April 14, 2021
It was certainly a performance that left many wondering just how he was left off the U.S. U-23 team when most of that team’s failure was the lack of progressive playing, attacking midfielders.
Morris injured in Columbus win
It was assured that Columbus was going to advance past Nicaragua’s Real Esteli after a 4-0 win on the road in the first leg. To be sure, the Crew won the second leg 1-0 on a goal from Bradley Wright-Phillips, but the was severely marred by the injury to Aiden Morris who awaits a scan on his knee for a likely ACL tear on a non-contact injury in the 9th minute.
Assuming the worst is confirmed, Morris will likely miss the 2021 season.
Porter on Aidan Morris: “I’m just sad for him because he was playing so well. He’s really starting to blossom right under neath our eyes.— Jacob Myers (@_jcmyers) April 16, 2021
"Looks pretty bad. Looks like it’s going to be pretty bad.” #Crew96
This is a serious setback as Morris seemed likely to be one of the top young Americans to breakout in the league in the 2021 season. He impressed in limited minutes last season but was first-rate when he got the start in MLS Cup, which he helped lead to victory.
This is a blow to Morris, the Crew, and to the U.S. program which loses one of its top young domestic-based players for the year. The No. 6 position beyond Tyler Adams isn’t great and Morris was still new, but a promising prospect. We will now see how he recovers for the 2022 season.