Americans abroad analysis

Pulisic, McKennie, Reyna, Aaronson trending upward in Europe to lift USMNT hopes

The USMNT core is finally starting to click in Europe as Aaronson, McKennie, Reyna, and Pulisic are now playing well at the same time. On top of that, a healthy amount of the supporting cast is also starting to click with Erik Palmer-Borwn, Mark McKenzie, and Ricardo Pepi all playing well. Brian Sciaretta walks you through it all. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 25, 2022
5:45 PM

WITH A BUSY WEEKEND now behind us and a busy midweek coming with the Champions League, it’s time for another (semi-weekly) deep dive into the world of Americans abroad. The World Cup is fast approaching, and form becomes more and more important for that tournament – given its unique timing

So, let’s get right into breaking it all down with some thoughts and analysis of what it all means.


The Core


As I’ve said repeatedly, the U.S. team’s fate in Qatar will largely be dictated about the form of the core six, seven, or eight players. While the talk about players on the margins gets the most debate online (will Joe Scally make it? What’s the deal with Jordan Morris after Seattle missed the playoffs? Will it be Horvath or Johnson on the plane? Will Tillman make it over Roldan?) all of it pales dramatically to how well the top players are playing.

If the top players are playing well, the chances are higher that everyone else will be elevated. If the top players are not playing well for the most part, then it is impossible for the other players in spots 9-26 to elevate the team.

With that said, the “core” is a good place to start.


Big game from Reyna

Gio Reyna had his best game in well over a year on Saturday when Borussia Dortmund cruised past Stuttgart 5-0. Reyna played 66 minutes and scored his first goal for the club in over a year. He looked closer to his prime form than he has at any other time since his hamstring problems started in the U.S. World Cup qualifier vs. Canada in September 2021.

Then on Tuesday, Reyna got the start for Dortmund in a Champions League matchup vs. Manchester City. That was huge because it showed he can start two big games in less than a week. That replicates the group stage of a World Cup.

The game finished 0-0 and Reyna played 87 minutes and played well. But the fact that he is starting to have the minute limitations lifted means that he is in the perfect spot in his recovery heading into the World Cup.

Reyna is extremely talented but after missing so much time, it’s a matter of shaking off the rust. The hardest thing over such a long recovery is to regain the consistency. Saturday showed what he is capable of, but the question is his level in games of quick succession. Can he play 200 minutes in a group stage (two starts and a sub appearance)? He could be a true difference maker if he’s healthy but he still can’t be rushed.

For Borussia Dortmund, the stakes are just as high. He’s a prized asset – both in terms of future sale and being able to help the team right now. Bayern Munich, at least right now, looks beatable and Dortmund is fighting through the loss of Erling Haaland. Getting back into the Champions League and perhaps contending for the title comes down to Reyna if Dortmund wants to have that chance.

In terms of the U.S. national team core, Reyna was a big positive this week.


McKennie on the rise

In one of the most encouraging bits of news in the U.S. player pool, Weston McKennie is playing better. If he can be in top form heading into the World Cup, it is the best news possible for the U.S. team – better than Gio Reyna’s form, better than Dest, better than Musah.

McKennie is the engine player for the U.S. team and there really is no adequate backup. Luca de la Torre doesn’t play enough. Kellyn Acosta is a decent backup for Adams, not for McKennie. Brenden Aaronson is a better backup for Musah. McKennie is unique and is tough to replicate.

The start to the season has been tough for him but there are big signs that he is coming out of his slump just in the nick of time for the World Cup. His game last week against Empoli, where he scored the team’s second goal, was evidence that points to it.

McKennie played 65 minutes in a comfortable 4-0 win and he is clearly (and finally) trending up. What is important to remember about McKennie is that even when he wasn’t playing well and Juventus was struggling, Max Allegri saw the need to have McKennie in the starting XI. It’s telling about how McKennie is still a bet worth taking even when he is working through a slump.

On Tuesday in the Champions League, McKennie started for Juventus in a tough away match against Benfica. After a poor first half where Juventus played as if it had no momentum, it began to rally from its 4-1 deficit. With the team cutting the deficit to 4-2 in the 77th, McKennie scored to make the game 4-3.

Juventus would not score another and with the loss, is now in third place in the group with just three points from five games. They cannot advance to the knockouts and must finish above Maccabi Haifa (also at three points) to qualify for the Europa knockouts.

As for McKennie, he’s playing well but Juventus is still not a great place to be playing right now and a dysfunctional environment can see players fall into a slump quickly. That is the big fear for McKennie.


Fulham edges Leeds

Fulham defeated Leeds United 3-2 away at Leeds and there is a lot to talk about from an American perspective.

First, Tyler Adams did not play because of a “knock” – which is always concerning.

Brenden Aaronson played well in the loss and is not one of the Leeds United problems at the moment – those would be at center forwards and in central defense. Aaronson is showing himself to be a Premier League player that has a very nice upside. He is controlling the ball in tight paces and getting the ball forward. From and individual standpoint, this was a good game.

Antonee Robinson continues to have a good season for Fulham and he is clearly healthy now and in a good spot. His crossing isn’t always on point, but defensively he is so much better at this level than the last time he was in the Premier League.

Tim Ream continues to captain a Fulham team that is top 10 in the table. This wasn’t his best game but his leadership and the respect he has on his team is truly unique for an American player. Adams, Aaronson, and Robinson are going to the World Cup if healthy. Ream is still unlikely but I am not discounting his chances with the player pool not set and Ream offering a valuable veteran presence.

Jesse Marsch is probably in trouble right now. The loss is yet another setback and this was a needed win – at home to a newly promoted team. The schedule is only going to get harder with visits to Liverpool and Tottenham ahead before the World Cup. He is going to need a big upset win to survive post-Qatar.


Weah off the bench

Tim Weah subbed into a wild 4-3 win over Monaco on Sunday to play the final 25 minutes. He played well and was on the field when Lille found a winner. He had chance in the 90th minute that was saved from close range.

Weah is another player who is going to Qatar but it remains to be seen if he is a 90 minute player or, if he can start, how many group stage games can he start? Berhalter has to take players like Weah and Reyna, but how many players who aren’t able to start consistently can he take?

But having Weah back is still a good thing for Lille and the U.S. team.


Pulisic showing glimpses

Christian Pulisic came off the bench and played the final 15 minutes for Chelsea in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Manchester United. Then on Tuesday he earned the start in the Champions League visit to Austria to face Salzburg where he played out of position at right wingback.

Against Salzburg, Pulisic was good, not great. He didn’t look comfortable in the role getting forward into the attack but he still had his moments. His best moment came in the second half with the score 1-1 and he assisted on Kai Havertz’s winning goal. On the play, Pulisic didn’t have to make a great pass, but he drew three defenders to him which opened up the middle of the field for Havertz, who hit a great shot.

Pulisic isn’t lighting the world on fire under Potter but he’s certainly had some nice moments and the opportunities will continue to be there. He also looks happier too. He’s in a better position right now than he was under Tuchel and he’s still trending positively now a month out from the World Cup.


Musah starts in loss

Yunus Musah, 19, started for Valencia in a 2-1 loss at home to Mallorca. It was not a good loss for Valencia, but Musah was among the team’s better players. He’s moving well while playing on the outside of the midfield. While it’s generally not his preferred position, he’s in a good spot at this stage of his career. He’s young and he is learning how to play an integral role within his team.


Musah might not consistently play well, but he has cut out the rate of which has downright poor games. Right now, at his worst, he is average. This game was slightly above average – before he started to tire. At this point in his career, that is a very good place to be.


Dest picks up a knock

Serino Dest played the first half for Milan in Saturday’s 4-1 win over Monza. He left at the half with Milan up 2-0 and it was later revealed to have been due to a knock. The specifics of it are not known, yet, although nothing has been mentioned that it is serious. Dest was not in action for Tuesday’s Champions League game vs. Dinamo Zagreb.

It seems like this is precautionary but it’s obviously always going to be a massive concern for the U.S. team as Dest is the starting right back and the backup left back. His absence would force a lot of changes.


The core: trending up

Overall, you can’t help but note that things look much better now than they did coming out of the September window. Players like Robinson, Musah, and Weah are now healthy. That is huge. Then you see that Pulisic and McKennie are not completely on the top of their game, but are trending up. Renya has been able to start two games in a week and that shows he can handle a World Cup group stage workload.


Bundesliga: Paredes starts


Aside from Reyna’s big game, the biggest news from Americans in the Bundesliga is that U.S. U-20 winger Kevin Paredes earned his first ever Bundesliga start over the weekend for Wolfsburg in a 2-2 draw with Bayer Leverkusen. He played 73 minutes and left with Wolfsburg ahead 2-1.

Overall, Paredes’ start wasn’t as solid as his recent sub appearances (which were all good). He struggled at times but also showed some really moments of quality. It was a learning lesson for him and the speed of the game was just different compared with coming off a bench. Paredes continues to be in an excellent situation. Even if he returns to the bench, he will continue to play as he seems to be a top prospect for Wolfsburg.

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga, Joe Scally started for Borussia Monchengladbach in a 3-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt (Timothy Chandler did not get off the bench for Eintracht) in a game that probably doesn’t help his case for a World Cup spot.

Jordan Pefok started and played 62 minutes for Bundesliga leading Union Berlin in 2-1 loss to Bochun. He’s starting to come back to earth a bit after his strong start to the season. He has just one goal in his last 10 games and the loss to Bochum was his sixth game in a row without a goal. In some of the games, he was still very good despite no goals. Other games, he has been invisible. This was one of those games.

Pefok is still playing at a high level because Union Berlin still leads the Bundesliga. But he might be getting figured out and now he needs to adapt.


Belgium: McKenzie & Genk continue to roll


The biggest story at the moment for Americans in Belgium is that Mark McKenzie and Genk are now on an incredible roll following Sunday’s 3-1 win over Sam Vines and Royal Antwerp.

McKenzie started and went 90 minutes in the win. The former Philadelphia Union central defender played well for most of the game, although he was at fault for the lone Antwerp goal in the 42nd minute when he dribbled into the midfield, and lost position to concede a counterattacking goal.

But Antwerp is playing so well, I am not sure anyone will even notice or care about the mistake. With 12 wins and a draw inside their last 13 games, Genk is now four points ahead of Antwerp for first. For Vines, it was a quiet day and since the September international window he has not been in nearly as great of form as he was at the start of the season.

Meanwhile, 2017 U.S. U-20 right back Marlon Fossey, 23, has played very well for Standard Liege since arriving from Fulham. Injuries have cost him multiple seasons, but he is now back on track in Belgium. On Sunday, he scored against Anderlecht and Standard held a 3-1 lead late but Anderlecht fans continued to pelt the field with fireworks and the game had to be abandoned. Whether or not his goal counts doesn’t change the fact that he is playing very well right now and that his career is completely back on track.

Elsewhere in Belgium, U.S. U-23 eligible right back Brian Reynolds played the full 90 for Westerlo in a 2-0 away win over Kortrijk – where Reynolds spent last season on loan. Westerlo is into seventh place, that is very respectable for a club just coming off promotion. Reynolds hasn’t been an elite right back in the league, but he is showcasing himself well enough to get more options for loans moving forward. He likely won’t be back with Roma, but he should be at a better club than Westerlo next year.


Eredivisie: Pepi & Both, TOTW


Two Americans are on the Eredivisie Team of the Week. Ricardo Pepi is not surprising, Taylor Booth, however, is.

Ricardo Pepi scored again for Groningen in a shocking 4-2 win over PSV. Gronginen had been skidding towards the relegation zone but pulled off a win over second-place PSV – which few would have predicted. Pepi’s goal opened the scoring

Pepi is now in a great spot to go to Qatar. Despite not playing well for the U.S. team in September, Pepi is scoring goals in droves in the Eredivisie with five goals in just 480 minutes. His run comes at a time when Pefok, Ferreira, and even Sargent have cooled off. While he is at the club on loan and there will soon be talk about where he goes next (back to Augsburg?), Pepi should try to at least stay within the Eredivisie for awhile to get firmly back on track and get his confidence up.

On another note, Richie Ledezma did not play for PSV and he needs to consider a loan this winter to get onto the field regularly.

Taylor Booth, meanwhile, had two assists for Utrecht in a 3-1 win over Sparta Rotterdam. Booth, 21, was a surprise starter for Utrecht given his struggles thus far to start the season. But he played 66 minutes and played well.

What is interesting about Booth right now is that he is not playing as the No. 6 (which has always been his top position). He’s playing as an attacking midfielder on the left side. His value to this was shown with a nice cross on the opening goal and then a corner kick assist for a 2-0 lead.

For Booth, it was a great game, but it was just one game, and he is only in his first steps as a regular starter (not including the brief St. Poelten loan).  The position he is playing is interesting and it might play to his strengths in the long run. It’s way too early to say if this is the start of Booth breaking out, but this outing will get him more chances with Utrecht to prove himself. His foot is in the door.

On an international front, Booth is eligible for the U.S. U-23 Olympic team and that should be his goal. A good tournament in Paris would really boost his stock.

Finally in the Eredivisie, Cole Bassett played the final two minutes for Fortuna Sittard in a 1-1 draw with Feyenoord (club that owns an option on Bassett with a right to buy next year).


Scotland: Tough week for Yanks


Cameron Carter-Vickers has had a very good start to the season and he has earned the armband for Celtic, but this week hasn’t been great.

On Sunday, Celtic had to rally for a 4-3 away win over Hearts. The game was harder than it should have been, and Carter-Vickers conceded a penalty and Lawrence Shankland became the first Premiership player outside of the Old Firm to score a hattrick against Celtic in 37 years.

Then on Tuesday in the Champions League, Carter-Vickers and Celtic drew Shakhtar Donetsk 1-1 in a disappointing result that likely assurs that Celtic will not be part of the knockout round. In the game, Carter-Vickers had a few tough moments defensively but completed a perfect 103/103 in passing.

Over the weekend, Rangers drew Livingston 1-1 at the Ibrox. Malik Tillman played 90 minutes but was ineffective while James Sands played the second half and didn’t really have much to do as Rangers were on the front foot throughout the second half pushing for an equalizer, which came in stoppage time.

Meanwhile, Scott Pittman went 90 minutes for Livingston in the strong draw and was later awarded with a contract extension.  

Elsewhere in Scotland, Ian Harkes played the final 22 minutes for Dundee United in a 2-1 loss to St. Mirren. Meanwhile Joe Efford did not feature for Motherwell which lost at home to Aberdeen 2-1. Christian Ramirez and Dante Polvara did not play for Aberdeen.


Championship: Tomkinson debuts, Steffen strong


Things have been tougher as of late for Norwich City after a strong start to the season. On Tuesday, Norwich dropped a 1-0 decision at home to Burnley and the club now has just two points from its last six games. Josh Sargent hasn’t scored in three games but in the loss to Burnley, the best story from an American perspective was the first team league debut of Jonathan Tomkinson.

Tomkinson, a 20 year old central defender from Texas, has risen up through the Norwich academy and has been the club’s U-23 team captain. After going as an unused substitute many times, he finally made his league debut and this time it came from the starting lineup.

Overall, his numbers were decent but not eye-catching. From the local media, he impressed and was not at fault in the Burnley goal – which came from a penalty which he did not concede.

For Tomkinson (who is eligible for the 2024 U.S U-23 Olympic team), even if he did not stand out, he did well enough to continue to get opportunities – which is huge. Norwich is not in a good spot now but young players like Tomkinson can certainly provide a spark.

Sargent hasn’t been scoring lately but this game against Burnley was the only game during this winless skid where he had really struggled. He didn’t even register a shot or create anything dangerous.

Over the weekend, Zack Steffen started for Middlesbrough in a 0-0 draw against Huddersfield, who started Duane Holmes. Steffen has maybe his best game of the season with some big stops and was named to the Championship team of the week.

For Steffen, this comes at an important time when he is trying to claim the starting job for the U.S. team at the World Cup. Even with Turner playing well when given the chance at Arsenal, Steffen could be the front runner given the trust Gregg Berhalter has shown in him over the whole cycle.

Also in this game, Matthew Hoppe was not in the matchday squad for Middlesbrough in what continues to be a concerning situation for the young forward to finally get regular minutes. Duane Holmes also started for Huddersfield which was unable to climb out of last place in the Championship.

Speaking of tough outings, Ethan Horvath and Luton Town were on the wrong end of a 4-0 loss to Watford. The Colorado native made a few nice saves early but was also on the end of this error.

Horvath is in a neck and neck race with Sean Johnson for the U.S. national team’s third goalkeeping spot. This weekend likely hurt his chances.

Elsewhere in the Championship, Auston Trusty played the full 90 in central defense for Birmingham City in a 2-1 loss to Blackburn Rovers. Lynden Gooch is injured for Sunderland and missed his team’s 4-2 loss at home to Burnley.


2.Bundesliga: Boyd in great form


In the 2.Bundesliga, Terrence Boyd, 31, is tied for second in the league’s scoring lead with seven goals over 13 appearances for Kaiserslautern. On Friday, he scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Hansa Rostock (Ryan Malone was out for Hansa Rostock).

Boyd’s start to the season is one of the best stories of the year among Americans abroad – probably only just behind Tim Ream – in terms of perseverance and a reward for sheer hard work. Boyd’s run this year has nothing to do with the national team, but it’s just a great story that should make American fans feel good.

For his effort, he was named to Kicker’s 2.Bundesliga Team of the Week.

Elsewhere in the 2.Bundesliga, Heidenheim defeated Greuther Furth 3-1. Julian Green and Timothy Tillman were pulled at the half. Lennard Maloney went 90 minutes as Heidenheim’s defensive midfielder. With the loss, Furth fell into last place as Arminia Bielefeld posted a rare win, 2-0, over St. Pauli. George Bello did not get off the bench for Arminia Bielefeld in the game.


Portugal: Cannon returns in Boavista loss


Reggie Cannon returned from the injury he picked up with the U.S. team the loss to Japan in September. He was in Boavista’s starting XI against Vitoria Guimaraes on Sunday, but his team didn’t play well in a 3-2 loss and Cannon was not sharp after his layoff.

Elsewhere in Portugal’s top-flight, Alex Mendez started for Vizela in a 1-0 loss at home to Santa Clara. Vizela had a tough assignment after being reduced to 10 players after a second minute red card. Mendez had four shots but was removed just minutes after Santa Clara took the lead in the 87th minute.  

Finally in Portugal, John Brooks was an unused sub for Benfica over the weekend in the 1-0 win at Porto and in the 4-3 midweek win over Juventus in the Champions League. Meanwhile, Joel Sonora was not in the squad for Maritimo in a 1-1 draw with Arouca. Maritimo remains winless on the season.


Elsewhere in Europe


In Ligue 1, Troyes played third place Lorient to a 2-2 draw. Erik Palmer-Brown not only started for Troyes, but he also captained the team in what was a big moment for the Kansas City native. At a time when he needs a number of breaks to go his way to make the World Cup team, wearing the armband for Troyes helps. Even if he doesn't go to Qatar, Palmer-Brown is likely to be in a good spot to compete for a spot on the team at the start of the next cycle. 

In La Liga, Luca de la Torre played the final 12 minutes for Celta Vigo in a 1-1 draw with Getafe. He was on the field for the equalizer and he completed a perfect 7/7 of his passes. 

In the Greek Super League, Caleb Stanko started and scored in first half stoppage time to open the scoring for Asteras Tripolis in a 2-2 draw with PAOK

Also in Greece, Konrad de la Fuente did not make the matchday squad for Olympiacos in a 2-0 win over Panaitolikos. There are vague reports that de la Fuente could be recalled by Marseille due to de la Fuente not playing in Greece.

In Austria’s 2.liga, Uly Llanez came off the bench in the 66th minute and scored a stoppage time winner for St. Poelten in a 1-0 win over Horn.

In Denmark, Christian Cappis came off the bench for Brondby in the 82nd minute and scored an 85th minute equalizer in a 2-2 draw with AGF. It was a great moment for the Texan but Brondby continues to struggle, sitting in 10th place in the 12-team league.

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Finally, in Italy’s Serie B, Venezia played to Brescia to a 1-1 draw. Gianluca Busio started and left in the 68th minute with his Venezia down 1-1. Fellow Americans Andrija Novakovich and Tanner Tessmann came into the game as Busio left. They were on the field for the equalizer but were uninvolved. Venezia continues to sit in poor spot, 17th place in the 20-team league.


Yanks in South America


In Brazil's Serie A, Johnny Cardoso started for 2nd place Internacional and played 77 minutes in a 1-1 draw with Coritiba.

In Argentina's Primera, Alan Sonora played the final 12 minutes for 14th-place Independiente in a 2-2 draw with leaders Boca Juniors.

In Uruguay, 8th-place Boston River played 11th-place Montevideo Wanderers to a 2-2 draw. Mattias Fracchia saw a yellow card in the 71st minute and then again in the 74th to get sent off. Both teams had two players sent off in this game.

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