Friday kickaround

Ream returns to Wembley, Aaronson shines in Orlando, who moves this summer, & more

Thursday was interesting for American soccer as the old guard in Tim Rean and the young guard in Brenden Aaronson were both making headlines for accomplishments. ASN's Brian Sciaretta looks at all that, previews the remaining quarterfinals games in Orlando, and looks at who could be on the move in the weeks ahead. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
July 31, 2020
10:50 AM
IT WAS A busy Thursday for American soccer on the field. In Europe, Tim Ream and Fulham narrowly advanced to the promotional playoff final while in Orlando, the Philadelphia Union cruised into the semifinal with an comfortable win over Sporting Kansas City.

There is a lot of stuff to follow these days. The European seasons are just about completed while we also await the conclusion of the Champions League.

Of course, the transfer rumors are beginning to fly and Americans are on the move and we will touch on those. But these rumors involve both players in MLS who might move abroad as well as those abroad who might either return home or move elsewhere abroad.

Finally, down in Orlando, the Philadelphia Union are living up to the expectations that they have entered into the top tier of teams in this league. A 3-1 win over Philadelphia to move into the semifinals was certainly a good statement.

Here are my thoughts on the news

Ream and Fulham off to Wembley

Tim Ream and Fulham lost to Cardiff City on Thursday 2-1 but won the two-game contest 3-2 on aggregate thanks to its 2-0 win in leg one.

Ream wasn’t as strong in the second leg as he was the first although he wasn’t responsible for either goal. His passing out of the back simply wasn’t as smooth and it was a challenge for him when Cardiff stepped up its game in the second half and nearly found the equalizer.

Sometimes it is easy to overlook what a solid career Ream has had in the Championship – which is a league that is very hard to be a player who stands out. He is now looking to earn his second promotion and he’s been named his team’s Player of the Season three separate times at this level.

The playoff final will take place on August 4 and Brentford will be the favorite. Brentford won each of the two meetings between the two teams this season (2-0 at Fulham, 1-0 at Brentford) but at this level, defeating a team three times in one season is actually difficult unless there is a big gap in talent. Here, the gap is not that big.

This game is one of the richest in all of sports and it will be interesting to see how this game plays out.

Philadelphia clubs SKC

By virtue of an excellent first half, the Philadelphia Union became the first team to advance to the semifinals of the MLS Is Back tournament with a 3-1 win over Sporting Kansas City.

Between the 24th minute and the 39th minute the Union scored the first three goals of the game to build an insurmountable lead. Then it became a matter of just seeing it out.

Andre Blake continued to be the best goalkeeper in this tournament. Alejandro Bedoya is the captain and veteran leader this team needs. Mark McKenzie is gaining steam as a quality central defender as the tournament progresses. Meanwhile, Sergio Santos, Jaime Monteiro, and Kacper Przybylko provide enough offensive weapons.

After the game, however, the big highlight people were talking about was this pass from Brenden Aaronson to set up Santos for Philadelphia’s third and final goal.

Following the game, Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin said it best.

"The ball he plays on the third goal is a top ball in any league in Europe, not a pass that many people see,” Curtin said. “His confidence is very high right now. There were a lot of eyes on tonight’s game with most of the other league being finished up right now and it was a good showcase for our players. Some players tend to shrink to the occasion, he tends to raise his level and raise his game. I don’t know how long I will get to coach him, but I am going to enjoy every day and continue to push and try to get better."

Following the game, Santos raved about Aaronson’s ability to get him the ball in advanced positions.

“When you have a guy like Brenden Aaronson giving you that pass, everything comes easy,” Santos said. “I did my obligation that I’ve been working on in training to finish the ball and give us the lead.”

Meanwhile, Aaronson acknowledged that he is aware of the scouts who are watching him now but does his best to put it out of his head.

“I’ve seen some of the stuff going around but I don’t like to pay attention to that stuff because I’m in a tournament and I want to play the best that I can,” Aaronson said. “The stuff can get under young kids but it didn’t for me and I just went out and tried to play my game and I didn’t worry about that kind of stuff. All I want to do is win it for the team and help my team win.”

“Sergio’s commitment to get in the box is always there and I think it’s just finding him,” he added on the pass for the third goal. “He made a great run back post and it was just up to me to find him. That’s my role on this team and I want get assists for them and try to help them out scoring goals and that is what we did on the play.”

The numbers, overall, were good for Aaronson. He only had 29 touches and 14 passes (10/14 overall in completion) but most of the lack of consistent involvement over his 85 minutes was due to the Union sitting back after getting out to a 3-0 lead.

He was still 6/10 passing in the final third and was routinely dangerous with two successful dribbles, one drawn foul, and two shots.

Other thoughts from the game was the ineptitude of Sporting Kansas City in the first half. The team did not come out ready to play and couldn’t match Philadelphia’s intensity. In particular, it was a tough outing for U.S. U-20 midfielder Gianluca Busio who struggled in the first half and failed to influence the game. This was compounded by the fact there were rumored to be scouts watching him in this game.

Overall, Philadelphia is now moving itself into a contender to be among the bigger teams in the league but it must be prepared to deal with the loss of Aaronson and McKenzie at some point. Curtin and the front office need have plans in order now.

Looking ahead to the other quarterfinal games

Orlando – LAFC

Orlando City has been one of the tournament’s most surprising stories and the team is playing the best soccer of its existence under new manager Oscar Pareja. But Los Angeles FC will be its biggest test as it is still a top opponent even without Carlos Vela. Diego Rossi is one of the best players in the tournament and is scoring goals at will.

But LAFC’s backline is not nearly as good as its offense and that is the opportunity for Orlando. It will need Nani and Chris Mueller to continue to play well to have any chance in this game as it might require it to win an offensive shootout.

These teams will face off on Friday night

San Jose Earthquakes – Minnesota

San Jose is another scrappy team that is playing better than the sum of its parts. It’s recent 5-2 demolition of Real Salt Lake was impressive although RSL imploded in the second half of this game. Minnesota, however, should be favored to win this one.

Minnesota has not lost in Orlando. During its four-game run, it barely gotten past Sporting KC and drew Real Salt Lake and Colorado. While that might not be overly impressive, defeating Columbus in a shootout was as the Crew looked like one of the best teams coming out of the group stages.

San Jose is playing with a lot of heart but Minnesota has the edge in this one on Saturday night.

Portland – NYCFC

After the brutal start to the season for New York City FC which saw two losses in March and two losses to start MLS is Back, most figured it was only a matter of time before they figured it out. The win over Inter Miami to sneak out of the group stages was underwhelming but the follow-up 3-1 win over Toronto in the round of 16 definitely show signs of life.

Maxi Morales and Jesus Medina are helping to lead that turnaround but Portland will be more challenging than either of the two previous wins. Portland remains a team carried by Diego Valeri but they still have enough offensive weapons to be tough. But goalkeeper Steve Clark had a nightmare in the shootout win over Cincinnati. It wasn’t just the mental error on the bad backpass, it was also his struggles after that before the shootout. What will his confidence be?

Americans on the move?

So which Americans will be on the move in the months ahead? Right now, there are a lot of rumors. Here are my guesses as to how it will line up.

Reggie Cannon: We have seen rumors that clubs, mostly in Germany, have been interested. I think Dallas will want to sell and will settle for a reasonable price but Cannon hasn’t played since March. How much on people’s minds can he be? That absence of FC Dallas hurts Cannon and the team’s other young players. Hopefully they can return to the field soon in a series of matchups against Nashville. I still think he moves sooner than later.

Paxton Pomykal: The other young FC Dallas player many are talking about right now as being a transfer target. The most likely scenario is that he stays at FC Dallas for a little while longer. We’ve all seen the impressive highlights and the effort he can give on both sides of the ball. But to date, he’s played 2228 league minutes for FC Dallas. 1922 of those minutes came last season when he was playing hurt down the stretch. He’s also had surgeries in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

When you look at so many of the most recent notable exports (Davies, Adams, Harrison, Miazga, Yedlin, Steffen), most stayed domestically to the point where they were very solid starters for at least two seasons. That is important because all showed continued growth after a strong first season and all proved they were impact players when they left. Pomykal can get there but he still has room to grow at Dallas.

Brenden Aaronson: He is playing very well right now and Philadelphia might just sell if the offer is right. He has a lot of momentum right now and he must keep that up. A sale in January also looks like a possibility should MLS continue its season in the fall, as planned.

Mark McKenzie: He’s played more than Aaronson right now and has more U.S. youth national team involvement. As a result, he is probably a little further down the road than Aaronson right now. There is interest in McKenzie but the price has to be right.

Antonee Robinson: The odds are very likely that Robinson is on the move this summer. The only chance Wigan has in keeping him is if its appeal is successful to remain in the Championship. Even then, Wigan will still probably need money and Robinson is the team’s most valuable asset on the market as a 22-year-old left back. Robinson wants to go a place where he can play and that would likely be in the upper tier of the Championship. He is known in that league and teams are willing to spend if they think they can get promoted. A move to the lower part of the Premier League is also possible.

Luca de la Torre: The former U.S. U-20 World Cup midfielder has fallen out of the picture for the current U-23 team since minutes at Fulham have been very rare. He’s still a pretty good talent that was never a good mix for the English game. MLS clubs might be interested but de la Torre has Spanish passport so he has more options than most American players. The likely bet is a move to the continent outside of the top leagues.

Cameron Carter-Vickers: after a very successful loan to Luton Town, it would be hard to think that Carter-Vickers is anyplace else other than the Championship. He is known in this league and he has fit in well for most teams. It just remains to be seen if Tottenham will sell him or if he will go on another loan.

Erik Palmer-Brown: His last season at Austria Vienna was solid even if it was forgettable for the club. The team played much better when Palmer-Brown started and Austria Vienna would love to have him back. Does Palmer-Brown remain in Austria and build on his recent success or does he look elsewhere on the Loan Army circuit? It’s a coin flip but staying and helping to reestablish Austria Vienna as one of the best teams in the country is appealing.

Weston McKennie: This is a huge one most American fans are watching. Schalke was a disaster the second half of the season but McKennie still managed to play well despite the mess. Schalke is not in good shape financially and there are two ways of looking at this. If it sells McKennie and others, it could find itself in a relegation battle next season. Can it afford that? But can it afford not to sell like McKennie who is only 21, has played in the Champions League, and has the athleticism many other teams covet? The fact that Schalke is in such rough shape likely means McKennie will be on the move. English teams probably have the resources to be the highest bidders.

Sergino Dest: It’s only a matter of time before Ajax cashes in on Sergino Dest and there are some pretty big clubs and some pretty big numbers being floated around. The rumor mills has listed almost too long a number of clubs that are interested in Dest (Barcelona, PSG, Bayern Munich, Tottenham, Juventus, and lately Bayer Leverkusen). There is also a good chance Ajax keeps him, at least to start the upcoming season. Dest hasn’t even been the starter for Ajax for a complete season yet. He has so much talent but he has plenty to work on in order to get there.

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