Weekend preview

RBNY - DC United, Minnesota - LAFC, McKennie & Sargent set for big tests, & more

The new USMNT roster is on the horizon. But before it gets there, there will be lots of games to follow this weekend. As he does every Friday, ASN's Brian Sciaretta walks you through it. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
September 27, 2019
6:00 PM
IN THE FINAL weekend before Gregg Berhalter names the roster for the United States national team’s October games, there will be a lot for American fans to follow this weekend both domestically and abroad.

In MLS, it is the second to the last weekend of the season and all the games will take place on Sunday. You have New England and Chicago trying to secure a spot on the postseason – although both have been stumbling down the stretch.

The same can be said in the Western Conference where Real Salt Lake, the Portland Timbers, FC Dallas, and the San Jose Earthquakes are all choking but somehow three will make the playoffs. Which one will be put of its misery? This weekend could answer that. Although to be fair, Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas are trying to qualify for the playoffs while going with a young core of domestic players.

The season for Americans abroad has had a tough start. Christian Pulisic is struggling to play in big games for Chelsea. Bobby Wood at Hamburg and Kenny Saief at Anderlecht are in terrible club situations. Tyler Boyd is yet to get going for Besiktas. Tyler Adams has been injured but looks close to a return for Leipzig. DeAndre Yedlin is also out for Newcastle. Tim Weah is out for Lille. John Brooks is currently out and has been frequently injured for Wolfsburg.

The result is that most of the interest in Americans abroad in top flights centers around Weston McKennie at Schalke, Zack Steffen at Fortuna Dusseldorf, Josh Sargent at Werder Bremen (despite his irregular minutes), Jesse Marsch’s coaching run at Red Bull Salzburg, and Sergino Dest at Ajax despite his uncertain U.S. national team future.

Of course, there is interest in players still at youth levels such as Richard Ledezma, Chris Gloster, Alex Mendez, Ulysses Llanez, Chris Richards, and Giovani Reyna although none look as if promotion to first team soccer is imminent.

The rest of the top stories for Americans abroad right now are in the second tier where players like Tim Ream, Eric Lichaj, and Duane Holmes are doing well while Antonee Robinson and Cameron Carter-Vickers are in relegation battles in the Championship. Matt Miazga is finally back from an injury at Reading. In Germany, Julian Green is quietly improving at Greuther after a difficult season.

But there are also a wave of interesting stories bubbling below the surface of between all that is positive, negative, and still at the youth level.

Two Americans in Joel Sonora and Matko Miljevic have played in the Argentine Primera and both have scored. Midweek, Chris Durkin made his debut for St. Truiden and Alan Sonora made his debut for Independiente, one of Argentina’s most storied clubs. Both of those debuts came in low-pressure cup matches. Can either now become regulars for their teams? Meanwhile in Mexico, Ventura Alvarado is the captain of a Necaxa team that is cruising to the playoffs. Fellow former U.S. international Mix Diskerud and Ulsan Hyundai qualified for the Asian Champions League midweek.

With all of that to consider, here are the 10 best games to watch this weekend from an American perspective.

Derby County - Birmingham City

The Championship
Saturday, September 28: 10:00am EST

It was an ugly midweek for Derby County as several of the players were caught out drinking after a team event and the team’s captain, Richard Keogh, was injured and is out for the season in a drunk driving accident that also involved teammates. Starters Mason Bennett and Tom Lawrence were arrested. The club was forced to release an embarrassing statement announcing that there will be discipline for those involved.

But how will the rest of the players respond?

American midfielder Duane Holmes will likely have to take a bigger role in the team’s offense. The Georgia-born Holmes has made a strong return from a quad injury which forced him out of preseason and the season’s first four weeks. He’s likely on the verge of a return to the U.S. national team but how will he respond at the club level where he is desperately needed.

New York Red Bulls - DC United

Sunday, September 29: 5:00pm EST

The oldest rivalry in MLS is back and there is a lot at stake given the new playoff format. Both teams have secured a berth in the postseason but right now, DC United is one point ahead of New York for fourth place and the final spot of hosting a first-round playoff game. Both of these teams have a significant home field advantage and that will provide plenty of incentive for both teams.

Both teams enter this game playing well. DC United has won three in a row and the Red Bulls have won two. DC United has seen improved performances from Wayne Rooney in his final season with DC United (made even more interesting by the fact he is joining a Derby County team on the edge after its players were partying and drinking). U.S. international Paul Arriola is also playing in top form to help with an improved offense.

The Red Bulls, meanwhile, have surged based on an improved defense that is now living up to the sum of its parts. Of course, U.S. international Aaron Long and Tim Parker have had strong games but right back Kyle Duncan has been exceptional and could take a big role on the U.S. U-23 team.

These are the games that are fun. A rivalry that dates back to 1996 and playoff implications on the line. Good times.

RB Leipzig - Schalke 04

Saturday, September 28: 9:30am EST

David Wagner, Weston McKennie and Schalke have won three in a row in the Bundesliga but the three wins were against the three worst teams in the current Bundesliga standings. Now Schalke will get a true test when it visits league leaders RB Leipzig – where Tyler Adams nears a return after recently returning to full training with a foot injury.

The test for Mckennie right now is the same as it has been for his whole career – settling into one position where he can grow and learn to impact a game. Too often his versatility has hurt him in that it has made him an effective “plug” to help fill whatever void a team might have at a given moment.

Regardless, if Schalke wants to get a result in this game, it cannot afford to have any weaknesses. Everyone must play well – including McKennie.

Ajax - FC Groningen

Saturday, September 28: 1:45pm EST

All week long there has been no shortage of stories regarding which national team Sergino Dest will represent. He’s wanted by the full U.S. national team and by the Dutch federation – but it remains murky which level he would play for them.

It’s easy to understand why. Dest has had a terrific run the past few months and has become a starter for a very good Ajax team. There is a chance Dest is rested for this game as he has played big games recently and has been asked to play a string of midweek games. Last weekend it was against PSV and earlier that week, it was against Lille in the Champions League. Midweek, he started in a win over overmatched Fortuna Sittard. With the Champions League coming next week, Dest might sit this one out.

But if not, he’s worth watching. He’s exciting with the ball at his feet and can get into the attack so effectively where he can beat defenders in explosive fashion. American fans are just hoping he accepts a call-up next week to end the suspense once and for all.

San Jose Earthquakes - Seattle Sounders

Sunday, September 29: 7:30pm EST
Something is not right at the moment in San Jose. Once heralded for its remarkable turnaround from last season, the Quakes have lost four in a row and are out of the playoff positions by a single point. Matias Almeyda, once the frontrunner for coach of the year, has his work cut out for him. Can he right the ship that has gone way off course.

Wednesday’s brutal 2-1 loss to Philadelphia (where San Jose had a 1-0 lead in the 70th minute) showed the problems might be severe. The team broke league policy and did not meet with the media.

The game on Sunday is sold out as San Jose will welcome a Seattle team that is looking to secure home field advantage in the playoffs – and could rise to as high as fourth place with a win and some help. With Seattle, the team goes as far as Nicolas Lodeiro takes it. The Uruguayan missed last weekend’s game against DC United with a “knock” and Seattle lost. If he plays, San Jose could be in trouble.

Minnesota United - Los Angeles FC

Sunday, September 29: 7:30pm EST

Minnesota United is a fun team to watch. For American fans, the team boosts U.S. U-23 players Mason Toye and Hassani Dotson who have had breakout seasons. In fact, it was Dotson who scored a 90th minute winner on Wednesday over San Jose to clinch a playoff berth. But the team is only just getting started and it currently sits in second place.

Minnesota plays entertaining and effective soccer with a wide variety of players including Darwin Quintero, Jan Gregus, and Ozzie Alonso. That is enhanced by the fact Allianz Field is an amazing stadium and it plays very well over television. That raucous environment should be on another level when Minnesota welcomes an LAFC team that clinched the Supporters Shield on Wednesday in a 3-1 win over Houston. That win snapped a surprising five game winless streak.

LAFC manager Bob Bradley is trying to get this team to return to top form heading into the playoffs and a win over second place Minnesota United would do the trick.

With the West’s first and second place teams meeting in one of the country’s best soccer stadiums and best environments, it should make for a very fun game.

Borussia Dortmund - Werder Bremen

Saturday, September 28: 12:30am EST

It will be interesting to follow how Werder Bremen handles its prized prospect, American forward Josh Sargent. He’s shown the ability to do special things on the field. The goal against Augsburg before the last international window was an amazing goalazo. But when Werder are overmatched, Sargent can get lost in the mix. Such was the case last week in a 3-0 loss to Leipzig.

Sargent can help Werder but the challenge for manager Florian Kohfeldt will be how it plays Sargent so that he can both help the team, and not get frustrated.

This week Kohfeldt said: “I don’t want to put too much responsibility on Josh Sargent’s shoulders.” That is an understandable concern for managers of top young players who have the talent to contribute right now but are still getting adjusted to the professional game.

On Saturday, Werder Bremen have a tough test when it visits Borussia Dortmund. Will Sargent see minutes after a tough outing for the entire team? How Werder handles Sargent is almost as interesting as how Sargent performs.

Fortuna Dusseldorf - Freiburg

Sunday, September 29: 9:30am EST

Zack Steffen has been one of the best stories to start this season in Europe. The goalkeeper has been in outstanding form for a Fortuna Dusseldorf team that likely needs him in order to have a chance to avoid a relegation fight this season. As sharp as Steffen has been, Fortuna has earned just four points from its first five games.

Steffen has been named to Kicker Magazine’s Bundesliga team of the week twice this season and is their top-rated keeper in the league so far. Will Steffen be able to keep it up? Fellow U.S. international Alfredo Morales has been injured since the last international window.

Steffen will have his hands full on Sunday as Freiburg has enjoyed a surprisingly strong start to the Bundesliga season after a relegation battle in 2018/19. With 10 points in five games and a +7 goal differential, Freiburg enter this game in fourth place.

Red Salzburg - Austria Vienna

Austrian Bundesliga
Saturday, September 28: 11:00am EST

Jesse Marsch is the first American manager to coach in the Champions League and his Red Bull Salzburg team is cruising in the Austrian Bundesliga where it sits comfortable on top of the table. This game, however, might see him continue to employ a squad rotation as the club visits Liverpool next week in the Champions League.

No matter what lineup Marsch uses, his Red Bulls Salzburg team has a very potent offense that can score lots of goals in this league. The player who will try to stop that offense is American defender Erik Palmer-Brown who made the Austrian Bundesliga team of the week last weekend in a 2-0 win over Altach. Austria Vienna has struggled at the start of the season and is in seventh place in the 12-team league. It’s an extraordinarily difficult assignment for Palmer-Brown, the 2017 U.S. U-20 World Cup captain, but it is also an enormous opportunity.

Colorado Rapids – FC Dallas

Sunday, September 29: 7:30pm EST

FC Dallas has been one of the most interesting teams in recent MLS seasons. Its use of a core consisting of U.S. youth internationals has been both bold and it has been an approach that has endeared itself to many American fans.

But this team needs to find a way to win a game. Sure there was nothing wrong with draws against Seattle and New York City but now it will conclude its season with two games against teams that are both outside the playoff picture. Yes Colorado has improved but this is a game a desperate team should win.

This approach from Luchi Gonzalez has teetered but the team can still get into the postseason. But will Gonzalez get his team to overcome youthful anxiety? That should be answered early in this game. There are so many questions. Will Paxton Pomykal be at 100%? Jesus Ferreira has been inconsistent in recent games but can he play like the top level prospect he is? Who can fill in for Brandon Servania who is in concussion protocol?

This will be a revealing game over the big-game mentality of many of these young American players and a coach willing to play them.

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