USMNT analysis

Reyna, Zendejas, Richards, & Mihailovic stand out among Yanks in Europe

ASN's Brian Sciaretta walks you through the weekend for Americans abroad as he does every Monday with Gio Reyna, Alejandro Zendejas, Chris Richards, and Josh Sargent leading the way. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
January 23, 2023
7:45 AM

THE WEEKEND FOR Americans abroad had both a lot of good news, some passable news, and some bad news. But overall, the good far outweighed the bad particularly with Gio Reyna, Djordje Mihailovic, Chris Richards, Alex Mendez, and Alejandro Zendejas leading the way.

Sure, injuries have quieted some of the biggest headline grabbers.

Christian Pulisic is still a well over a month from returning to Chelsea, although maybe someone takes him despite his injury. According to CalcioMercato, AC Milan has made inquiries to Chelsea about Pulisic. Whether or not this materializes into anything significant is another matter, but it there is enough chatter about Pulisic and enough changes at Chelsea where it would be surprising if he is back next year. But with his Champions League experience, he’ll go to a big club.

Haji Wright also remains out with a back injury, despite rumors floating about his potential sale – with Southampton being the latest club mentioned, after Atalanta and Crystal Palace. 

Cameron Carter-Vickers missed out on Celtic’s comfortable 5-0 Scottish Cup win over Greenock Norton but the club stated it was merely precautionary.

Meanwhile, Fulham, Boavista, and Valencia both play on Monday, leaving Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson, Reggie Cannon, and Yunus Musah out of today’s report. We will pick up their games in Tuesday morning’s Morning Update.

Here’s a complete breakdown of the weekend for Americas abroad starting with the top stories.


Zendejas stands out before USMNT arrival


Alejandro Zendejas, 24, is one of the most exciting inclusions in the U.S. national team’s January camp roster. Everyone, including me, thought he switched to Mexico after playing for the U.S. U-17 World Cup team in 2015 and then playing for Mexico’s full team in friendlies. This was not the case and Mexico was fined for using an ineligible player. Now he is returning to the U.S. set-up even if he is only released by Club America for the Serbia game (not the Colombia game).

U.S. national team fans should be excited. On Saturday, Zendejas showed exactly why he could be such a big addition – nothing a goal and an assist (both of high quality) in a 2-2 draw with Puebla at the Azteca.


The assist in the 39th minute:


And his goal in the 63rd minute:

He nearly added another goal (which would have been the highlight of the weekend) but was denied by the post.


Don’t be surprised if Zendejas continues to impress for Club America and takes a bigger role with the U.S. national team moving forward as a key option off the bench.


Reyna scores stunner

USMNT twitter became ablaze on Sunday when Gio Reyna came off the bench for Borussia Dortmund in the 70th minute with Borussia Dortmund ahead of Augsburg  3-2. After a 76th minute equalizer, Reyna scored the winning goal on a beautiful shot in the 78th minute.


For Reyna, 20, it was his third goal of the season in just 386 minutes.

As you can imagine, with all the talk about the entire Reyna/Berhalter matter it made for dramatic posts on social media. Nothing of it means anything. Reyna is still not starting for Dortmund, he still didn’t act appropriately in Qatar, and his parents behavior is being investigated. On the other hand, he’s still an outstanding talent. 

Eventually Borussia Dortmund will want to sell him, but that becomes hard until he plays regularly for a long period of time. The U.S. national team will eventually bring him back into the team but, regardless of who the coach is, it will be a delicate matter.


Michel continues strong Arouca start


At the start of January, Benji Michel, 25, moved to Arouca on a free transfer after his contract with Orlando City was not extended. He then signed a deal through 2025 with Arouca in Portugal’s top-flight.

So far, the first two games have gone very well for the Orlando native. Last weekend, he came off the bench in the 67th minute with Arouca trailing Chaves 1-0. In the 78th minute, he drew a penalty which was converted by his teammate for a 1-1 draw.

Then on Friday against Portimonense, he came off the bench in the 74th minute and scored the team’s final goal in the 78th minute for a 4-0 win.

While he has played for the U.S. U-23 team in a failed Olympic qualifying campaign in 2021, he remains eligible for Haiti and that might become an option he considers seriously in the months and year ahead. 


Mendez scores vs. Sporting


Alex Mendez, 22, had a very nice moment on Friday – albeit short lived. On Friday, he was subbed into Vizela’s game away at fourth place Sporting CP (who are Portugal’s defending champion) in the 68th minute.


In the 75th minute, Mendez scored his first goal of the season. Surprisingly, it was not with his left foot, but rather with his head. The well-maneuvered header gave Vizela a surprising equalizer.


Unfortunately, Sporting found a stoppage-time winner via a penalty for a 2-1 victory and Vizela fell to eighth place.

The goal should put Mendez back into a position where he returns to Vizela’s starting lineup (he has started nine of Vizela’s 17 games so far this season and has made another six off the bench). He’s played well although he now has just 1 goal and 0 assists on the season.

He has the ability to eventually get a U.S. call-up although central midfield is tough with Alan Sonora, Djordje Mihailovic, Eryk Williamson, and Paxton Pomykal all making cases and the U.S. U-20 team likely sending more prospects in the years ahead.


Mihailovic impresses off bench


Djordje Mihailovic, 24, made a very positive impression off the bench for AZ Alkmaar on Sunday when an injury to Dani de Wit in the 34th minute gave Mihailovic an extended run.


While the former Chicago Fire and Montreal standout did not score or assist, he was one of the best players on the field from when he entered (with the score 1-1) until the end of the game. AZ Alkmaar ended up posting a 3-1 win.


Mihailovic now has the door open with the injury to de Wit but those will be huge shoes to fill as de Wit is easily one of AZ’s best players. AZ clearly wants to get Mihailovic involved but even before the American arrived, AZ was surpassing expectations and it was tough to make a change. With this win over Fortuna, AZ sit second in the Eredivisie – trailing leaders Feyenoord by just two points.

But Mihailovic now has the chance to show what he can do in the middle of an Eredivisie title race. That is a huge opportunity that few expected. The next step could be against Go Ahead Eagales on Wednesday.

As for the national team, Mihailovic seems like a good bet to be involved again in 2023.


Sargent strong under Wagner

Former U.S. national team forward David Wagner has Norwich back on track after his first two games in charge. After Saturday's 4-2 away win over Coventry, Norwich has scored eight goals in two games under Wagner. Current U.S. national team forward Josh Sargent opened his account under Wagner, scoring the team’s third goal in the win and his 10th Championship goal this season.


His touch map shows that Sargent is playing a role that is certainly not as a winger – where he had been playing under Dean Smith. Instead, he has more of a free-raging role that allows him to work more with leading scorer Teemu Pukki, who is also playing very well under Wagner.


Sargent is now finding more success at Norwich in doing what he does best. While he’s not the main No. 9, he’s also not a winger and is having a big impact. He has scored just one of Norwich’s eight goals under Wagner, but he is helping to make the team’s overall attack better.


Paredes assists in stunning win


On Saturday, the Bundesliga resumed with a quality matchup when sixth-place Wolfsburg hosted second-place Freiburg. Most expected a good game, few expected Wolfsburg to run away with a 6-0 win. But that is what happened.

U.S. U-20 winger Kevin Paredes came into the game in the 68th minute with the score 4-0 and assisted on Bote Baku’s goal in the 80th minute for a 5-0 lead. It was the first Bundesliga assist for Paredes since his 2021 transfer from DC United.


Paredes looked solid playing on the left wing. In addition to the assist, he was feisty in defense and in 50-50 challenges. It’s tough to say on the day that he made a case to start because Wolfsburg’s starting XI was superb and Freiburg’s defense had given-up by the 80th minute. But Paredes will continue to get steady minutes.


Richards continues strong run


After standing out in a surprise start for Crystal Palace in a 1-1 draw last week against Manchester United, Chris Richards continued to make the most of his opportunity by earning the start on Saturday against Newcastle United. Richards, 22, saw the door open to him after an injury to Joachim Andersen.

The Alabama native has made the most of the opportunity with his second strong performance in the Premier League with a 0-0 draw vs. Newcastle. While he wasn’t on the ball much, his defensive positioning was smart and he handled everything that came his way.

The question now becomes what happens when all the central defenders are available? The club won’t play again until February 4 and Andersen will return. Patrick Viera has a decision. Does he stick with Richards or does he return to the normal starting XI?

Richards has done excellent work to force Viera into a tough decision. He will be with the national team again soon enough. But for both Palace and the national team, the issue is about him staying healthy. That cost him a trip to Qatar, and it forced him out of most of 2022.

Can he stay healthy for a long stretch to allow his game to rise?


McKennie starts but Juve docked


On Friday, Juventus were  docked 15 points by the Italian Football Association after being found guilty of manipulating the transfer market. The deduction moved them into ninth place, 11 points out of Europe and 14 points out of the Champions League. The verdict also resulted in 11 current and/or former Juventus directors being banned or suspended.

Now, Juventus must regroup and focus on getting through the season with European soccer next season a distant dream.

This started on Sunday with a 3-3 draw with Atalanta. Weston McKennie once again played 90 minutes and he continued to stay on the right side of the midfield which is not his preferred position. He played well and he continued to show he is a versatile player. But it’s been a tough week for McKennie knowing he’s not going to be in Europe next season and he’s not in his preferred position.

The longer McKennie stays at right midfield, the more it likely means Juventus will be willing to sell him. Playing him in his second position indicates that he is talented, but it also means he is likely replaceable. For now, Juventus has bigger problems but when the dust settles, they will probably make moves to build the team into contention again. 


Leeds plays Brentford to a draw


Jesse Marsch and Leeds United played Brentford to a 0-0 draw on Sunday. While the result was disappointing, the draw was an impressive defensive effort from a Leeds team that struggles at times on that side of the ball.

Tyler Adams was excellent over his 90 minutes and was especially sharp defensively. He won a huge percentage of his duels and broke up a number of Brentford’s possessions. Brenden Aaronson had an improved performance from his recent outings and pressured Brentford’s defense over his 69 minutes on the field.

Leeds United eventually needs to win games and the relegation battle is intense with just one point separating 14th place from 18th place. But finding a way to shore up the defense is an important sign. This is going to be very close and a huge test for Marsch. 


Benfica news


U.S. U-19 forward Marcos Zambrano-Delgado left the Philadelphia Union academy and is joining Benfica, where he will likely start off on the club’s U-19 team. The Union wanted to sign him to a homegrown deal but the Zambrano-Delgado, 18, opted to join the Portuguese giants.  Zambrano-Delgado is represented by his Ecuadorian father.

The terms of Zambrano-Delgado’s deal are still at the youth level and likely not what he would be making a Philadelphia and the climb to the first team at Benfica is extremely difficult. So it will be a long-term test for him. Internationally, he has played for the United States at the U-19 level but is also eligible for Ecuador. 

Meanwhile, speculation continues to grow that John Brooks will leave Benfica this winter as he has fallen in the club’s depth chart and his prospects for playing time right now are minimal.



LDLT makes first Celta Vigo start


Luca de la Torre, 24, made his first La Liga start for Celta Vigo on Friday in a 1-0 loss to Mallorca. He was subbed out in the 68th minute. He earned the start after a series of solid performances off the bench but this was clearly a step behind those outings.

De la Torre wasn’t bad but he did not noticeably help Celta Vigo’s unsuccessful effort to get a result. Without injuries or suspensions, it probably wasn’t enough to keep him in the starting lineup. Unfortunately for Celta Vigo, the club sits outside the relegation zone only by goal differential and for the San Diego native, this is eerily similar to last year’s standing with Heracles (which faded into the relegation zone on the final day).



Yanks across the globe 


Yanks in England


Matt Turner watched from the bench as his Arsenal team defeated Manchester United 3-2 to remain atop the Premier League table.

Daryl Dike started and played 90 minutes for West Brom on Friday in a 2-1 loss to leaders Burnley. Dike, 22, struggled in this game after four really good outings and West Brom saw their four-game Championship winning streak snapped. West Brom fell to 10th place but is just one point out of promotional playoff positions as the standings remain incredibly tight.

Goalkeeper Zack Steffen started for Middlesbrough in a 2-0 loss to Sunderland (Lynden Gooch was not in Sunderland's squad). Boro saw its four game Championship winning streak snapped with the loss and fell to sixth place.

Ethan Horvath and Luton Town rose to seventh place after a 2-0 away win over last-place Wigan Athletic. Horvath started and went the distance in goal for Luton Town.

Auston Trusty and Birmingham City lost their fifth Championship game in a row after a 2-1 loss at home to Preston North End. Birmingham City fell to 19th place but still six points from the relegation zone. 

Duane Holmes and Huddersfield Town saw their game against Blackpool postponed due to a frozen field.


Yanks in Belgium

Mark McKenzie and first-place Genk had their game against Eupen postponed due to snow.

Marlon Fossey started at right back for Standard Liege in a 4-1 loss to Royal Antwerp (Sam Vines is out injured until February or March). Fossey was subbed out in second half stoppagetime.

Bryan Reynolds returned from his shoulder injury and started and played the full 90 minutes for Westerlo in a 1-1 draw with Zlute Waregem.


Yanks in Holland

Ricardo Pepi, 20, started for Groningen and picked up a fortunate assist but he could not prevent his team from collapsing late in a 3-1 loss to Heerenveen.


Only the slimmest of tiebreakers have Groningen outside of the Eredivisie relegation zone. 

Taylor Booth started and played an uneventful 90 minutes for eighth-place FC Utrecht in a 2-0 loss to fourth place Twente.


Yanks in Germany


In the Bundesliga, Jordan Pefok missed a penalty for Union Berlin and was subbed out with his team trailing Hoffenheim 1-0 (Justin Che was not in uniform for Hoffenheim). Pefok was not on the field as Union Berlin rallied for three straight goals en route to a 3-1 win.

Also in the Bundesliga, Joe Scally entered the game for Borussia Monchengladbach in the 56th minute trailing Bayer Leverkusen 2-0. After falling behind 3-0, M'Gladbach scored two late goals but fell short of a comeback, losing 3-2.


Yanks Elsewhere


Venezia fell back into the Serie B relegation zone after a 1-0 loss at home to Sudtirol. Gianluca Busio started and played the full 90. Andrija Novakovich played the first half while Tannter Tessmann played the final 24 minutes.

In the Scottish Cup, Ian Harkes played the final eight minutes for Dundee United in a 3-0 win over Stirling University. Scott Pittman started and played the full 90 for Livingston in a 3-1 away in over Stenhousemuir. Trailing 1-0, Pittman scored in the 52nd minute to ignite a comeback win. Malik Tillman, started and played 67 minutes for Rangers in a 1-0 win over St. Johnstone. James Sands was an unused substitute.

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