Sargent and Werder face big test while Pulisic, Holmes, & Robinson return in England
June 19, 2020
THIS UPCOMING WEEKEND will be the largest slate of games for American fans since March with the English Premier League, the English Championship, and the Scandinavian leagues joining Germany, Austria, and Denmark with a return to play. With that means more American players will be on the field in Europe? Hopefully that trend will continue with the gradual reopening of sports throughout the globe.
There are a lot of interesting American-themed storylines to go along with the upcoming games. It’s be the first we’ve seen from Christian Pulisic in many months. The same is true with Antonee Robinson and Duane Holmes.
The promotion and relegation battles are intense. American manager Pellegrino Matarazzo is fighting to get Stuttgart promoted and while his team sits in second place, it will be close. In England, Tim Ream and Fulham are trying to make a quick return to the Premier League.
The relegation battles are numerous. In Germany, Alfredo Morales’ Fortuna Dusseldorf and Josh Sargent’s Werder Bremen are fighting over who will get the relegation playoff position and who will avoid automatic relegation. In Denmark, Christian Cappis, Emmanuel Sabbi, and Hobro face a critical game in the relegation battle against Esbjerg.
Fighting for European places, plenty of Americans are involved beyond Pulisic and 4th place Chelsea. Gio Reyna and Borussia Dortmund along with Tyler Adams and Leipzig are both looking to secure Champions League spots this week. John Brooks and Wolfsburg are also looking to button up their Europa League spot. In Austria, Erik Palmer-Brown and Austria Vienna could qualify for the Europa league playoff spot while manager Jesse Marsch and Red Bull Salzburg are sitting five points atop the Austrian Bundesliga table and are looking to return to the Champions League next year.
On the youth front, American players continue to be on the march. U.S. U-23 eligible players like Tyler Adams, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Josh Sargent are now essentially veterans in top flight clubs. The U-20 front is also intriguing. Gio Reyna has played 14 times for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga now but still awaits his first start. Meanwhile, Indiana Vassilev has already made his Premier League debut while Uly Llanez at Wolfsubrg and Owen Otasowie at Wolves could also feature soon in the Bundesliga and Premier League respectively.
With all of that on the plate, this weekend will offer us answers on the status of several players. Here are some questions I will be looking to see if there are any answers.
- Will Christian Pulisic return to being a Chelsea contributor?
- How will Tyler Adams fare against a tough Dortmund team?
- Will Morales or Sargent prevail in the Bundesliga?
- Can Tim Ream and Fulham gain in promotion race?
- Can McKennie and Schalke finally win?
- Can Brooks rebound from a tough outing?
- Can Antonee Robinson return to 2019 form?
- With the title secure, will Chris Richards make Bayern debut?
- Will Owen Otasowie make his Premier League debut?
- Will Uly Llanez crack the Wolfsburg lineup again?
- What kind of form will a now healthy Duane Holmes be in?
- Can Matarazzo bring Stuttgart a step closer to the Bundesliga?
- Is Reyna healthy?
- Can Tyler Boyd return to February/March for Besiktas?
In this sense, it will be a revealing weekend.
Here are the top 10 games to follow in Europe from an American perspective.
RB Leipzig - Borussia Dortmund
Saturday, June 20: 9:30am EST
As of this writing, we don’t know the status of Gio Reyna who couldn’t play midweek for Dortmund vs Mainz because of flu-like symptoms (A COVID test was reportedly negative).
We do know that Tyler Adams could very well feature in this one after he went 90 minutes in Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Fortuna Dusseldorf – where a desperate Fortuna struck with two late goals to earn a point.
Currently in second place, Borussia Dortmund has already clinched a spot in the Champions League next year but third place Leipzig still has work to do. A win would do the trick for Leipzig and it would be enough to move it into second place. A draw or a loss combined with a Monchengladbach win would put Leipzig in trouble.
If Adams starts in this game, it would be a big sign of faith in the young American. But this might be a perfect game for him as he is defensive minded and containing Dortmund will require an emphasis of having a mobile No. 6.
Mainz 05 - Werder Bremen
Saturday, June 20: 9:30am EST
Very few were expecting Mainz to defeat Dortmund midweek but that is just what happened. As a result, the club has a five-point cushion on automatic safety and will be eager to seal its safety against Josh Sargent and Werder Bremen.
That isn’t good news for Sargent and his team because it will have a heavily motivated opponent. A loss combined with a Fortuna Dusseldorf win would seal Werder’s relegation fate. On the other hand, a win combined with a Fortuna loss would be excellent news for Werder with just one point separating Werder and Fortuna.
Sargent did not start midweek against Bayern Munich presumably to rest him for this game. Can Sargent be part of the solution for a big club in Germany fighting every single game to stay up? That would be remarkable for a player of his age if he can handle such a huge responsibly well.
Schalke 04 - Wolfsburg
Saturday, June 20: 9:30am EST
Two U.S. national team starters will be opponents when Weston McKennie and Schalke host John Brooks and Wolfsburg.
This is a game which both teams and players will need to take very seriously. For Brooks and Wolfsburg, the club needs results to secure its spot in the Europa next season. After a nice run since February, the club has been poor the last two games. First a 2-2 draw with Freiburg where it coughed up a two-goal lead. Then it lost 3-0 to Monchengladbach in a game where Brooks struggled. Unless the club gets results, it could lose its Europa spot.
Fortunately for Wolfsburg, it is facing a Schalke team that hasn’t won in 14 Bundesliga games and has only scored six goals in that span. Mckennie has played very well despite Schalke’s poor form. In the 2-1 loss midweek to Eintracht, McKennie scored a goal with a great header and completed 30/31 passes. He has also scored three of the six goals Schalke has scored during its skid.
It would be easy for McKennie, 21, to be frustrated at Schalke’s struggles (where injuries have played a significant role), but the Texan has done what he can to help his team. The key is to get this skid over before heading into next season.
Also of note, the possibility of a Ulysses Llanez debut looms for Wolfsburg.
Swarovski Tirol - Austria Vienna
Saturday, June 20: 11:00am EST
Erik Palmer-Brown, 23, is one of the more under-the-radar American players at the moment. He is quietly having a very good season for Austria Vienna. While the club is in the relegation half, the top two teams from this group will compete in a playoff for a Europa League spot. Austria Vienna currently sits in first place – one point ahead of Altach and seven points ahead of third place St. Poelten.
Palmer-Brown is likely to start in this one and Austria can do well to cement itself atop the relegation half of the table. For him personally, he is playing for his next loan from Manchester City and he should have plenty of options.
There are a lot of good central defenders in the mix for the U.S. U-23 team: Palmer-Brown, Chris Richards, Miles Robinson, Mark McKenzie, Justen Glad, Auston Trusty, Cameron Carter-Vickers but Palmer-Brown might be the best bet to start out of that group.
Danizlispor - Besiktas
Saturday, June 20: 2:00pm EST
Tyler Boyd had a mixed outing last week in Besiktas’ first game of the Turkish Super Lig restart. He was involved but ineffective in a 2-1 loss to Antalyaspor. Now the U.S. national team winger will attempt to have a better outing against 11th place Danizlispor.
Boyd, 25, has been better in 2020 since a managerial change at Besiktas but last week was a bit of a step back. A contributing Boyd would be welcome news for Besiktas and the U.S. national team.
Millwall - Derby County
Saturday, June 20: 8:00am EST
The COVID-19 shutdown was surprisingly beneficial for Derby County’s Duane Holmes, 25, to return to health from a muscle strain. The injury came at a rough time for Holmes as he was playing his best soccer of the season and was heading for a U.S. call-up in March.
The Georgia native will have a tough assignment against a Millwall team that is in eighth place and is just two points out of the promotional playoffs. If Holmes can continue the momentum he showed in January and early February, he will be in a good place to return to the U.S. team ahead of World Cup qualifying – whenever that will be.
Aston Villa - Chelsea
The Premier League
Sunday, June 21: 11:15am EST
Christian Pulisic, 21, hasn’t played since New Years Day but should be ready to go on Sunday when fourth-place Chelsea visits 19th place Aston Villa. Pulisic has had some rough moments this season but has mostly been successful with five goals and two assists in 1076 minutes in the Premier league and a goal and two assists in 266 minutes in the Champions League.
In addition to playing well, Pulisic will be looking to maintain a clean bill of health for the stretch run as Chelsea look to finish in the top four and secure a Champions League spot next year.
For Aston Villa, U.S. U-20 attacking midfielder Indiana Vassilev will likely be on the bench and the Georgia native was an unused substitute in the midweek scoreless draw against Sheffield United. With the need for squad rotation, there is a decent change he plays in this one. Staring at relegation, Aston Villa might need to find ways to get unexpected results. Even a point against Chelsea would go a long way.
Nurnberg - VfB Stuttgart
Sunday, June 21: 9:30am EST
American manager Pellegrino Matarazzo and VfB Stuttgart sit in second place but cannot get promoted this weekend – the second to last of the season. Its is just one point ahead of third place Hamburg and three points ahead of fourth place Heidenheim. Fortunately, HSV and Heidenheim play each other this weekend.
A win over Nurnberg would put Stuttgart on the verge of promotion and the best series of results would be a win over Nurnberg combined with a Heidenheim win over HSV. Given Stuttgart’s big advantage in goal differential over Heidenheim, those results would give it a huge likelihood of securing its spot in the top flight next season.
But this game will be tricky. Nurnberg has had a tough season but is coming off a huge 6-0 win over Wehen Wiesbaden. A result in this game would likely secure Nurnberg’s survival in the 2.Bundesliga, so Stuttgart will be facing a heavily motivated opponent.
Esbjerg FB - Hobro
Sunday, June 21: 10:00am EST
This is a massive game in the relegation standings for Hobo. It is just two points ahead of Esbjerg in this four-team group where the top two advances to a Europa playoff, the third team goes to a relegation playoff, and the fourth-place team gets relegated.
Neither Esbjerg nor Hobo have any chance of finishing in the top two so this is a two-team race to advance to the relegation playoff and avoid direct relegation.
The U.S. U-23 eligible duo of winger Emmanuel Sabbi and central midfielder Christian Cappis should start for Hobro in this one. If Hobro wins, its chances of a third-place finish are greatly enhanced but a loss could doom its chances.
Red Bull Salzburg - Wolfsberger AC
Sunday, June 21: 11:00am EST
American manager Jesse Marsch and Red Bull Salzburg dropped their first points since the restart midweek in a 0-0 draw with Wolfsberger. Now the same teams will meet on Sunday in Salzburg with Marsch and Company the favorites in this one.
Salzburg have a five-point lead atop the standings in the Austrian Bundesliga with Rapid Vienna currently occupying second place. After winning the Austrian Cup in the first game of the restart, Salzburg is looking for a double which would be a big achievement for Marsch in his first year of coaching in Europe.