Preseason analysis

Soto, Sargent, & Shelton scoring; Long gaining interest; & much more

There is a lot of news to go through as Americans are involved in preseason around the globe. ASN's Brian Sciaretta looks at the top stories and breaks it down for you. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
July 17, 2019
10:00 AM
THE PRESEASON in Europe can be an interesting time as transfer rumors fly and players fight to build cases for first team minutes in the upcoming season.

But getting reality through it all is often tough. Preseason minutes and even preseason success doesn’t necessarily mean a player is on course for first team minutes during the regular season. Sometime, however, it does point to potentially good things.

Here are a few things to keep an eye on right now.

Sargent scores vs. reserves

Josh Sargent scored the game winner for Werder Bremen’s first team which defeated the Werder Bremen U-23 team 1-0. There was terrible marking on the goal but Sargent did what he had to do. It was promising that when he could have played for the U-23 team, he was playing for the first team.

Sargent will get minutes with the first team this season, but the problem is that he needs to get regular minutes to develop. The problem in the second half of last season is that while he was struggling to get off the bench for Werder Bremen in Bundesliga games, he wasn’t playing with the reserves to stay sharp. So where will the minutes come.

Sargent’s former Werder Bremen teammate Aron Johannsson spoke with ASN about Sargent’s potential as a player and he was guarded because he didn’t want to fuel the hype. But it was encouraging.

“I don't want to say too much because I feel like I don't want to overhype him but he's an amazing talent and he can reach levels that I don't think many strikers from America have reached,” Johannsson said. “But he's still young and he still needs to learn. That's what I hope he will do that he will be patient and he will learn and he will listen to people giving him advice and stuff like this. And yeah he just needs to be patient and wait for his opportunity because he has an enormous amount of qualities. It's very exciting.”

“I just I know he's working very hard and he's doing extra work all the time but in this in this world it's a harsh world and always you don't always get what you deserve,” Johannsson added. “So he just needs to be patient and then work for his opportunities and then I think he will make it very far.”

Shelton starting and scoring

It is still too early to know if Colorado-born, Texas raised forward Khiry Shelton will play much for Paderborn this season after it was recently promoted to the Bundesliga. But so far, he has not hurt his chances at all. He has been a regular starter in the club’s preseason games.

On Tuesday, Shelton scored his fourth goal of the preseason against FC Eintracht Northeim of the Oberliga.

If Shelton can earn Bundesliga minutes, it will be among one of the bigger surprises of the year as the forward struggled to find much consistency for New York City or Sporting Kansas City. He made a quite free move to Paderborn which surprisingly won promotion to the Bundesliga. Shelton was injured for most of his first few months there but has returned in the thick of things this preseason and is getting a very fair chance to prove himself.

Wood will get his chance

Bobby Wood has also been playing well in preseason and even scored for Hamburg on Wednesday.

HSV head coach Dieter Hecking told the media afterward.

“What happened in the past doesn’t interest me,” Hecking said. “You can see that he’s looking for his chance. In practice he’s very robust, physically fit and lively. I hope he’ll be a benefit to the squad”

The 2.Bundesliga is a league where Wood has achieved a lot of success in the past. This time, however, he will be with a team pushing for promotion and not in pressure-free environment in midtable. If Wood delivers, he can get back on track. If not, he’s turned a bad situation worse. The good news, is at least it looks like he will get a real chance.

Steffen arrives in Germany

Zack Steffen arrived at Fortuna Dusseldorf following the Gold Cup. After being signed by Manchester City in January on a full transfer, Steffen was loaned back to the Columbus Crew for the first half of the MLS season. Now he will spend the 2019/20 Bundesliga side Fortuna Dusseldorf.

For Steffen to earn the starting job, he will have to beat out Michael Rensing who has been a Bundesliga mainstay but is now 35.

The most important news of Steffen’s arrival is that manager Friedhelm Funkel said that Steffen will play in the next two preseason games. To say they will be important is an understatement as Steffen is the challenger in this situation and the bar to pass Rensing is high.

Soto scores vs. HSC Hannover

Hannover 96 defeated HSC Hannover 4-0 on Wednesday. Forward Sebastian Soto and fellow U.S. U-20 World Cup teammate, left back Chris Gloster, both came into the game to start the second half with their team up 3-0. Soto has been playing well this preseason but it has come against fourth and fifth-tier opponents.

That is promising and there is every reason to think Soto and Gloster will get minutes this year. It is tough, however, to see them both starting at the start of the season. Head coach Mirko Slomka wasn’t too impressed with the performance of the team in the second half.

"That was a decent game from us, we have found a good order against a handy opponent", Slomka said after the game. "It was easier in the second half, because the opposition was not that compact anymore, so we got more chances to score, but scored less goals."

Diskerud makes All-Star team

In South Korea, former U.S. national team midfielder Mix Diskerud has made the K-League all-star team starting XI for his strong play for Ulsan Hyundai. The K-League All-Stars are set to face Juventus but Diskerud’s contract negotiations might keep him out of the game.

Ulsan Hyundai are currently in second place in the K-League but trail leaders Jeonbuk FC by just one point while having played one fewer game.

Interest in Long

ASN can confirm the report from Brian Dunseth that a Premier League team has made an offer for New York Red Bulls and U.S. national team central defender Aaron Long. ASN can also dismiss another report that the interested team is Southampton. It is not.

The good news for Long is that he would likely win a UK Work Permit on appeal given that he was the national team’s starter in a recent major final and semifinal and he is also the reigning MLS Defender of the Year. His resume is quite strong. If he plays in the four Nation’s League games in October and November, he will automatically qualify (so a loan back to the Red Bulls could be an option if the deal moves forward).

It’s easy to see why teams would be interested in Long. He only converted to central defense in 2016 when the Red Bulls groomed him at the position with their USL team. He was named the USL defender of the year and won the league title playing alongside Tyler Adams. But his career has been a steady upward trajectory.

This will be an interesting negotiation. Long is extremely valuable to the Red Bulls and any chance the team has in winning MLS Cup this year depends on him being involved. Would a loan back to the Red Bulls be sufficient? That is just guessing but Long only recently signed a new deal with New York in January and is continuing to play very well. But at his age, 26, clubs will be looking for him to perform right away – like when Geoff Cameron moved to England.

Dest on the rise with Ajax

U.S. U-20 right back Sergino Dest has returned to Ajax where he signed his first professional deal last season. Dest has steadily improved and after the U-20 World Cup, he has begun playing with Ajax first team for the preseason. The interesting part of it is that he has been playing mostly at left back so far in recent games.

Ajax is one of the best teams in the world for grooming young players and this is certainly an exciting development. The good news is that Ajax will once again be part of the Champions League (starting in the qualifying rounds) which should force squad rotation. There is every reason to think Dest will get an opportunity with Ajax’s first team in league games at the moment.

The big question is whether or not Dest stays at left back or returns to right back. He told ASN last year that he played out of position before so the club could develop his education as a player.

Sonora promoted to Independiente first team

Alan Sonora, 20, has been working his way up the youth teams at Independiente in Argentina and now the attacking midfielder has been promoted to the club which finished in seventh place last year. The son of former MLS all-star Diego Sonora (who was a long-time veteran of Boca Juniors), Sonora was born in the United States when his father played in the United States. His brother, Joel Sonora, was on the 2015 U.S. U-20 World Cup team and has been playing on the first team at Talleres last year.

So it is possible that the next Argentine Superliga season could feature three Americans with both Sonora brothers, and Argentinos Juniors Matko Miljevic who has played for the youth national teams of both the United States and Argentina.

Regarding their potential U.S. national team involvement. Miljevic will likely be a part of the next U.S. U-20 team. If Alan Sonora can play real minutes with Independiente, he will likley be part of the U.S. U-23 team. The older Joel Sonora is no longer eligible for a youth national team and will need to become an impact player for Talleres to get a full U.S. national team call-up. 

Cameron returning to QPR?

According to this report, Geoff Cameron, 34, is finalizing a deal to move to Queens Park Rangers on a permanent deal. He played with the club last season on loan from Stoke.

Who is the next to move?

A lot of noteworthy American players have found new clubs in Europe this offseason: Tyler Boyd, Aron Johannsson, Christian Pulisic, and Zack Steffen. Bobby Wood returned to his old club, Hamburg. Geoff Cameron is likely signing a new deal with Queens Park Rangers and Danny Williams is being linked to Darmstadt. Antonee Robinson will return to Wigan Athletic, but this time on a permanent deal.

That leads to the question of which American will be the next on the move. There are four players to keep an eye on.

Matt Miazga’s loan last season to Reading was a success and the club would love to have him back. Miazga certainly has interest in Holland and possibly Germany but the most likely landing spot right now would seem to be higher up the ladder in the Championship.

Tottenham has reportedly let it be known that it would be willing to sell U.S. U-23 defender Cameron Carter-Vickers. Carter-Vickers, 21, is an established Championship player and it would make sense for teams in that league to pursue a player who has proven himself at that level.

Erik Palmer-Brown played well last season despite being on a very bad NAC Breda team that was relegated out of the Eredivisie. The most likely landing spots would be in the Eredivisie, the top half of Belgium, or the 2.Bundesliga. Lacking a European passport, Palmer-Brown does not have the flexibility dual national American have.

Emmanuel Sabbi scored a big goal for Hobro in the Danish Superliga opener but the small club would seemingly like to cash in on the U.S. U-23 winger. The likely destinations are higher up the league in Denmark specifically Brondby and AGF Aarhus. Brondby had two bids for Sabbi rejected and might have taken their interest elsewhere. AGF is now interested but Belgian clubs might also be in the mix.

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