Sounders impress in huge win, Chelsea & Pulisic outplayed, Ream nears another promotion, & more
April 07, 2022
IT WAS A BUSY WEEK for American soccer with a bunch of important games taking place – both domestically and abroad. The UEFA Champions League saw the best American player in action while arguably two of the biggest American teams squared off in the CONCACAF Champions. Elsewhere, there was a lot at stake in Europe’s domestic leagues.
Here are some thoughts on the games as well as the top news stories
Seattle tops NYCFC in Leg 1
The Seattle Sounders have found themselves to be in great shape in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League after defeating New York City 3-1 at home in the first leg. With away goals still serving as the tie breaker, New York City still has a chance but has a huge uphill climb returning to its “home” leg at Red Bull Arena.
This game was wild in the first half as both teams came out firing. Seattle struck first in the 16th minute on a wonderful team goal that was finished by Albert Rusnak. Both Roldan brothers were involved in the build-up and it was Christian who played the ball into the box for Jordan Morris. Morris then displayed a lot of skill controlling the ball before playing Rusnak into a dangerous spot for a first-time finish.
There is a ton of skill on this goal from Seattle. Everyone involved does a great job. Jordan Morris with a very impressive control & assist (his best play since his last ACL return). Rusnak with a beautifully timed move and finish. Great stuff pic.twitter.com/5YT72WtD7g— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 7, 2022
After an NYCFC equalizer, Seattle regained the lead thanks to a very well-taken goal from Jordan Morris after Christian Roldan got on the end of a long throw in and centered the ball to Morris who buried the shot.
In the 68th minute Seattle gained a 3-1 lead after VAR awarded penalty after Thiago Martins was judged to have fouled Raul Ruidiaz. Nicholas Lodeiro then stepped up to easily convert the penalty.
“My overall impression, right now, was that was an entertaining soccer game,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “I hope our fans enjoyed that. I did. I enjoyed that. I hope the TV audience that tuned in enjoyed that. I thought it was a good game.”
In the end, Seattle walked off with a commanding 3-1 lead returning to the second leg.
Here are some thoughts.
Morris and Roldan
Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan both had extremely impressive performances. Thus far, Roldan has a strong case for being the player of the CCL tournament.
For Morris, the performance was even more significant because this was, by far, the best he has looked since his return from the 2021 ACL injury. The form Morris had in 2019 and 2020 put him among the best Designated Players in the entire league. He was rusty in his return starting last November but this was as close to his previous form as he has ever been. If he is back it is great news for the Sounders.
Obviously both players are in the mix for the national team. Roldan is largely a late sub off the bench who can fill a number of different positions for Gregg Berhalter. He works extremely hard and knows his role. Morris had fallen behind in the pecking order but if he can build off this outing, he can get back into an important position – particularly if players like Brenden Aaronson or Gio Reyna start to adopt more midfield roles.
Seattle’s top players delivered
In addition to Morris and Roldan, this was the first time Seattle had all of its front six playing and in form. The results were impressive. With Rusnak finally scoring for Seattle, Nico Lodeiro running the midfield with Joao Paulo and Rusnak and Raul Ruidiaz back up top, it was lethal. The quality of the goals and opportunities was something that other teams are going to have a tough time matching.
"Every one of us gave it all today. I think there wasn't a player that didn't have a great performance,” Albert Rusnak said. “That's what it takes in these kinds of games. We played against a good team, and we managed to win by two goals. We're halfway there, but we're expecting another tough game next week on Wednesday.”
Seattle was shaky defensively at times in this game. That was to be expected with central defender Yeimar Gómez (injured) and left back Nouhou (suspended). When those players are back, Seattle should be in great shape.
2nd Leg thoughts
The second leg is going to be very difficult for NYCFC. Yes, they have an away goal, but they are going to have to push forward for goals. In doing that, it is going to be very hard to keep Seattle off the board. With Seattle’s defense getting upgrades for the second leg, it will make the task that much harder.
NYCFC really hasn’t played well this season and their Champions League run hasn’t been nearly as demanding as the other three teams. It is going to be a tall task to reverse all of that against a Seattle team that is desperate to go to the Final and win it.
Pulisic starts in Chelsea loss
The greatest moment in Christian Pulisic’s career came last year in the Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid when he was arguably the best player over both legs as Chelsea advanced to the final against Manchester City – which it won.
In 2022, Chelsea was set to face Real Madrid in the quarterfinal of the Champions League. The first leg was on Wednesday and Chelsea did not fare nearly as well. Playing home at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea dropped a 3-1 decision with Karim Benzema notching a hat trick. Chelsea was poor and at times careless – like on Real Madrid’s third goal when goalkeeper Edouard Mendy gave the ball away.
Pulisic started and played 64 minutes. He wasn’t poor but rarely got the ball in dangerous positions. Chelsea opted to attack mostly down the right side opposite to Pulisic.
When Thomas Tuchel was asked afterward if Chelsea was still alive in this tie, he responded: “No, not at the moment. No."
Chelsea was outclassed on the day. Karim Benzema might be the best player in the world at the moment while Chelsea continued to struggle getting offensive production from Romelu Lukaku – a player the club spent $100 million to acquire.
Pulisic has played a lot for Chelsea in 2022 and has had a good couple of months. But things can change quickly at the elite levels of this game and Real Madrid is just better in 2022.
Ream & Fulham near promotion
It’s a foregone conclusion that Fulham will secure promotion to the Premier League but it should become a reality very soon. Wednesday 1-0 win on the road against Middlesbrough now has the team six points away. Any combination of either points won by Fulham or lost by Nottingham Forest will see Fulham clinch.
The win was a familiar formula. Aleksandar Mitrovic scored again – his 38th goal of the season – and the team played smart defense. The latter part was led by Tim Ream, who was excellent. USMNT left back Antonee Robinson played the final eight minutes to help see out the win.
Ream may never stand out in the Premier League, but when you consider price paid by the owners of top Championship clubs to buy players push for promotion and then you consider Ream is a proven star defender in promotional efforts in the league, it makes you realize just how valuable he is. From a financial standpoint, he is a player who can be key to promotion to the Premier League.
Pepi subs into big Augsburg win
On Wednesday, with Augsburg up 2-1 on Mainz in an important match in the Bundesliga relegation race, Ricardo Pepi subbed into the game in the 71st minute to help Augsburg see out the win. He had just seven touches and completed just one pass. Augsburg won for the second consecutive game and is now six points clear of relegation and its prognosis to survive in the league this season is excellent.
Pepi has not scored in six months for either FC Dallas, the United States national team, or Augsburg. Last weekend he played well in the win over Wolfsburg despite not scoring. The good news for him is that the team’s improved standing should take the pressure off him and the rest of the team. It bodes well for him getting more playing time but he does need to take advantage, sooner than later, to change the narrative of his recent expensive transfer.
Horvath on the bench
After starting five games for Nottingham Forest where he played well, Ethan Horvath has been back on the bench for the club’s first two games after the international window. The first wasn’t surprising as Horvath was only just returning from time away with the U.S. team. But Horvath on the bench for Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Coventry City was surprising.
The way to read this is that Forest manager Steve Cooper simply does not see a lot separating Brice Samba and Horvath as the team’s top keepers. He doesn’t want to make a change after one of the keepers has a solid effort and a win.
To be fair, Samba has also played well. He made saves in the 4-1 away win over Blackpool on Saturday and then was solid again in the win over Coventry. It seems unlikely Cooper will make a change for the game against Birmingham City.
It’s tough for Horvath right now because he has done enough to start but leaving for the U.S. team seems to have opened the door for Samba – who has taken advantage. But the real question will be who starts for Forest in the promotional playoffs, if they qualify.
De la Fuente injured
Konrad de la Fuente season is likely over as it was announced that he will have to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery to repair cartilage.
REPORT: Due to a cartilage injury in his knee that will require arthroscopic surgery, it is very likely that Konrad de la Fuente won't play for Marseille the rest of this season. https://t.co/JxHnhODR2C— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 6, 2022
It was a mixed season for de la Fuente who made 16 Ligue 1 appearances for 786 minutes (he also made one appearance for 56 minutes in the Coupe de France and six appearance in the Europa/Conference league for 230 minutes). His only goal or assist was a goal in the Conference League against Qarabag.
De la Fuente’s best performances were towards the beginning of the season and his minutes declined as the season progressed. Last month there was a French report that questioned his work ethic.
The questions over his professionalism are a huge concern since he is still so unproven and should be completely focused on improving and securing his role on the team. He has the skill on the ball, but next year will need to see that translate into more offensive production.
Once De la Fuente returns from his injury, he is going to have to have a big preseason and show a high level of dedication.