Thoughts on McKenzie, Yedlin, Pulisic, and midweek Americans abroad games
December 30, 2020
THE FINAL WEEK of 2020 has brought a lot of news both on and off the field as the transfer window is looking to be busy for American players and talk of player movement has increased. On the field, it has been a busier Christmas-New Years week as many leagues have shortened or eliminated traditional winter breaks. Typically a busy week in England, this past week has seen Americans playing in Spain, Portugal, and Belgium.
Here are some thoughts on the news and the players in action.
McKenize reportedly to Genk
The always reliable Jonathan Tannenwald reported for the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday that Union central defender Mark McKenzie was being sold to Genk of the Belgium top flight. It marks the second departure of the team in 2020 following the sale of Brenden Aaronson – which was announced in October but went into effect following the season.
Both McKenzie, 21, and Aaronson, 20, were named to the league Best XI in 2020 after leading the Philadelphia Union to the Supporters Shield.
The move for McKenzie is a strong one as Genk is one of the best clubs in Belgium at developing players with its alumni including Kevin De Bruyne, Leon Bailey, Yannick Carrasco, Christian Benteke, Kalidou Koulibaly, Divock Origi, Thibaut Courtois, Wilfred Ndidi, Sergej Milinkovi?-Savi?.
By its standards, Genk struggled to seventh place in 2019/20 but is currently second in the league and is vastly improved. Impressive sales are on the horizon and McKenzie will be filling that void. It puts him on an exciting path for his club career.
Internationally, Mark McKenzie was already in a good place before this move. He was in the mix in central defense along with John Brooks, Matt Miazga, Aaron Long, Chris Richards, Walker Zimmerman, and Erik Palmer-Brown. After winning the league’s Best XI, Philadelphia he reached a point where he needed a fresh challenge. Genk should be in Europe next year and McKenzie has a path in front of him for continued success. He has the talent to be a starter on the U.S. team. This allows him to keep pushing for that.
For Philadelphia, the club has flexed is muscle as a primary hub of American player development. But not only was it able to develop young players, play them and sell them – it was able to win with them as well. The development of young players has been positive in the league and it looks like it is only going to continue as well.
Pulisic a positive in Chelsea mess
Chelsea is one of the biggest and most competitive teams in the world but lately has been trending in the wrong direction. It has won just one of its last five Premier League games and it has played poorly in its last two since Christmas. On Boxing Day, it lost a difficult 3-1 decision to Arsenal in a London Derby and then 48 hours later, it drew against Aston Villa 1-1.
Despite having been battling a reoccurring hamstring injury, Chelsea manager Frank Lampard elected to start Christian Pulisic in both games and the American winger was among the best Chelsea players but overall, the team has been disappointing in playing below the sum of its parts and lacking chemistry.
Against Arsenal, Pulisic stood out in a good way. He led all players on either team in duels won, dribbles and fouls draw. He also created three chances and completed 91% of all passes. Positionally, he shifted centrally in the second half and (as noted below in the touch map) had a huge free-ranging role to create offensively. While it wasn’t enough, Pulisic was one of the few bright spots in the game for the Blues.
Christian Pulisic: raw # for Chelsea in 3-1 loss to Arsenal— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) December 26, 2020
3 chances created
22/24 passing (91%)
10 duels won* (9 lost)
“*” - led all players
?#USMNT winger was a rose among thorns for Chelsea
?Touch/shot map pic.twitter.com/KBdzk1AHI2
Two days later in the 1-1 draw with Aston Villa, Pulisic was key in the buildup to Chelsea’s one goal but he looked fatigued. He wasn’t beating defenders as effectively as he did against Arsenal. Still, he managed to get four shots (for seven shots between the two games).
Christian Pulisic: raw # for Chelsea in 1-1 draw with Villa (#USMNT)— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) December 28, 2020
28/32 passing (88%)
2 duels won (13 lost)
1 dribble (5 attempts)
- touch map & pass charts: pic.twitter.com/AkAby7XWyD
Pulisic is clearly one of the team’s best players but Chelsea has tumbled into sixth place and will have to fight for a spot in Europe next year. Frank Lampard is surely feeling a hot seat right now and for good reason. Summer transfers are disappointing and the team looks out of ideas in the attacking third and void of any chemistry.
If Lampard leaves, Pulisic will be okay but it would be a let down if he’s not in the Champions League next season.
Yedlin continuing to start
One of the more surprising stories of the past week for Americans abroad has been the recent surge in the playing time for DeAndre Yedlin at Newcastle United. Yedlin has played the last four games for Newcastle and has started the last three. These have been his only four appearances of the season.
Yedlin, 27, is in the final year of contract and it could be that Newcastle is playing him in hopes of finding a buyer in January – as opposed to losing him for free. But regardless of why, Yedlin has played well. First it was in a 1-1 draw with Fulham and then in a 2-0 loss to Manchester City. Wednesday saw his best performance today in a 0-0 draw with champions Liverpool.
Defensively, Yedlin was sharp and even had a goal line clearance in this one.
DeAndre Yedlin: raw # for Newcastle in 0-0 draw with Liverpool— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) December 30, 2020
1 key pass
68.8% passing (11/16)
0 aerials won
1/4 long balls
- Strong defensive effort from the #USMNT RB
With all the talk over Dest at Barcelona, Yedlin is very much in the mix to be the second right back. Cannon has not been on fire in Portugal and other options are still very young.
Elsewhere in England
The remaining American activity in England the past week has been mixed.
Antonee Robinson and Fulham last played on Boxing Day in a 0-0 draw with Southampton (Tim Ream failed to get off the bench) but it is unclear when they will play again after a reported outbreak of COVID within the team.
In the Premier League, Owen Otasowie played seven minutes for Wolves on Boxing Day in a 1-1 draw with Tottemham on Boxing Day. Wolves was losing 1-0 when he came on in the 83rd minute. The teenager was strong in the midfield in his limited minutes where he won balls and aerials. Otasowie did not get off the bench on Tuesday in a 1-0 loss to Manchester United.
Queens Park Rangers has not won in nine Championship games but team captain Geoff Cameron continues to be one of the better players on QPR and was strong in Tuesday’s 1-1 away draw with league-leaders Norwich City. In addition to Cameron, U.S. U-20 forward Charlie Kelman played the final 24 minutes in the 2-0 loss to Swansea on Boxing day. Kelman has been a regular off the bench but is still looking for his first Championship start.
U.S. U-23 eligible right back Matthew Olosunde has been starting for Rotherham lately in the Championship but the club has tumbled pretty far into the relegation zone. Olodunde went 90 minutes on Boxing day in a 2-1 loss to Blackburn and 90 in a 2-1 loss to Barnsley on Tuesday. It sits in 23rd place in the 24-team league.
Indiana Vassilev is not having the best of seasons on loan at Burton Albion where he is struggling for minutes for the last-place team in League One. The teenager did not get off the bench on Tuesday in a 4-3 loss to Wigan.
In the Championship, Duane Holmes is still struggling to get off the bench and did not play in the two most recent games. Wednesday’s 4-0 win over Birmingham City saw it move safely out of the relegation zone.
Americans in Spain
Sergino Dest, 20, was given a rare start in a right wingback role on Tuesday for Barcelona at home against Eibar. It was an unusual position for the American fullback and he struggled. All things said, it was his worst outing to date with Barcelona and he was pulled at halftime with the score 0-0. It finished at 1-1.
On Wednesday, Yunus Musah played the final 15 minutes for Valencia in a 2-1 loss to Grenada. The score was 1-1 when he came on and Valencia had been reduced to nine players and Grenada had 10 left. Grenada found the winner in the 88th minute. Musah has not been as effective since the league resumed from the November window.
Americans in Belgium
Matt Miazga has had a very nice season in Belgium and got back onto the winning track for Anderlecht in a 2-0 win over Beerschot on Sunday. With the win, Anderlecht has nine points from its last four games and is in fourth place.
Brenden Hines-Ike has taken advantage of getting back into the starting lineup at Kortrijk and went the distance on Saturday in a 1-0 win over a Gent team that was down to 10 players starting in the 21st minute.
On Wednesday, Chris Durkin played the final 13 minutes for St. Truiden in a 1-0 win over Beerschot.
Meanwhile, Club Brugge's backup goalkeeper Ethan Horvath rarely plays but is now reportedly available for a transfer. Anywhere he can move to get playing time is a bonus.
Americans in Argentina
On Monday, Joel Sonora came off the bench for Talleres de Cordoba and scored a ripper in a 2-2 draw with Gimnasia. It was his second goal of the Copa Diego Maradona - which has replaced the typical league this year. It was Sonora's second goal of the tournament.
What a ripper from Joel Soñora! pic.twitter.com/EdMoLRJfFn— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) December 29, 2020
When looking at Sonora's situation at Talleres, the 24 year old midfielder has been effective on the field but still needs to find a way to come off the bench and to date, has just 10 league starts in his career.
Also on Monday, Alan Sonora (the younger brother of Joel), played the final 10 minutes for Independiente in a 2-0 away win over Argentinos Juniors.
Elsewhere in Europe
In Portugal on Monday, Reggie Cannon started and played 64 minutes for Boavista in a 4-1 home loss to SC Braga. For Cannon, this was the first minutes the Texan has been off the field for Boavista this season and it was a rough outing for the struggling club that is flirting with relegation.
In Scotland on Wednesday, Ian Harkes played 90 minutes and Dillon Powers played the final 16 minutes for Dundee United in a 3-0 loss to Celtic.