Thoughts on Sargent, Busio, Vines, Ramirez, & MLS midweek action
August 06, 2021
THE GOLD CUP TRIUMPH over Mexico on Sunday kind of sucked up the oxygen for most of the news in American soccer this week but it actually has been an eventful week with news of several transfers, a full slate of games in MLS, and some official games in European competition.
Here are some thoughts on the week abroad.
Busio & Vines transfer
Fresh off the Gold Cup triumph with the United States, two player on that team have secured moves to European teams that have been in the mix for weeks. Gianluca Busio has moved to Venezia and Sam Vines has moved to Royal Antwerp.
First of all, it is safe to say that over the past four years MLS has firmly entered the mix of being a buying and selling league. This is an important turning point because all league’s are selling leagues – including the Premier League since top players on smaller teams eventually work their way up the chain within the highest levels.
As more MLS teams embrace selling, they have more resources and are able to attract the best talent. What you are now seeing is that most of the best young American players now see the benefits of starting domestically before moving abroad at 18 in hopes of climbing out of some European academy and into the first team.
Now most top young American players start domestic, have a better avenue for first team here, and then when they get sold, it is to a team that sees them as a first team player. When European teams pay a transfer fee for a player and the player has 3000-4000 minutes in MLS under his belt, he is going to get a chance with the first team of the club who bought him.
It has also helped that so many of the American and Canadian players getting sold are making immediate impacts abroad. That only increases the leverage among MLS clubs to demand more money. Plus, the quality on the field is better. The best news of it all, is that it seems like we are still only getting warmed up. The impressive core of the 2003-birth year is still producing among various MLS clubs and that will be another turning point as these players mature over the next two years heading into their U-20 World Cup.
That brings us to the big exports this week with Vines and Busio.
Sam Vines moving to Antwerp is a logical move for a player who has never been considered among the best of his birth year but one who has continued to defy expectations. He was a rather unheralded homegrown signing in 2018 but has steadily improved every year. In 2017 he was with the Charlotte Independence in USL and played over 2500 minutes in mostly solid outings. From 2018-2021, Vines was a regular starter for a Rapids team that has gradually improved in the Western Conference.
Vines, 22, has yet to plateau or stall in his development and that is one of the best things you can say about him. It remains to be seen just how good he can get, but he is solid right now and was a big part of the Rapid’s success. His development has not been explosive like Miles Robinson was once he began playing regularly for Atlanta – or like Tyler Adams who went from being above average in MLS when he started to Best XI seemingly overnight. To understand Vines’ growth and development means that you had to pay attention to him over the course of years.
The Belgian league is not automatically a major boost for a top young American player out of MLS. Once you get out of the top five leagues in Europe, it becomes more about the club than the league. Are you going to Rangers/Celtic or Ross County? Are you going to Red Bulls Salzburg or Austria Klagenfurt? Are you going to PSV/Ajax or Go Ahead Eagles?
Royal Antwerp is a very old team on the rise in Belgium and is clearly on list of teams that makes it worthwhile to head there out of MLS. While they have stumbled out of the game in losing their first two games of the season, last season they were among the top three in the league. When left back Jordan Lukaku returned to Lazio from his loan, Royal Antwerp had an opening at left back. Vines is the guy being tasked to fill that.
The good news is that Antwerp will be a team that can attack most of the time and that plays into Vines’ strengths as a player. Vines is an excellent passer and is fairly solid on the ball. The Gold Cup was great for him in that it boosted his stock as a defender. In the win over Canada, he was instrumental in a clean sheet win.
This seems like a smart move for Vines. He’s taking a step up, but not a drastic one. He’s also going to a club that plays to his strengths, will allow him to attack, and has a need for him at his position.
In Italy, Gianluca Busio finally completed his anticipated move to Venezia and this had been known for over a month. While the move by Vines is mostly full of answers, this move raises questions. Busio will certainly get a shot with the hefty sum of $6 million (plus $4 million in incentives) being paid by Venezia. But this is still a newly promoted team in one of Europe’s top leagues and Venezia, like any newly promoted team, will have to defend, play physical, and sometimes win games against the run of play.
Busio clearly has skills and can pass the ball wonderfully. But his duel-winning, tackling, and overall defending will have to improve quickly. In Kansas City, Busio is a player who has been able to improve quickly. He’s adjusted to several positional switches throughout the midfield while adding elements to his game.
In Italy, he will now have to do the same – only on the defensive side of the ball. There isn’t any reason to doubt him because his work ethic is so good. But it might take some time.
Ramirez flying in Aberdeen
American soccer fans are typically used to seeing transfers out of MLS involve top young players. It is, however, important to see prime age or even late career players move abroad and make impacts. This raises the value of American players even more. Selling a top young player is one thing due to the buying club having a benefit of future sales as well as the possibility to improve the player within its development channels. Selling a prime age player reflects well on the player’s present value.
These types of deals in MLS have often involved selling players who were purchased from European or South American leagues. But there are some very interesting American stories lately. Henry Wingo is thriving at Ferencvaros and could be in the Champions League soon – and he was unloaded by Seattle who didn’t have minutes to give him at the first team level.
Christian Ramirez, meanwhile, is off to a flying start at Aberdeen after joining last month from the Houston Dynamo – where he rarely played. Between his Conference League qualifiers and the Scottish Premiership opener, he has four goals in four games.
On Thursday, Ramirez scored twice in a Conference League win over Iceland’s Briedablik (who previously eliminated Austria Vienna).
The goals weren’t aesthetically pleasing but they delivered a win. Don’t underestimate the value of having American players who are out of favor in MLS who then can then go abroad and help European clubs. That’s a good sign.
Sargent on the move
While Josh Sargent had a huge game last weekend for Werder Bremen in a 3-2 win over Fortuna Dusseldorf with a pair of goals, it appears as if he’s played his final game for the club. ASN has learned that the European reports over a move to Norwich in England are indeed accurate. The deal is not done yet, but negotiations have advanced to the point where Sargent will not play this weekend for Werder Bremen.
Private Jet from Hannover to Norwich soon to land. Have it on good authority this is striker Josh Sargent incoming for finalising talks and a medical. #ncfc @DanieIEmery @ChrisReevo pic.twitter.com/r46UdxaV4P— wintheleague_21 (@Wintheleague21) July 30, 2021
According to Werder Bremen, Sargent has opted out of participating this weekend – making a return to the team at any point unlikely.
Josh #Sargent will not be in the squad for #OSNSVW, due to ongoing transfer negotiations.#Baumann: "Josh has said that he is not in the right frame of mind to play. As a result, we've let him go home from training."#werder pic.twitter.com/uZInP5qQWA— SV Werder Bremen EN (@werderbremen_en) August 6, 2021
As for Norwich, that’s a big task for Sargent. In 2020 he narrowly escaped relegation with Werder Bremen (only surviving via a playoff win). In 2021 he was relegated with Werder. Now heading into 2022, he could be heading straight into another relegation battle.
It’s still the Premier League and that is a very high level. But if Norwich heads back down, is he going to press for another immediate transfer?
Norwich still has a chance to survive. They’ve made some smart signings. Sargent, however, will be playing behind Teemu Pukki. The Finland international has been their top scorer for the past three seasons. Last season he scored 26 goals to help them get promoted. In 2019/20, he scored 11 goals in the Premier League during a relegation-bound season. In 2018/19 he had 29 goals in the Championship.
Pukki is their top forward but Sargent will be asked to lighten his burden.
Ebobisse to San Jose
As the MLS transfer window closed, Jeremy Ebobisse moved from Portland to San Jose for $1.3 million in GAM. It’s a good move for Ebobisse and San Jose. Portland had always wanted to replace the French-born, DC area raised forward but Ebobisse typically turned out to be better than the options Portland brought in.
Meanwhile, San Jose needed a target forward as they have still relied on the aging Chris Wondolowski. Many of San Jose’s foreign imports have disappointed but now the club gets a player who has succeeded in the league and is a solid producer. For Ebobisse, he moves to a club that wants him. Meanwhile, Portland is under the pressure of not having the Ebobisse security blanket who has bailed the club out of some disappointing imports.
Philadelphia Union impress
On Wednesday night, the Philadelphia Union trounced Toronto 3-0 in a convincing display of soccer. After a disappointing stretch of games (two draws and a loss), Philadelphia played like a top team. Alejandro Bedoya put on a great shift and
This season was always going to be a test for Philadelphia following the sales of Brenden Aaronson and Mark Mckenzie. Now on top of it, Jamiro Monteiro is in transfer negotiations and is not playing for the club.
The Union are now no longer playing with a designated player. It’s clear they have a good system and the players believe in Jim Curtin. That can work in the regular season but as we’ve seen in the playoffs and in CONCACAF Champions League games, it’s the big-time players that make the difference. Whether it be Carlos Vela, Nicholas Lodeiro, Sebastian Giovinco, Josef Martinez/Miguel Almiron, or Raul Ruidiaz – these are the players that win the big games.
The Union have the players now to do well in the regular season. Bedoya, Wagner, Santos, Elliot, Przyby?ko, and newcomer Gazdag. Without a special DP or two (or three), it’s going to be tough in tournament like settings. Unfortunately, the Union are the last remaining MLS team in the CONCACAF Champions League and a trip to Azteca to face Club America in the semifinal, first leg awaits next week.
Atlanta United’s path
Atlanta United had to fight and claw its way to a 2-2 draw against Montreal on Wednesday night. The club is an astonishing nine points out of the playoff picture right now. That’s a massive gap. After an amazing first two seasons where everything went right, seemingly every decision since then has gone wrong – from player imports to coaching hires.
Next up this weekend is a road trip to Columbus (without Josef Martinez) and a win there could close the gap to six points. After that, three of the next four games are at home. A win over Columbus is key to the team’s path, but that is going to be a difficult task – even against a Crew team that doesn’t generate nearly enough chances as it should.
There are two things Atlanta has right now. The first is the massive $12 million import of Luis Araujo from French champions Lille (a move that takes advantage of the poor financial shape of many French teams and could open the door for more minutes from Tim Weah). The winger will be a massive offensive boost. The second is the return of Miles Robinson. He is now playing with loads of confidence after a stellar Gold Cup run. He’s the equivalent of a designated player central defender.
Atlanta is down. The playoffs are still very unlikely, but there is a pulse and they just got a lot better this week.
DC United improving
Hiring Hernan Losada has been a very good move from DC United. It wasn’t smooth to start the season, but the team has gradually bought into the system that is very similar to the high-pressing approach that Red Bull teams employ.
It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing system to watch, but DC United generates chances and is constantly looking to always get the ball forward.
Losada is also inclined to play young players. Kevin Paredes drew a penalty in Wednesday’s big 4-2 win over Columbus and looked solid once again. Moses Nyeman plays a lot but was suspended for this past game.
DC United is fun to watch and is certainly among the team’s trending up at the moment – while recently strong teams like Atlanta, Columbus, Toronto, and LAFC are all trending down.
SKC trounces LAFC
The biggest win of the midweek game was Sporting Kansas City’s 4-1 away win over LAFC – which is now winless in four games. Even while LAFC was missing some key defenders, SKC was the deserved winner in this game and looked like the better team.
Gianluca Busio might be gone, Sporting KC still look to be a genuine MLS Cup contender should they remain healthy. They now also have game changing players in Alan Pulido and Daniel Salloi. As the playoffs approach, Vermes seemed to think he has a good chance with players like Pulido – who just returned to the team from playing for Mexico at the Gold Cup.
“I think the world of Alan,” Vermes said. “We count on him a lot. The players have a lot of respect for his game and they know that he cares about the team. For him to just jump right in today and be as good as he was without playing for us for a month says so much about him. He doesn’t get enough credit. I don’t know why that is. I don’t know if it’s because he’s in Kansas City and we’re a small market. He does not get enough credit for what he does on a consistent basis for our team. He is a very, very good player and somebody that helps us immensely with the way that we play.”
There were two important shoutouts this past week in MLS from the goalkeeping position.
While most of the players who logged a lot of Gold Cup minutes were not in action on Wednesday, Matt Turner started for New England and had a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with Nashville. Turner’s stock is soaring, and it was important to see him refocus after the thrilling highs of Sunday night.
Finally, Gabriel Slonina became the youngest goalkeeper in MLS history to start a game when he got the nod for Chicago against NYCFC – a team which has been scoring a lot of goals recently.
Congrats to Gabriel Slonina. The 17 year old Illinois native becomes the youngest goalkeeper to start an MLS game in league history - tonight for Chicago against NYCFC pic.twitter.com/tiRqPO3ur9— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) August 5, 2021
Only 81 days past his 17th birthday, Slonina ended up getting a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with New York. A very promising moment for the young keeper from Illinois
Champions League qualifying
The most important games right now in Europe for Americans abroad are Champions League qualifiers.
This week was important as it was the first leg of the third round of qualifying. After this round is the playoff round – which will determine a spot in the group stage (with the loser getting a spot in the Europa League group stage. .
Jordan Pefok and BSC Young Boys played CFR Cluj to a 1-1 draw on the road in Romania. The U.S. national team forward started and played 90 minutes in the draw. The Swiss Champions are now the favorites returning home with the scoreline even.
Mark McKenzie was disappointingly an unused sub for KRC Genk in a 2-1 home loss to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Finally, Henry Wingo and Ferencvaros defeated Slavia Prague 2-0 at home with the Seattle native going the distance in the win.
For the playoff round, it is setting up two potential games with American players facing each other.
Brondby and Red Bull Salzburg were automatically placed into the playoff round to begin their campaign with Christian Cappis and Brenden Aaronson set to face off against each other.
BSC Young Boys and Ferencvaros the favorites to advance from the third qualifying round and if that happens, Jordan Pefok and Henry Wingo will meet up for a spot in the prestigious group stage.