Midday kickaround

Vazquez & Cincy make statement, Vines shines in UCL, Pefok moves, UCL draw, & more

ASN's Brian Sciaretta offers up his thoughts on each of the Wednesday MLS games, the big American transfers in Europe, Champions League qualifiers, the draw, and more. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
August 31, 2023
1:00 PM

WEDNESDAY NIGHT and Thursday morning saw a lot of news both on and off the field. There was a full slate of MLS games on Wednesday night, four Americans qualified for the Champions League, a few other players move, and rumors are that a few more could be on the move.


Wednesday’s MLS action


Inter Miami  0-0 Nashville: The big story in MLS on Wednesday is that inter Miami was forced to play to a 0-0 draw at home to Nashville and now faces an even more difficult path for the playoffs. It was a very impressive this of effort from Nashville. They ended up blocking seven Lionel Messi shots and fought until the end to earn a point against this new Miami team.

The big question now is whether Miami can make the playoffs. This draw certainly does not help them. But the bottom of the Eastern Conference is terrible, and it consists of about seven teams that simply do not want to win any games. With that said, Miami has 10 games remaining and they probably need to win seven of them to even have a chance at the playoffs. They also have to hope that Chicago does not get hot, but that does not seem to be much of a concern right now.

Finally, Kalmal Miller was the best player on the field. The Inter Miami defender from Canada put on an unexpected show. Here is a great highlight clip. Tata Martino called him the best player on the field and he was right.

Chicago 0-1 Vancouver
: Chicago fans should be livid over this result. Playing against non elite team at home in a playoff race, this is the kind of game that good teams, or teams with fight, find a way to win. Instead, Chicago was shut out at home by decent but not great Vancouver team who had most of the good chances to score. Vancouver deserved this win and that there's a poor flection of Chicago.

This must fall on Shaqiri. As one of the league’s highest paid players, he needs to make a difference in big games. Thus far, he has not improved Chicago to even the modest expectations of the playoffs. You should expect Shaqiri 2 make big plays in big moments, score some goals in important games, but instead he is silent in games like this where he has the ability to make a difference.

As for Vancouver, this was a great win, and the team is vastly improved. They look like the best Canadian team now, and it's not even close period. Brian White scored his 10th goal of the season and 50th career goal in all competitions (first-team level) for Vancouver.


Atlanta 1-2 Cincinnati: This was an impressive performance from Cincy. After a poor start, Cincy found another level that Atlanta could not match. Atlanta wasn't even that bad, Cincy was just good. Luciano Acosta's goal was beautiful, and Brandon Vazquez won it minutes later.

Vazquez is not long for Cincy. This is probably his final year and he's been amazing for the club. But he'll get sold for a lot of money and he's going to make a big case to be on the U.S. national team in the years ahead.


San Jose 2-3 LA Galaxy: I think the Galaxy are going to make the playoffs. Something has clicked with this team lately and they playing much better than when they had Chicharito. Tyler Boyd is a very streaky player and he's in a great streak now with four goals in five games. Boyd and Riqui Puig are leading the Galaxy to four wins in their last five MLS games.

The Galaxy have lost just once in 10 games. Their next two are at home and they have two games in hand on most other Western teams and three of their next four are at home. They're five points out of the playoffs but they're playing so much better than the next five teams above it.


As for San Jose, they've lost two in a row. They did well earlier in the season, but that defense is starting to take water. They're vulnerable if anyone else gets hot.

Houston 2-0 Columbus: Hector Herrera has been one of the most valuable players in the league and he now has 13 assists on the season. He's making everyone on his team look good including Cory Baird who now has five goals in his last seven games. Ben Olsen is doing much better than expected with this Houston team. Houston will return to the playoffs this year and are now in the U.S. Open Cup final too. Houston fans should feel great about finally having a good team.


New England 1-0 Red Bulls: This was an expected result. A good but not great New England team playing at home beats one of the worst attacking teams in the league. Forget the playoffs. The Red Bulls needs a huge upgrade this offseason in the attack. No forward or winger has more than two goals from the run of play all season.

Austin 1-2 Seattle: The mentality of Austin FC must be questioned. For the second straight time, they concede a goal in stoppage time to lose. At first, their problems were in the defense. Now their problems center around the mentality of the team. It could cost Josh Wolff a job.

As for Seattle, they're a tough team go figure out. I think their core - one of the best in league history - is a little old, a little stale to have them as contenders anymore. But when the chips are down, they could be a tough out in the playoffs.


Toronto 3-1 Philadelphia: A rare bad night for Philadelphia and a rare good night for Toronto. You don't want to read too much into the result for either team but you wonder if Toronto players hear the footsteps of John Herdman.

New York City 2-0 Montreal: The bottom half of the Eastern Conference, except for the new Miami team, is bad. Anytime one of these teams wins, there is talk about the playoffs. After three straight losses, NYCFC is back in the playoff picture with a win - just three points behind Chicago. They're in better shape than RBNY and DCU. So, why not?

St. Louis 2-1 Dallas: Not much to add on this game. Dallas goalkeeper Maarten Paes was sent off in the 12th mintue for handling a ball outside the box. Dallas did well to defend for long stretches but St. Louis finally broke them down with goals in the 82nd and 85th minutes.

Minnesota 3-0 Colorado: Good thing to buy Minnesota stock. After a poor start, they're playing well with Emmanuel Reynoso and Teemu Pukki in the offense. They should have been expected to beat a bad Colorado team at home, and they did.


Portland 2-1 Real Salt Lake. A bit of a surprising result given the struggles of Portland but they're getting a bounce from a coaching change. But RSL looks in real trouble after the serious injury to Pablo Ruiz that should cost him the season.


Monaco announce Balogun


Folarin Balogun is heading to Monaco, as has been widely expected the past week. Monaco is ambitious in Ligue 1 but were in desperate need of a striker when Breel Embolo tore his ACL. Balogun, who had tremendous success in Ligue 1 last season on loan from Arsenal to Stade de Reims, checked a lot of boxes.

“He's familiar with the French league,” U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter said. “He's already performed at a really high level with a French team. Now he goes to a bigger club in the French league. And I think it's a really strong move. From the reports about the transfer figure, you see they're paying a lot of money for him. And Monaco's a club that that is really thoughtful with who they bring in. So, I think it's a fabulous move for him. We expect him to be able to score goals, continue to score goals like he's done. Having met him and spoke to him, he's a really humble guy. He's a really guy who's focused on the process and continued to improve. And he sees this as the next step for him on his way as he climbs the ladder in European soccer.


Pefok loaned to Monchengladbach


Jordan Pefok, 27, was loaned from Union Berlin to Borussia Monchengladbach on Thursday in a move that had been expected for several days. After a hot start to the 2022/23 season, Pefok had been struggling for most of the past year where he scored just once since last September.

The reason behind this move is that it will reunite him with Gerardo Seoane. The M’Gladbach coach previously coached Pefok at Young Boys and that is where Pefok enjoyed most of his success as a player.

Can Pefok get back into the USMNT picture? He needs to play and score. But it's harder now. Balogun and Ricardo Pepi have changed things from 2022. Plus, Brandon Vazquez is a good pick to continue to rise and he could be making a move. Haji Wright is still a threat at Coventry. But the injuries to Josh Sargent and Daryl Dike have opened the door slightly. 

Yanks moving in Scandinavia


Two moves for Americans to report on in Scandinavian leagues.

First, Sam Rogers has transferred within Norway’s top tier from Rosenborg to Lillestrom. It’s a good move. He wasn’t playing at Rosenborg since the coaching change and Lillestrom is actually better than Rosenborg at the moment. Yes, Rosenborg is historically the biggest club in Norway and always has more potential than Lillestrom, but if Rogers is looking to progress his career in the short-term, this is good.

Second, Christian Cappis is on the verge of moving on a short-term deal from Brondby in Denmark to Molde in Norway. Molde has a need in central midfielder after it is on the verge of selling Sivert Mannsverk to Ajax. For Cappis, he will now get to play in Europa League and help Molde qualify for next season as they sit fourth in league – five points behind third-place Tromso for Europe.


Champions League update


On Wednesday, four Americans qualified for the Champions League.

First, Sam Vines played 90 minutes for Royal Antwerp in a big 2-1 win over AEK Athens in Greece. That gave them a 3-1 win on aggregate to qualify for the Champions League.

Vines put up huge defensive numbers. He won 3/3 of his tackles, had five clearances, six recoveries, was 6/6 in his ground duels, 2/2 of his aerial dues, drew three fouls, and did not commit a single foul.

Vines, 24, has been struggling for playing time after his broken tibia last November and this was his first start. He got the nod after Jelle Bataille picked up a red card in the first leg. In that game, Vines played the final 34 minutes and helped see out the win.

Also on Wednesday, PSV smashed Rangers 5-1 after a 2-2 draw in the first leg. Sergino Dest was excellent in the win playing left back. He was strong on both sides of the ball and has lived up to expectations since his arrival. Malik Tillman played the final three minutes and earned a yellow card as he is simply a backup option right now. Ricardo Pepi did not get off the bench and he is also a pure backup at PSV.


The Champions League draw


Nine Americans over six teams were involved in the Champions League draw although more could theoretically join or leave before the end of the window.

  • Gio Reyna at Borussia Dortmind
  • Christian Pulisic & Yunus Musah at AC Milan
  • Sergino Dest, Malik Tillman, & Ricardo Pepi at PSV
  • Cameron Carter-Vickers at Celtic
  • Brenden Aaronson at Union Berlin
  • Sam Vines at Antwerp

Immediately, the thought of Christian Pulisic and Yunus Musah vs. Gio Reyna jumps out at you. I could also see both teams advancing to the knockouts if they play well.

The other four teams with American players all have draws where they’re not expected to advance. Cameron Carter-Vickers likely won’t play much for Celtic given his injury, but even with him, they’d be hard pressed to get past Atletico, Lazio, or Feyenoord. Antwerp will need to pull off a miracle to finish ahead of Porto or Barcelona. It remains a question if Sam Vines will play much without a suspension or an injury to the squad. He played well against AEK Athens but that was due to Bataille’s suspension.

Brenden Aaronson and Union Berlin were handed a tough draw with Napoli, Real Madrid, and Braga.

The American trio at PSV didn’t have as tough of a draw as Union Berlin, but Lens, Sevilla, and Arsenal will all be favored.

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