Midweek musings

Weah impresses, American forwards struggle, Pulisic goes 90, MLS player movement, & more

There is a lot to breakdown with the midweek news for American Soccer - with Americans giving mixed performances in Europe, a coaching swap between FC Dallas and the USMNT, plus some early looks at player movement in MLS. ASN's Brian Sciaretta offers up his thoughts on it all. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
December 02, 2021
7:00 AM

THE MIDWEEK HAS BROUGHT about a bunch of news on and off the field in the world of American soccer. In Europe, many U.S. players were in action. On the domestic front, MLS is down to four teams remaining while the others are trying to reshape for next year.

Here are a few takes over the past few days.

Weah’s delightful assist


The past few days/weeks haven’t been great for Americans abroad but Tim Weah really broke the trend on Tuesday when he helped Lille defeat third-place Rennes 2-1 on the road.

Weah was just solid in this one all around. He got on the ball 45 times, won most of his duels, and was regularly dangerous.

His best moment came in the 31st minute when he assisted to Xeka on the opening goal. There is a lot to like about what Weah did on goal. His run, his touch to control possession, and his final ball were all outstanding.

After being one of the standouts during the last international window, Weah is trending in the right direction.


Pulisic goes 90 in Chelsea win


Christian Pulisic went a full 90 for Chelsea on Wednesday in a 2-1 win over Watford. Pulisic started on the wing, but his position shifted during the game. He played a “False 9” for a bit and then played the final 20 minutes as a right wingback.

The good news for Pulisic is that he’s playing and beginning to log serious minutes. His performance in this game was a bit mixed. He certainly wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t close to being a key contributor either. At a club like Chelsea, however, merely being good can be a ticket to the bench. Pulisic has looked better coming in as a sub and he really could use a big performance from the starting XI soon to essentially start his season which has been stuck in the mud due to injuries.


Mixed bag for American forwards


A trio of American No. 9 strikers were in action this week – and the results were uneven. Josh Sargent and Norwich played Newcastle to a massively disappointing 1-1 draw despite Norwich being up a man from the 9th minute. Sargent was on the right side again in this one but was taken out in the 67th minute with his team down 1-0. Sargent has been struggling, but the good news for him is that Norwich simply doesn’t have any other good options. He’ll get some chances, but his confidence is a serious issue.

In the Swiss Super League, Jordan Pefok got the start for BSC Young Boys on Wednesday against Lugano. He struggled over the weekend in a loss to FC Zurich where he had just 22 touches.

In this game, Pefok wasn’t on the ball much – yet again.


But he had a big moment when a teammate drew a penalty and Pefok decided to take it. He made no mistake about it and buried the penalty in the 63rd minute.


Pefok remains a tough player to figure out. After a long slump, he now has three goals in his last four games – this penalty, a nice header against Atalanta in the Champions League, and a tap-in off a rebound against Grasshopper on November 11. He is big, strong, and good in the air. He’s also not a forward that is going to work well with every team. He doesn’t get on the ball much, he rarely beats defenders on the dribble, and he doesn’t combine very much with teammates. He’s a poacher but someone who can make smart runs and finish closely.

Is Pefok going to get back into the national team? It’s possible but also maybe not. It really depends on how the team is trying to play and if there are other forwards who play a better style suitable for Berhalter’s approach. Simply scoring isn’t necessarily going to get Pefok back onto the team. It matters how he plays.

Finally in Scotland, Christian Ramirez assisted on Aberdeen’s opening goal in a 2-0 win over Livingston. The American forward continues his nice season after joining the club from Houston over the wummer.


Some struggles in Europe


The news wasn’t great across the board. On Tuesday, Atalanta routed Venezia 4-0 with both Tanner Tessmann and Gianluca Busio getting the start (Tessmann going the full 90 while Busio playing 57 minutes). Both American players had some nice moments and Busio had a close shot from distance early on, but the gap between these two teams was very wide and both players struggled along with the rest of the team.

In Ligue 1, Marseille defeated Nantes 1-0 on Wednesday. Konrad de la Fuente played 67 minutes in the win. He had a good chance early, but afterward was quiet. He is clearly going through an adjustment period right now after a strong start to the season. He was better on defense in this game than the tough outing he had over the weekend but defenders have picked up on him in recent weeks have been effective in shutting him down.


Zimmerman: Defender of the Year


United States national team defender Walker Zimmerman was named the MLS Defender of the Year for the second straight year. It was well deserved as the Georgia native was instrumental in helping Nashville again reach the postseason with one of the league’s best defenses.

Zimmerman is finally getting the respect he deserves too. In addition to what he does on the field, you can see his impact when clubs have traded him away. FC Dallas and LAFC have both let him go and it turns out to have been a massive mistake. LAFC still hasn’t recovered from him getting away and that’s a big reason why they’re not in the playoffs.

Will there be any interest in him this offseason? Despite being 28, he could be seen as a solution for a club looking to add a big central defender who is also smart, and good in the air. It might also be on loan. Being considered the league’s best defender while also now having a spot on the U.S. national team has him in a great spot.


MLS player movement


Real Salt Lake, the Portland Timbers, Philadelphia Union, and New York City FC are focused on this weekend. The rest of the teams are focused on next season.

We have already seen some big roster shakeups. Nani is leaving Orlando and Jonathan dos Santos is leaving the LA Galaxy. Jozy Altidore is on his way out at Toronto. Tajon Buchanan is now heading to Club Brugge with New England’s season over. There will be some more big designated players and TAM players coming into the league. There will also be homegrown signings.

In terms of American players who could be exported, there are some names to watch.

Ricardo Pepi is likely going to make FC Dallas a lot of money and it remains to be seen where he is going to go, but where there is smoke, there is fire.

Atlanta United GM Carlos Bocanegra touched upon interest for Miles Robinson and George Bello this past week. He said on Robinson that “we haven’t had anything.” Whether or not that means they haven’t had anything significant or anything all remains to be seen. With Robinson he’s an athletic defender who isn’t young but isn’t old. Atlanta United, however, has a high threshold for selling than most other teams in the league. It’ll be tough to pry Robinson away.

On Bello, Bocanegra seemed to suggest there could be something there.

"We've had quite a few inquiries about George Bello," Bocanegra said. "Obviously, he's a 19-year-old left-sided player that's very dynamic, very athletic, caps with the national team, 30-40 professional games under his belt. So you can imagine the type of interest that he's garnering. So, again, he'll be a tough decision for us in the offseason."

There are a bunch of other American players that are worth monitoring right now. Caden Clark signed to RB Leipzig but was loaned back to New York to finish the season. He will surely head back to Leipzig this offseason to at least train and be evaluated, but if he’s not seen as being ready for Leipzig – does he get shipped back to New York, does he go to Salzburg, or does he get loaned to another club – presumably in Germany? Nothing really will be set until he heads to Leipzig and has discussions with Jesse Marsch and other officials in the Red Bull empire.

Young players in the Red Bull system are all being monitored since the clubs are all linked. John Tolkin is certainly one who has shown very interesting things and perhaps he heads to Europe for a training stint in the offseason. But with Andrew Gutman’s loan to New York expiring, there is a good opportunity for Tolkin to remain with the club for at least another year as lock starter.

Colorado has a pair of players that could very well be on the line for a move in Cole Bassett and Austin Trusty. Both players were important to helping the club succeed this year. Bassett, 20, turned down a summer move to Benfica because it was geared towards the second team. But he continued to play well this season and should be in a spot to make a move where he can be a first team starter.

For Trusty, 23, he’s revived his career in Colorado after struggling in Philadelphia. But he’s an athletic central defender with a good left foot. With his reading of the game improving, he could check the boxes for a lot of clubs.

Finally, Anthony Fontana’s name should surface once the Philadelphia Union’s season is over. He hasn’t played much under Jim Curtin this season and his contract is up. When he does play, his production has been solid. He also holds an Italian passport which could make things easier.

There were some tweets involving players who are already on the move. The New York Red Bulls posted a nice tribute to Kyle Duncan who is on his way to KV Oostende in Belgium’s top tier on a free transfer. Duncan is coming off a good season with the Red Bulls and he should do well with Oostende – who can really use the help after drifting towards the bottom of Belgium.


Finally, Hibernian can’t seem to wait for the arrival of Chris Mueller from Orlando City who is en route to Edinburgh (but can’t play until January).



Estevez and Gonzalez


U.S. Fútbol Podcast was the first to report and many others have since confirmed that Nico Estevez looks set to leave his job as the assistant coach to Gregg Berhalter on the U.S. national team and take the head coaching job at FC Dallas. Meanwhile, for FC Dallas head coach Luchi Gonzalez looks set to join Berhalter’s staff and take Estevez’s job. It amounts to a swap between the U.S. team and FC Dallas.


It's a good move for FC Dallas and Estevez. A native of Spain, Estevez worked with the youth levels of Valencia (and even served as an interim first-team head coach) before heading the United states where he worked with the Columbus Crew as a director of methodology.

Estevez, 41, is a youth-oriented coach who will fit that hallmark of FC Dallas. He’s also well versed tactically and, if the players respond, could help the team improve.

As for the U.S. team, losing Estevez could be tough but assistant coaches come and go – at least the good ones since landing a head coaching job is more desirable. Meanwhile, the FC Dallas footprint on the U.S. team is big with Mckennie, Pepi, Cannon, Ferreira, Acosta, and Zimmerman (who did not come through the academy) all having played within the organization. Many will certainly be happy to have Gonzalez be around. The big question is whether serving as a national team assistant helps Gonzalez to improve as a coach (compared with a similar role on a club team). That remains to be seen.

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