Soccer

Americans Abroad: USMNT in Europe Pt. 2

Credit: Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

MLS players are consistently being overlooked for Americans Abroad in the USMNT. Since the Gold Cup over the summer, the national team has selected a majority of European based players for World Cup Qualifying. Home of the greatest clubs and players, it is a sign of improvement for stateside soccer to have so many players across the pond. FC Dallas starlet Ricardo Pepi is the most recent player linked with a move to Europe. With Mexico on the horizon, this article will delve into this USMNT, European-based players’ seasons so far, with sprinkles of tactical insight and analysis.

Full recap of the team’s last round of qualifying here

GOALKEEPER

ZACK STEFFEN – MANCHESTER CITY, ENGLAND

Age: 26

Due to a scheduling conflict with CONMEBOL -the South American soccer association- City starting Goalkeeper Ederson was unavailable for the match against Burnley on October 16th. In his stead, Steffen was handed his first Premier League start of the season. Steffen registered a clean sheet as Burnley failed to pose a threat in a comfortable 2-0 victory. Steffen’s only other involvement since was a EFL Cup defeat to West Ham. Steffen managed to prevent the Hammers from scoring in regular time, but when it came to the penalty shootout, he failed to prevent a spotkick. Phil Foden’s miss from the spot meant the Hammers ran out 5-3 victors after penalties. Watch the shootout here

Once considered the starter for the USMNT, Steffen has recently seen his playtime reduced due to the emergence of New England’s Matt Turner. Although he started the last qualifying fixture against Costa Rica, Turner was preferred for the 2 games prior. Analysts continue to question whether a backup role is ideal for the Pennsylvania native’s development. However, Steffen must believe its the right fit as he penned a new deal keeping him at the club until 2025 last week.

Note: Coach Gregg Berhalter has confirmed Steffen will be starting against Mexico.

DEFENDERS

REGGIE CANNON- BOAVISTA, PORTUGAL (RB)

Age: 23

Presumably the stand-in for injured Barcelona right back Sergino Dest, Cannon returns to the squad for the first time since the Gold Cup.

Born in Chicago before relocating to Texas at a young age, Cannon was develop by the famed FC Dallas Academy. Although he was offered a professional contract upon graduating high school, Cannon’s family pressured him playing collegiate soccer at UCLA. However, when FC Dallas Came knocking again just one year later, Cannon was unable to resist temptation. After two successful season in Dallas, Cannon jumped to the Iberian peninsula to join Portuguese side Boavista in September 2020. Currently, Cannon has started Boavista’s last 3 league matches but saw red in the most recent. Boavista sit 10th in the league, 18 point off leaders Porto.

MARK MCKENZIE – GENK, BELGIUM (LB, CB)

Age22

Mckenzie appears to have lost favor at Belgian club Racing Genk, the team he plies his trade for. Making only 1 appearance since the October international break, the Philadelphia Union Academy product may look elsewhere for regular gametime. Genk appear to be struggling, picking up just a sole victory in their last 8 matches. The clubs sits 6th in their domestic league and 3rd in their Europa League group.

CHRIS RICHARDS – BAYERN MUNICH/HOFFENHEIM (LOAN), GERMANY (CB)

Age: 21

Equally comfortable playing as a left or right-sided centerback, Richards adds versatility to the USMNT backline. Earlier this week, Richard’s stated his ambition to start for parent club Bayern Munich next season. Quizically, Richards has only started one of Hoffenheim’s last four league matches. If he wishes to grace the starting 11 of one of the great European sides, Richards has a lot of development and hard work ahead of him. Fortunately, he is aware of this. Hoffenheim are in 10th in the Bundesliga 14 points off leaders Bayern.

ANTONEE ROBINSON – FULHAM, ENGLAND (LB)

Age: 24

Antonee Robinson is the embodiment of the modern fullback. Prominent in both attack and defense, the leftback is tasked with occupying the entirety of the flank.

Antonee Robinson Heatmap for 21/22 season (credit: Sofascore)

Robinson’s club side Fulham is having an exciting season. Currently 2nd in the English second division, the West-London side look primed to make a return to the Premier League next campaign. Robinson maintains his ever-present status, making 15 appearances out of 17 matches and starting the last 5.

JOE SCALLY- BORUSSIA MONCHENGLADBACH, GERMANY (LB, RB)

Age: 18

New York native Joe Scally has experienced a meteoric rise since his transfer to Germany. Initially placed in the reserves, Scally has emerged as a first team regular for the current campaign. Having started all of Gladbach’s Bundesliga matches so far, Gregg Berhalter felt it was the time to give the youngster his first ever USMNT call up. Like Chris Richards, Scally is versatile displaying competency on both the right and left flanks as a fullback. He also is not afraid to join the attacking, already registering a goal and an assists from defense this season.

SAM VINES– ROYAL ANTWERP, BELGIUM (LB)

Age: 22

Shortly after his club-record transfer from Colorado Rapids in August 2021, Vines suffered a collarbone fracture. After missing 8 matches from the injury, Vines has gone on to rack up 5 consecutive starts for the 2nd placed Belgian side. Unlike Mark Mckenzie at Genk, Vines appears to be the preferred player in his position (Antwerp lead Genk by 6 points in the league). More defensively oriented than Antonee Robinson, Vines could prove a viable option to stifle a creative Mexican attack.

DEANDRE YEDLIN – GALATASARAY, TURKEY (RB)

Age: 28

USMNT veteran Deandre Yedlin remains a regular for Turkish Club Galatasaray. Although the club are 9 points off leaders Trabzonspor in the Turkish league, Galatasaray top their Europa League group. Compatriot Konrad de la Fuente’s Marseille and Maurizio Sarri’s Lazio both failed to beat Galatasaray in the process. I expect Yedlin to start vs Mexico. With a vastly grander well of experience to draw from over his youthful competitiors at rightback, Berhalter will need Yedlin to provide leadership to a young squad facing the toughest opponent in the region.

MIDFIELDERS

TYLER ADAMS- RB LEIPZIG, GERMANY (CM, RWB)

Age: 22

Having finished 2nd in the Bundesliga last season, Leipzig endured an inconsistent start to the current campaign. Currently 5th, the East-German club has struggled to transition after losing coaching prodigy Julian Nagelsmann to Bayern over the summer. American Jesse Marsch replaced Nagelsmann from sister Austrian club RB Salzburg. Marsch has been criticized for convoluted tactics and not getting the best out his squad. Fortunately, things appear to be turning around with club being unbeaten in its last 5 matches.

Tyler Adams appears to be a rotation option for Marsch having played 46% of the available league minutes as per Transfermakt.com. Recently however, Adams has played Leipzig’s last two matches against Champions League sides PSG and Borussia Dortmund. Drawing the former and winning the latter, adams experience continues to grow.

Passing network for RB Leipzig’s most recent match vs Dortmund. Thicker lines indicate more completed passes. Note Adam’s involvement as a pivot.
(Credit: Betweentheposts.net)

The above graphic represents Adams’ average position in the match and the frequency to which he combined with teammates. It is refreshing to see an American being trusted against quality opposition- albeit a weaken Dortmund- while simultaneously displaying technical prowess. Crucially, Adams has age on his side as well. Judging by his current level and ability to start in a Champions League team, Adams has all the qualities to retain his place in the USMNT squad for over a decade.

GIANLUCA BUSIO – VENEZIA, ITALY (CM)

Age: 19

You heard it here first. This will be a breakout international window for Kansas City product Gianluca Busio. Having joined Venezia in the summer, Busio has already established himself in a top 5 European league racking up 11 consecutive starts. Although promoted in the summer, many feel Venezia have displayed enough nous to remain in the top division next season. Busio prefers the left half-space which dovetails nicely with Adams’ comfort all over the pitch.

Passing network for Venezia’s most recent match against Roma. Note Busio’s involvement in the center. (Credit: Betweentheposts.net)

Busio followed fellow American Tanner Tessman over to Venezia, with Tessman signing a few weeks prior. Although Busio has found his feet quicker, Tessman appears to be edging closer to the starting 11.

WESTON MCKENNIE – JUVENTUS, ITALY (CM)

Age: 23

Inter Milan ended Juventus’ 9 year strangle hold on the Scudetto last season. However, with the return of decorated coach Max Allegri to Juve, many felt the club would instantly be back to its best. This was a mistake. Juve appear to be feeling the affects of Ronaldo shaped void, as the Turin club languish in 8th in Serie A, 14 points off leaders Napoli

An American-tinted silverlining to all this would be the form of Weston Mckennie. At times this season Rodrigo Bentancur has been preferred, but it appears Mckennie has all but nailed down the spot with 4 starts in Juve’s last 5 matches. Mckennie is primarily deployed in the right halfspace.

Weston Mckennie Heatmap 21/22 (Credit: Sofascore)

A midfield 3 of Adams, Busio, and Mckennie allows each player to play in their preferred areas of the pitch. Mckennie adds physicality, Busio brings the creativity, and Adams knits it all together. The balance provided with this trio makes me believe it is the way forward for USMNT.

YUNUS MUSAH – VALENCIA, SPAIN (RM, CM)

Age: 18

Although Valencia primarily deploy Musah wide on the right, Berhalter prefers him in central midfield. Unfortunately with Valencia, Musah is finding himself on the bench more often than not (only 2 of his 9 league appearances were starts). With multiple stand out performances in the previous qualifying round, many will have him penciled in to start against Mexico. On the other hand, Musah only playing 31% of league minutes, may indicate a lack of match sharpness. Valencia currently graze the top half of the table sitting in 10th. Musah has yet to register a goal or an assist this season.

FORWARDS

BRENDEN AARONSON – RB SALZBURG, AUSTRIA (CAM, LW, RW)

Age: 20

Like Musah, Aaronson generally operates in different roles for club and country. However, unlike Musah, Aaronson is clearly first choice in his position at his club. Although capable in any attacking role across the pitch, Aaronson generally plays central at Salzburg. While topping both the Austrain League and their Champions League group, Salzburg is providing Aaronson valuable experience against quality opposition. Aaronson has 2 assists on the season.

CHRISTIAN PULISIC- CHELSEA, ENGLAND (LW, RW, CAM)

Age: 23

Christian Pulisc, the rebound tiger, returns to the squad after recovering from the ankle injury that kept him out of the October qualifiers. With just 26 minutes played since the injury that kept him out for 7 weeks, Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel has warned Coach Berhalter to be responsible with his usage of Pulisic over the window. Fortunately for Chelsea, Berhalter appears to have heeded the warning.

Either way, the Pennsylvanian’s return is a positive sign for the USMNT. When fit, the Champions league winner’s ability to progress the ball on the dribble completely changes the dynamic of the U.S.’s attack.

TIM WEAH – LILLE, FRANCE (RW,LW)

Age: 21

While they are the current French League champions, Lille are struggling this campaign. Weah mostly starts from the bench, with Renato Sanches or Canada’s Jonathan David often preferred over the pacy winger. Weah has contributed 2 assists so far, but has yet to get on the score sheet. Back stateside, Weah appears to have found his niche within Berhalter’s team. Pace and willingness to run in behind means the stars and stripes have trusted Weah with two consecutive starts. With Pulisic confirmed to be out of the starting 11 for Mexico, don’t be surprised to see Weah line up as his replacement.

Thank you for reading part 2 of the Americans Abroad Series. Stay tuned for future updates as I plan to continue them throughout the season.

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  1. Pingback: Top Moments From World Cup Qualifiers - Championship Sports Media

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