Just ahead of the final weekend of games before the international break, Yanks Abroad takes a look at some of the burning questions that are keeping us awake at night.
With the international break and pivotal trio of World Cup qualifying games getting underway directly following the weekend, USMNT issues are the first thing on our minds. However, for the sake of not making this an article only about the national team, I’ll start off with a player who, sadly, is currently out of the USMNT conversation.
Can Josh Sargent start out the weekend for Americans Abroad with a second straight impactful game?
For the first time this season, and perhaps even longer, we head into a weekend actually being able to say that Josh Sargent has a bit of momentum behind him. To be clear, it’s more of a hint of movement in the positive direction rather than a steamroller (I’ll cover a couple of those cases below), but the young Sargent was a key factor in getting the Canaries onto the scoreboard and into the win column against Everton last weekend.
In a previously unthinkable twist of fate, they are in the position where taking all three points in a very winnable game against Watford, who are one point ahead in 17th, will pull them out of the relegation places, even if temporarily. It’s at most a minor exaggeration to say that this is Norwich’s biggest game of the year so far.
Sargent has struggled all season, alongside his team. Nevertheless, having the last kick on what led to an own-goal by the opposition in an important winning effort is, even if it’s reaching, the best basis for him to enter the next game with a bit more confidence and a hunger to actually kick the ball into the net himself this time around.
One thing we can say for certain is that Canaries head coach Dean Smith has confidence in the young player, so it’s likely that he’ll get the start and plenty of time to run at the fourth-worst defensive team in the Premier League.
Is Joe Scally in the early stages of his first professional slump?
I’m sure that half of you are already thinking “you’re over-reacting” and the other half are crossing your arms petulantly justifying “it’s not his fault!” In the end, both viewpoints are probably correct, but still, the situation is what it is:
Due to the machinations of the universe (namely a spikey little microbe and the general downfall of ‘Gladbach recently), Joe Scally is no longer a lock starter for Borussia Mönchengladbach, and hasn’t looked up to par in his last couple appearances.
The 19 year-old might actually be on the cusp of the first slump of his professional career.
Right-back Stefan Lainer’s return after a long injury layoff has placed Scally into a competition with another youngster held in high regard – Luca Netz – for the left back position. Even though 2022 is barely underway and has been disrupted, at least for Scally, neither player is making a case to claim the position.
Now let’s just make it clear: I’m not worried about Scally in the long-term. He’s an excellent talent, is bound to experience the ups and downs of any professional player, and has a promising club and national team career ahead of him. He’ll probably also be called into the USMNT squad in a few days, but that’s a later point.
Nevertheless, it’s not going great right now for him, and furthermore, ‘Gladbach is in desperation mode, having not won any games, outside of their strangely traditional domination of FC Bayern, in the last two months. Their coach, Adolf Hütter, is under pressure, and is going to put whichever teenager – Scally or Netz – at the left back position who can help them stop the bleeding.
Saturday’s game against a surprisingly tough Union Berlin team (currently in fifth place) is not yet at the status of a must-win game (they still are four points and four places above the relegation spots) however will give a picture of whether Scally’s recent difficulties have been enough to swing his coach towards the competition…for now.
As a side-note, is it really the worst thing to have Scally now competing for a starting spot on a Bundesliga game at left back instead of on the right? This is a historical deficiency for the USMNT, so his current struggles could pay long-term dividends.
Will USMNT starters Yunus Musah & Weston McKennie bring big-game momentum into the international break?
I already covered Musah and McKennie in last week’s questions, but this time it’s a bit different. While it’s less obvious with Musah due to his more understated role with Valencia, both of these players are on a roll heading into USMNT duty.
With McKennie, there is no reason to rehash his recent exploits since most people who have read this far aren’t living under a rock. Quietly, Musah has also strung together now four straight starts across in La Liga and Copa del Rey action, looking very good in three of those (the 4-1 loss to Real Madrid can be excused).
Why am I bringing up the fabled concept of momentum for these two guys? Put simply, the confidence that being generally in good form is nice, but the extra boost from being in good form and having demonstrated it in one of the biggest games of the season is something else.
Musah and McKennie both have the chance to do this during the weekend.
Valencia aren’t having a great season in La Liga, but also aren’t too far (their recent 4-1 loss to Real Madrid aside) from putting it all together to make a run at the European places. Their visit on Saturday night to fourth-place Atletico Madrid is big enough to feel like a really important game, but is absolutely winnable.
They already did very well to hold second-place Sevilla, the only team left who could challenge Real Madrid for the league title, to a draw on Wednesday. Musah was very good in that game, and a similarly strong performance, particularly one that puts them past Atletico, will have him brimming with confidence heading into the trio of qualifiers.
McKennie and Juventus are in a similar situation, although a bit farther along on their recovery than Valencia. They haven’t lost in league play in a very long time, albeit with too many draws amongst the results. Their visit to second-place Milan on Sunday provides them with exactly the sort of statement game they will have to start winning if they want to convince themselves they are back.
It’s a near certainty that McKennie will start on Sunday, and will be the key man linking up with the also (finally) in-form Paulo Dybala. If Juventus can claim the win in San Siro, then the visit to Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton one week later will be about as intimidating to McKennie as a visit to…well…a Tim Horton’s restaurant in Hamilton.
(personal note: yes, I have actually visited a Tim Horton’s in Hamilton, and no, it was not in any way intimidating…just greasy)
Is it over for Matt Miazga & Sergiño Dest in Spain?
Back in October, I had this weekend’s game between Alaves and Barcelona, happening on Sunday, marked in my calendar as a Yank-on-Yank highlight, and a chance to see Matt Miazga and Sergiño Dest, both of whom were starting and doing pretty well for their teams, face off in Spain’s La Liga.
Skip forward three months and the situation is very different, and I will likely have an open space in my calendar on Sunday night. Miazga had a bad game for the ages on Tuesday night, creating one of those highlight-reel bloopers that is going to follow him for the rest of his career. Dest is, at best, now a late bench option at Barcelona, with a January exit to some other destination in Europe one of the most traffic-generating rumors of the winter silly season.
Do either of these players have a future at their Spanish clubs?
In short, it’s looking increasingly unlikely. Miazga had a bit of luck recently since both of the preferred central defenders for Alaves – Víctor Laguardia and Florian Lejeune – had card suspensions in consecutive games, giving him two straight starts. Both players are now back, so it will probably take a spate of injuries for Miazga to see the field again. Even then, his gaffe might have been a step too far even if that extreme case happens.
For Dest, it’s slightly less grim since he indeed did play the last 24 minutes of Barcelona’s 120 minute Copa del Rey loss to Bilbao on Thursday night. He got off a shot that forced Bilbao’s keeper to do some menial work, but otherwise had little impact on the game.
In short, he doesn’t seem to currently be in head coach Xavi’s grand plan for rebuilding the club (which I might add is going truly wonderfully after Thursday’s loss closed the door on yet another trophy), and looks to be more valuable to Barcelona on the transfer market than in the coach’s plans.
In short, rather than be the nerdy Yanks-Abroad highlight I had hoped several months ago, Sunday night’s game between Alaves and Barcelona will most likely only help to answer the question of how far on the outside both of these players are to their teams’ plans now.
The elephant in the room: Which fringe Nats get the call and which get the snub?
It’s no secret, the upcoming USMNT roster is on all of our minds. For the last two weeks, Gregg Berhalter and his staff have been evaluating a 20-man squad of MLS players up close, with the expectation that at least one or two, maybe more, surprise names from that group will make the cut for the full squad announced in a few days.
What about the European-based players who are also competing for those exact same borderline places?
Will John Brooks, a veteran who has been a solid starter for Wolfsburg lately, get passed over for Colorado Rapids defender Auston Trusty? Will central midfield options Luca de la Torre and Gianluca Busio have their path blocked by Djordje Mihailovic or Jackson Yueill?
Several other European-based players who are not currently established but also playing at a level enough to get a shot – Joe Scally, Reggie Cannon, Daryl Dike, maybe even Josh Sargent in a stretch – will also be waiting to see if they were passed by one of the players who has been able to spend the last couple weeks with Berhalter and his staff.
The ongoing camp in Arizona is without any doubt a positive idea that will help the national team in the upcoming games. The March-through-November schedule of MLS makes it important with such important games on the schedule in the dead of winter. Still, it’s got to be making a few of the fringe players who are several thousand miles away more than a little bit nervous.
There were close to 20 other less burning questions that came to mind while looking through the schedule for Americans in the coming weekend, but what I’ll be watching out for are a pair of possible debuts.
Will new signee Kyle Duncan become an automatic starter for KV Oostende, following in the footsteps of other successful American defenders in Belgium going back to the days of Oguchi Onyewu? We’ll know on Friday when they host Vines and Royal Antwerp.
Does new Real Sociedad arrival Jonathan Gómez suit up for their B-squad in La Liga 2 on Sunday when Cartagena visits San Sebastián?