By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Jul 13, 2023) US Soccer Players – Even with the midsummer sun overhead, the countdown to opening day is well underway across Europe’s top leagues. With calendars still adjusting back towards normal, matches get started earlier than usual for most of the continent.
Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A get started on the weekend of August 18-20. The English Premier League, Eredivisie, and La Liga kick off on August 11. England’s Championship and the Scottish Premier League begin even sooner, on the weekend of August 4-6. Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League gets underway particularly early on July 28.
So it’s not too soon to run through how things stand for USMNT players in Europe at the dawn of a new campaign. Here are a few of the storylines to keep track of in the months ahead.
ON THE MOVE
There have already been some new addresses for US players, and possibly more in the coming weeks of the summer transfer window. Christian Pulisic completed his transfer from Chelsea to Italian giants AC Milan on Thursday. The Rossoneri finished fourth in Serie A last season, 20 points back of runaway champions Napoli. Milan is said to value Pulisic as another creative outlet to diversify their attack beyond the threat of rising Brazilian star Rafael Leao, especially against packed defenses. Manager Stefano Pioli is reportedly mulling a shift from a 4-2-3-1 shape to a 4-3-3 and sees the USMNT leader as an option both on the flanks and as a central playmaker.
He joins a squad with US teammate Tim Weah, who signed with Juventus from Lille earlier this month. After playing a half-dozen different positions for the French club last season, it sounds like Weah is viewed primarily as a right wingback for the Turin heavyweight, which came in seventh in the 2022-23 campaign, disappointing by its lofty standards. Weston McKennie has returned to Juve from his loan at Leeds United and it remains to be seen whether he’ll stay or go.
Brenden Aaronson just joined Union Berlin on loan from Leeds, becoming a club teammate of Jordan Pefok. The duo will have the opportunity to play in UEFA Champions League thanks to Die Eisernen’s 4th-place Bundesliga finish, marking their first-ever qualification for Europe’s elite competition. Pefok has crafted a productive strike partnership with Suriname international Sheraldo Becker, and Aaronson’s energy and defensive commitment looks well-suited for the club, Germany’s biggest underdog success story of the past few years.
Aaronson and his younger brother Paxten could become the first US brothers to face off in the Bundesliga when Union meet Eintracht Frankfurt this fall. Eintracht, where Timmy Chandler continues to be a respected veteran presence, finished seventh last season. The club recently hired Dino Toppmoeller to succeed Oliver Glasner as their head coach. After making his Bundesliga debut earlier this year, Paxten will be looking to climb the ranks towards steady minutes in ’23-’24.
Ricardo Pepi has also landed at a new destination. The FC Dallas product’s steady scoring on loan at relegation-bound Groningen drew the attention of Dutch powerhouse PSV Eindhoven, where USMNT legend Earnie Stewart is now the director of football.
PSV reportedly paid an eight-figure sum to acquire Pepi from FC Augsburg as they strengthen their front line after winning the KNVB Beker and finishing second to Feyenoord in the Eredivisie table. Over at AZ Alkmaar, Djordje Mihailovic settled in quickly after his January arrival from CF Montreal and can join preseason with momentum from his quality USMNT outings during the Gold Cup.
Duane Holmes has landed at a new club, too. In joining Preston North End from Huddersfield Town, he moves up the Championship table. Holmes will hope to help PNE contend for promotion to the EPL for the first time. Conversely, defender Matthew Olosunde is on the move from PNE to a new destination still to be determined this summer.
At least one other Europe-based USMNTer will relocate soon. Reggie Cannon recently revealed to ESPN’s Futbol Americas that financial problems at Boavista have led to his departure via “unilateral just cause to terminate my contract” with the Portuguese club.
WAIT AND SEE
After a solid season on loan at Middlesbrough, Zack Steffen’s decisions about his future have been pushed off due to surgery on a nagging knee issue at the end of May. The Manchester City goalkeeper is projected for a recovery process of three to four months. Matthew Hoppe will return to Boro with a determination to break into manager Michael Carrick’s rotation after a loan spell at Scotland’s Hibernian.
Fellow USMNT keeper Ethan Horvath also shined on loan in the Championship, notching 20 clean sheets to power Luton Town’s unexpected triumph in the promotion playoffs. Horvath recently rejoined Nottingham Forest training and will be optimistic of earning a bigger role with the EPL club should he stay this season.
Gabriel Slonina is in a somewhat comparable situation at Chelsea. He made a good impression after arriving from Chicago Fire in midwinter, turned heads with his performances at the U-20 World Cup, and will now get a full preseason under his belt. A loan move to get first-team minutes could be on the cards, or more learning alongside Kepa Arrizabalaga and the rest of CFC’s goalkeeping setup.
Tyler Adams was a crucial contributor for Leeds last season. The hamstring injury that sidelined him for the season’s final months cost the Whites dearly. Now the question is whether they’ll lean on him to spearhead their push for a quick promotion back to the EPL, or field what’s reportedly been heavy transfer interest in the defensive midfielder from across England and elsewhere in Europe.
Recent reports out of Spain suggest that Sergino Dest is back in the mix for a starting fullback role at FC Barcelona after a season on loan at AC Milan. Dest reported back to the reigning La Liga champions this week. He could well become a key contributor as the Blaugrana aim to convert their domestic success into a return to the Champions League elite after group-stage elimination last year.
Further down the Mediterranean coast, Yunus Musah rode an emotional roller coaster as CF Valencia flirted with relegation before hauling themselves to safety amid turmoil off the pitch. While the well-rounded center mid has been linked to several of Europe’s biggest names, he’s affirmed his commitment to Valencia and has shown himself capable of excelling in the highly demanding atmosphere of La Liga.
AS Roma’s Bryan Reynolds did quite well on loan in Belgium at Westerlo. It’s yet to be determined whether the Roman club brings back the attacking-minded fullback or gives in to significant transfer interest from Westerlo and others.
Auston Trusty’s loan spell at Birmingham City was a smashing success. The center back made 48 appearances for the Blues, scoring four goals and two assists to help them steer clear of relegation trouble and winning the Supporters’ Player of the Season honors. Whether he goes on loan again or is given a chance to contend for a bigger role at Arsenal, Trusty looks primed for another step forward in ’23-’24.
Much the same can be said of Taylor Booth. The FC Utrecht creator made major gains at both club and international level over the past year and is said to be on the radar of big European clubs. For now, he’ll focus on helping the Domstedelingen improve on their seventh-place finish in last year’s Eredivisie standings.
Matt Turner will rejoin Arsenal after excellent summer service with the USMNT in the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup. The Gunners mounted a brave if ultimately unsuccessful push for the Premier League title and now are taking steps to ensure they remain in the mix to unseat Man City. Returning to the Champions League falls squarely into that mindset as well. Folarin Balogun is back from his loan at Reims and aspires to carve out a regular role in north London after his headline-making arrival to the USMNT brotherhood.
Tim Ream and Antonee “Jedi” Robinson aim to build on Fulham’s impressive return to the Premier League, as the Cottagers finished in 10th-place while playing an engaging, proactive style. Ream is in the latter stages of his recovery from a broken arm sustained in April and plans to renew the outstanding form he produced for club and country over the past year. Robinson just signed a new long-term contract at FFC, who harbor ambitions of pushing for the European places under Marco Silva.
Chris Richards and Crystal Palace came in one spot behind Fulham, inspired by the March return of veteran manager Roy Hodgson, picking up 18 points from his ten matches in charge. With Hodgson staying on, can the Eagles sustain that resurgence and move into the top half of the EPL table? That’s the goal the former England boss has set for his team, and Richards’ play in 2023 suggests he can be a major cog in that.
Over in the Championship, not only did Horvath and Steffen make the promotion playoffs. Lynden Gooch and Sunderland also attained that accomplishment in their first season back in the second tier and will be hungry to show they are on course for the heights they occupied before the brutal back-to-back relegations of 2017-18.
Daryl Dike’s West Bromwich Albion seemed to be on a similar course before the big striker suffered another injury heartbreak with a ruptured Achilles tendon in April. West Brom clearly missed the Oklahoma native, whose rehabilitation could run into 2024. Dike’s resilience in returning from other major injuries suggests he possesses the tools to walk that long, hard road.
Josh Sargent and his fellow American manager David Wagner can also be ranked among the promotion contenders at Norwich City. The scorer from St. Louis led his team in scoring with 13 goals in the previous campaign and now has a shot at more minutes in a central striker role with Teemu Pukki’s move to Minnesota United. The Canaries also just bolstered their attack with veteran Ashley Barnes.
Midfielder Luca de la Torre did yeoman’s work in helping Celta de Vigo avoid relegation from La Liga, clinched by a final-day win over Barcelona. With respected manager Rafa Benitez taking charge of the Galician club last month, there’s real optimism about making marked improvements. Especially if rising Spanish talent Gabri Veiga stays around amid transfer interest from some of Europe’s elite.
Mark McKenzie had an “unbelievable club season,” in USMNT interim coach BJ Callaghan’s words, with KRC Genk, who fell just one point short of the Belgian league title in a photo finish with Sam Vines’ Antwerp. The two US defenders will now vie for that nation’s biggest trophies along with Marlon Fossey and Standard Liege, who’s established himself well after arriving from Fulham last year.
Cameron Carter-Vickers and Celtic will be widely favored to defend their SPL trophy and also hope to make further noise in the Champions League. Meanwhile, on the other side of Glasgow, Malik Tillman and Rangers can feel bullish about their prospects of unseating their ancient rivals after finishing seven points back last season.
At the start of the summer, Gio Reyna experienced some of the extreme highs and lows this game can serve up. Borussia Dortmund fell agonizingly short of the German title on the last day of the Bundesliga with a home loss to Mainz. Then Reyna was a standout of the USMNT’s Nations League trophy defense, assisting on both goals in the 2-0 final win over Canada. As painful as their ending to ’22-’23 was, BVB will enter the new season with the usual outlook of displacing Bayern Munich from atop the BuLi.
Meanwhile, Joe Scally made huge gains amid a very competitive situation at Borussia Mönchengladbach. Whether working as a wingback or fullback, Reyna’s fellow New York City FC academy product was consistently impactful for the Foals. Next he will set his sights on being an everyday starter while Gladbach seek to move on from the departure of strike star Marcus Thuram to Inter Milan.
John Brooks turned the page on a rough spell in Portugal with some inspired performances for TSG Hoffenheim in the spring as he helped manager Pellegrino Matarazzo steer the club away from Bundesliga relegation worries. The duo will now seek to get Hoffenheim, which finished third back in 2018, pointed upwards again. Brooks has also reiterated his determination to rejoin the USMNT, and last month Callaghan confirmed that the veteran center back is in the mix now that he’s shining at club level again.
In France, Erik Palmer-Brown consolidated his place at the heart of ES Troyes’ defense. But the club suffered relegation from Ligue 1 after two seasons in the top flight. The Sporting KC product will likely be key to Troyes’ aspirations of vaulting back into the first division at the first time of asking.
Venezia worked hard to return to Serie A, qualifying for the Serie B playoffs before bowing out in the first round. Another season in Italy’s rugged second tier offers a good setting for Gianluca Busio, Andrija Novakovich, and Tanner Tessmann to prove their quality and continue growing, with another promotion push the logical goal.
More from Charles Boehm:
- The USMNT handles Saint Kitts and Nevis as Gold Cup Group A plays out
- Preview: USMNT opens Gold Cup defense against Reggae Boyz
- USMNT extends Mexico streak, prepares for Canada
- Preview: USMNT vs Canada, 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup quarterfinals
Photo by Grzegorz Wajda – SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire – ISIPhotos.com