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It’s an increasingly spicy Italian Job for Serie A’s history-chasing Americans, and there are signs of revival for Folarin Balogun in Monaco — welcome to this week’s instalment of the USMNT Player Tracker.
We will be bringing you updates on the USMNT players plying their trade in various leagues around Europe. With qualification for the Copa America in the U.S. next year now secured, and a World Cup on home soil on the horizon, we’re keeping tabs on how they perform every weekend.
Issue of the weekend
It has already been a promising season for the USMNT Italian contingent, but could it become a remarkable one?
For Weston McKennie and Timothy Weah, there is every chance. The former was influential once again for Juventus on Sunday as they fought out a tight contest with table-topping Inter Milan, with the estimable 1-1 draw in Turin leaving the gap between Juve and the leaders at just two points.
Juventus were chasing a sixth consecutive victory and, despite failing to find a winner — Lautaro Martinez pegged them back following Dusan Vlahovic’s first-half goal — they must remain serious title contenders.
Weah and McKennie are part in Juve’s title pursuit (Michael Janosz/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
That is partly thanks to the contributions of McKennie, at times deemed surplus to requirements over the summer, and Weah, who missed Sunday’s game through injury but has made a strong start to his Serie A career. The pair have excelled under coach Max Allegri thus far and earned the opportunity to keep chasing the dream of becoming the first Americans to win Italian football’s top prize.
It comes when Serie A is having something of a resurgence too: with coveted and bankable players who have chosen to stay in the division, and competitive form displayed to date in the Champions League by Napoli, Inter, Lazio and a Christian Pulisic-inspired AC Milan.
There will, of course, be plenty of twists and turns to come but, in domestic competition, Juve’s pair are settled and thriving. Their close bond is helping too. “I love him,” Weah said of McKennie in a Bleacher Report Thanksgiving video. “He’s my brother for life.”
If they can help Juventus to their first title since 2020, McKennie and Weah will certainly be feeling the love from fans in Turin.
Player of the weekend
After a super start, Folarin Balogun’s first season at Monaco hit a rough patch as autumn set in.
The USMNT convert who previously represented England bagged three goals and an assist in his first five Ligue 1 appearances since a summer switch from Arsenal, but then went without notching for the next four as Nice and Paris Saint-Germain surged above Monaco in the French top-flight table.
There was even the uncomfortable curio of him missing two penalties in September’s defeat by local rivals Nice.
Friday’s 5-2 defeat by champions PSG in the capital might not feel like the most auspicious ‘player of the weekend’ scenario but, as Balogun got back to scoring ways with his side’s second goal on a tough evening, there were positive signs.
Monaco performed better than the scoreline suggests, with a generally effective high press led by their 22-year-old striker. His urgency led to the visitors’ first goal, forcing a mistake from PSG ’keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, and there was more quietly industrious work off the ball. He took his goal well — Balogun has always been strong running off the shoulder of defenders — and stayed onside to finish smartly.
He also took a shot that forced a save and spill from Donnarumma which Vanderson put into the net, only for a VAR check to rule offside.
Balogun competes with PSG’s Vitinha and Goncalo Ramos (Franco Arland/Getty Images)
Balogun, who has eight USMNT caps to date and started in last week’s 2-1 Nations League quarter-final second-leg defeat by Trinidad & Tobago, said having three international breaks in the season already has not helped his domestic form.
“I’m still getting to know my team-mates — it’s not necessarily easy with the different international breaks,” he said. “So it’s taking a little longer. But I like playing in this team.”
Quote of the weekend
He may not have covered himself in glory (putting it mildly) with his red card in that Trinidad & Tobago defeat, but Sergino Dest was sincere when telling his Dutch club PSV Eindhoven’s official website what playing for the USMNT means to him.
“At youth level, I always played for the USA,” the Netherlands-born full-back said. “I was never selected for the Dutch national team, they didn’t think I was good enough.
“Eventually, the USA gave me the opportunity, so I played for them. And, after that, I didn’t feel the need to change national teams. I think I am the player I turned out to be also because of the USA, because they gave me a lot of opportunities on big international stages. I don’t regret playing for them.”
Dest used the frustration from his international disappointment positively back in Eredivisie, too, starring once again as PSV remained unbeaten — with a pristine record of 13 victories from as many games — and top following their 3-0 success against FC Twente.
Dest bursts beyond Daan Rots of FC Twente (Photo Prestige/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Graphic of the weekend
Take a second and imagine the pass map of a centre-back.
Undoubtedly, the bulk of their distribution originates from the heart of back-line. A lot of the lines would stack atop each other as the defender moves the ball with their partners, toward the goalkeeper and back, and the occasional speculative spray toward a winger making a run down the flank.
What you’ve come to expect is a far cry from the day that Cameron Carter-Vickers had on Saturday.
If you haven’t been tracking the Scottish Premiership, fear not; it’s going the same as usual. Celtic are still unbeaten at the top of the table, with Rangers sitting second and a gap between those two and the rest of the league. Over the weekend, however, Celtic struggled to turn a monsoon of chances into end product, being held to a 1-1 draw against Motherwell despite logging 3.25 xG across 20 shots.
Conveniently for our purposes, Carter-Vickers attempted an even 100 passes in the match. Of those, only three travelled over 35 yards (centre-backs are sending 17.7 per cent of their passes long in the Premiership this year), while 69 of the 100 were attempted in the attacking half as Celtic pushed their line higher and higher. The league average for centre-backs is 44.8 per cent.
Encouragingly for Celtic’s prospects, he connected on all 15 attempts he made in the attacking third.
What does it mean from a USMNT perspective? Very little. Even games against perceived inferior CONCACAF opponents see Gregg Berhalter keep the defensive line well in their own half of the field, and it’s hard to imagine Carter-Vickers camping out in the territory commonly occupied by Yunus Musah.
Nevertheless, it’s another way to look at the growing chasm between the top two teams in Scotland and the rest. Carter-Vickers has found a Champions League level club willing to run him out for 90 minutes every week. It should keep him alongside Tim Ream at the very top of the depth chart heading into 2024.
How did other U.S. players get on?
Name: Hadji Wright
Club: Coventry City
League appearances: 17
Coventry sealed a much-needed and impressive away win against Millwall on Saturday as they edged away from the drop zone in the EFL Championship, English football’s second tier. But, while Wright was part of a front three that played well, he failed to do what his other two forward companions did and get on the scoresheet.
Instead, the 25-year-old missed three big chances. However, he is taking up strong positions and getting involved in play, having mustered four shots compared to just one clinical effort apiece for Matt Godden and Tatsuhiro Sakamoto.
Name: Giovanni Reyna
Club: Borussia Dortmund
League appearances: 5
There was a promising 45-minute outing for Reyna in Dortmund’s 4-2 home win at home to countryman Joe Scally’s Borussia Monchengladbach.
He created two chances and did some strong defensive work after replacing Marcel Sabitzer at the interval with the hosts 3-2 ahead, ensuring there was no way back into the game for Gladbach. Dortmund rounded off their win with a fourth goal deep into stoppage time at the end.
Scally, whose team had actually led 2-0 inside the opening half-hour, won all his ground duels and recovered the ball six times but to no avail.
Reyna competes for possession with Julian Weigl of Borussia Monchengladbach (Ralf Ibing – firo sportphoto/Getty Images)
Name: Paxten Aaronson
Club: Eintracht Frankfurt
League appearances: 6
Frankfurt lost 2-1 at home against Stuttgart, so few will be smiling at Deutsche Bank Park. But Aaronson, an unused substitute for the USMNT against Trinidad & Tobago, made the most of his 10-minute cameo: he conjured one impressive dribble, drew two fouls and recovered the ball once.
Paxten Aaronson exclusive: Cheetah runs, stir fries and staying power
What’s coming up?
It’s another Champions League week, so there is plenty of interesting U.S. player action on the cards.
Pulisic and Yunus Musah should be involved in San Siro as AC Milan face Dortmund, with Reyna also hoping to feature in Tuesday’s game for the visitors (3pm ET, Paramount +). PSV’s U.S. trio of Dest, Malik Tillman and Ricardo Pepi will also be in contention as they travel to face Sevilla in Spain (2.45pm ET, Paramount +) on Wednesday evening.
Djordje Mihailovic’s Dutch side AZ Alkmaar play in the Europa Conference League on Thursday against Bosnian outfit HSK Zrinjski Mostar (12.45pm ET, Paramount +).
(Top photos: Getty Images)