Grading Pulisic, McKennie, Musah & Co. nearing end of season

It is a new and exciting problem for a fan of the U.S. men’s national team: how does one keep up with all the promising Americans in Europe? Even the 2002 team that nearly made the World Cup semifinals was only peripherally on the European radar: midfielder Claudio Reyna was at Sunderland, defender Frankie Hejduk played for Bayer Leverkusen and forward Brian McBride was about to complete his move to Fulham. In 2021, you’ve got well over 20 players to monitor, and it appears more are on the way.

So, with the March international break underway — and the USMNT off to a strong start by thrashing CONCACAF rivals Jamaica 4-1 on Thursday — it’s a good time to check in on a lot of these Americans and see how they’ve been performing overseas this season. You got a chance to watch quite a few of them on Thursday, when the U.S. beat Jamaica 4-1 in a friendly, but how are their respective club seasons going?

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Maybe the most exciting thing about the list below is that although it features 22 players, it isn’t a comprehensive view of all Americans playing at a certain European level. Veterans such as Geoff Cameron (Queens Park Rangers) and Alfredo Morales (Fortuna Dusseldorf) are still kicking around and playing at a solid level, while the list of up-and-comers also includes players like Caen forward Nicholas Gioacchini who are interesting prospects but aren’t mentioned below.

Note: stats below are as of March 23. Unless otherwise noted, they are stats from 2020-21 league play and provided by Stats Perform.

Proven quantities

This group basically consists of European veterans and Christian Pulisic, the most experienced 22-year-old the USMNT has ever had.

John Brooks, center-back, Wolfsburg (German Bundesliga)

Age: 28
Key stats: Two goals (1.4 xG) on 13 shots, 5 chances created, 16.0 defensive interventions/90, 59% duel success rate, 72% aerial success rate

While it’s perhaps more difficult to statistically gauge central defender play than any other position, Brooks’ success on duels and aerials, combined with Wolfsburg’s generally awesome defensive work, is a pretty apt combination. The Wölfe are allowing the second-fewest goals in Bundesliga play (0.86 goals per 90), and they’re doing so despite average possession numbers (51% possession rate) and despite decent ball advancement for opponents. That suggests Brooks has a decent amount of work to do and is doing it really well.

Grade: A

Julian Green, MF, Greuther Fürth (German 2. Bundesliga)

Age: 25
Key stats: Seven goals (6.1 xG) on 53 shots, 24 chances created (two assists), 84% pass completion rate, 80% into the attacking third

Green was enjoying a true breakthrough campaign, playing at a level that made it almost inexplicable he wasn’t receiving deeper USMNT consideration … until he was sidelined by the coronavirus. He returned recently and has played 92 minutes in Fürth’s past two matches, but he hasn’t returned to full form just yet.

– MORE: Julian Green’s plan to get back into USMNT

Grade: B

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Christian Pulisic spoke to the media about his Chelsea career as the USMNT prepare to face Jamaica.

Christian Pulisic, MF/FW, Chelsea (English Premier League)

Age: 22
Key stats: One goal (3.4 xG) on 27 shots, 14 chances created (1 assist), 81% pass completion rate, 79% into the attacking third

When you’ve set the bar as high as Pulisic has to date, there’s no way to look at 2020-21 as anything other than a disappointment. After playing some of the best ball of his career over the summer months, he’s since been held back by injury, poor form and lack of opportunity under new Blues coach Thomas Tuchel.

There are two bright spots, however. First, he’s gotten a bit more of a run in the team of late, playing in six matches — four in the Premier League, plus two cameos in the Champions League — over the past month. He attempted four shots and created three chances in that span, and for the season as a whole, his xG+xA/90 average (expected goals and assists per 90 minutes) is 0.47, still the best of the Americans-in-Europe pool. If this is him in a slump, his upside is still enormous.

– MORE: Are Pulisic’s lack of minutes a worry at Chelsea?

Second, it is indeed a slump. Before this season, he had scored 22 league goals for Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund among 24.6 xG. At worst, he’s a slightly below-average finisher. But while he has attempted 35 shots worth 4.0 xG in the Premier League and Champions League this year, he’s got only one goal to show for it. It is almost inevitable that progression-to-the-mean will strike pretty soon.

Grade: C

DeAndre Yedlin, DF, Galatasaray (Turkish Super Lig)

Age: 27
Key stats (Premier League and Turkish Super Lig, via FBref): One goal on 4 shots, 15 tackles won, 10 interceptions

After 4½ seasons at Newcastle United, Yedlin joined Turkey’s Galatasaray on Feb. 1. It was a solid move considering how he had fallen out of the Magpies’ rotation; he’s already played 416 minutes in Turkey after playing just 436 all season in England.

Yedlin still has solid speed and performs the basic defensive functions of a fullback rather well. But after averaging 1.0 chances created per 90 for Newcastle in 2018-19, a solid number for a fullback, he was averaging just 0.62 at the time of his departure.

Grade: D

Christian Pulisic and the USMNT thrashed Jamaica on Thursday, and it was a great chance to see a lot of the best Europe-based stars playing on the same team. JAKUB SUKUP/AFP via Getty Images

Up-and-comers (who have been up-and-coming for a little while)

European teams have added so many Americans so quickly that players like Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund) and Sergino Dest (Barcelona) are almost old stories. So this category is for players who’ve been playing at a high level in Europe for at least a little while.

Weston McKennie, MF, Juventus (Italian Serie A)

Age: 22
Key stats: Four goals (4.5 xG) on 23 shots, 23 chances created (2 assists), 86% completion rate, 80% into the attacking third, 53% aerial win rate, 11.4 defensive interventions/90

Has anyone seen their stock rise more than the one-time FC Dallas prospect this season? McKennie not only escaped a sinking ship in moving from the Bundesliga’s worst team, Schalke in August, but he’s also raised his own level of play significantly. In three seasons at Schalke, he had never topped three goals or 19 chances created, and he’s buzzed right by those numbers at Juve with a couple of months left to go in the 2020-21 season.

2 Related

McKennie has been a key jack-of-all-trades for manager Andrea Pirlo, advancing the ball, making key stops in transition and occasionally showing up in the box for a wonder goal, like the one he put in the net against Barcelona in Champions League group play.

Grade: A+

Sergino Dest, DF, Barcelona (Spanish Primera Division)

Age: 20
Key stats: Two goals (1.6 xG) on 12 shots, 21 chances created (1 assist), 90% pass completion rate, 88% into the middle third, 9.0 defensive interventions/90

Dest has basically become the La Liga version of McKennie, rapidly improving after getting thrown in at the deep end and celebrating exciting goals with one of the greatest players of all time.

Dest scored his first and second goals of the La Liga season on Sunday in a romp over Real Sociedad — he followed that up with an incredible strike against Jamaica, capping what almost has to be considered the most exciting week of his career to date — and he’s been a stalwart in the lineup as Barca have made a move up the table to threaten Atletico Madrid’s control of the title race. The Blaugrana are on an 18-match league unbeaten streak, during which he has created 10 chances, won 54% of his duels and, yes, scored twice.

Grade: A

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0:31

U.S. Under-23 coach Jason Kreis reflects on his side’s 1-0 loss to Mexico.

Gio Reyna, MF, Borussia Dortmund (German Bundesliga)

Age: 18
Key stats: Three goals (2.7 xG) on 27 shots, 27 chances created (4 assists)

With McKennie, Dest & Co. enjoying breakout seasons, Reyna’s own exploits have taken a bit of a back seat of late. But despite a couple of injury absences and BVB’s frustrating league campaign — they’re fifth in the Bundesliga, four points out of a Champions League slot — Reyna is averaging more chances created per 90 (1.6) than any other American in Europe, and he has played starter-level minutes during BVB’s run to the Champions League quarterfinals. At 18 years old.

Grade: B+

Tyler Adams, MF, RB Leipzig (German Bundesliga)

Age: 22
Key stats: One goal (0.9 xG) on 6 shots, 10 chances created (1 assist), 85% pass completion rate, 56% duel success rate, 8.3 ball recoveries/90, 13.4 defensive interventions/90

RBL manager Julian Nagelsmann is trusting Adams more and more in defensive midfield — after playing in 31% of league minutes last year, he’s at 64% this season — and it’s not hard to see why. While he can make offensive contributions when asked (in the 2020 Champions League quarterfinals, for instance), he is thriving as a midfield stopper. No one in the American men’s talent pool logs more ball recoveries, and his ability to make defensive interventions has been important to RBL’s brilliant transition defense.

Grade: B+

Chris Richards, DF, Bayern Munich, on loan at TSG Hoffenheim (Both teams in German Bundesliga)

Age: 20
Key stats (at both clubs): Five chances created (2 assists), 57% duel success rate, 52% aerial success rate, 6.7 ball recoveries/90, 17.2 defensive interventions/90

After playing only 88 league minutes for Bayern, Richards was loaned to mid-table Hoffenheim in January and it’s been a solid experience for him so far. He’s made six starts (he also played in both legs of Hoffenheim’s Europa League round-of-32 loss), and with Hoffenheim finding itself in dangerous transition situations more than Bayern, he’s been asked to make far more interventions (7.2 per 90 for Bayern, 18.8 for TSG). That isn’t always a good thing, mind you, but he’s done so capably.

Richards has potential at fullback, but his USMNT future is likely brightest in the center of defense, which is where most of his minutes are coming at the moment.

Grade: B

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Tim Weah, FW, LOSC Lille (French Ligue 1)

Age: 21
Key stats: Three goals (2.9 xG) on 21 shots, 3 chances created, 76% pass completion rate, 79% within the attacking third

Welcome back! After losing almost all of 2019-20 to injury, the former PSG prospect is carving out a niche for a Lille team that has spent a good portion of 2020-21 atop Ligue 1. Used primarily as a 15-minute substitute in a rotation that includes Turkish veterans Burak Yilmaz and Yusuf Yazici and hotshot Canadian Jonathan David, Weah is sixth on the team in goals scored — all three of which have come since mid-December — and fifth in xG+xA/90. He is explosive off the bench, and it isn’t hard to imagine him playing a similar role when the important USMNT matches begin.

Grade: B

Antonee Robinson, DF, Fulham (English Premier League)

Age: 23
Key stats: Twenty-three chances created, 75% pass completion rate (83% from middle third), 47 cross attempts (32% completion rate), 63% duel success rate, 12.0 defensive interventions/90

Like others in this piece, Robinson has raised his game as his degree of difficulty has increased. In three years with Bolton and Wigan in the Championship, his best averages were 1.0 chances per 90, a 69% completion rate, 54% duel success rate and 65% aerial success rate; with Fulham in the top division, he’s averaging 1.2, 77%, 63% and 82%, respectively.

His interventions have been helpful in keeping opponents’ shot totals down (Fulham haven’t done a ton right this year, though they’re seventh in shots per possession allowed), and his crossing has been useful. Granted, at 23 he’s a leathery old veteran within this group, but his game is coming along nicely.

Grade: B

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Taylor Twellman shares his thoughts on the state of the striker position for Gregg Berhalter and the USMNT.

Josh Sargent, FW, Werder Bremen (German Bundesliga)

Age: 21
Key stats: Five goals (5.1 xG) on 33 shots, 25 chances created (2 assists)

Sargent got off to a slow start in 2020-21, but a 28-yard rocket against Hertha Berlin in late-January got him rolling. He’s scored four goals in the last two months and, after producing four goals and 12 chances last season, has now zipped past last year’s stats with plenty of this season remaining.

His effort level remains high, as evidenced by the work he put in to assisting Brenden Aaronson in the USMNT’s second goal against Jamaica, but he’s more active in the defensive stage as well; he’s gone from 44 ball recoveries to 72 and from 103 defensive interventions to 147. His overall work rate is improving, and while you’d still like to see more voluminous attacking numbers, they’re suddenly trending in the right direction at least.

Grade: C+

Yunus Musah, MF, Valencia CF (Spanish Primera Division)

Age: 18
Key stats: One goal (1.0 xG) on 5 shots, 8 chances created, 75% pass completion rate, 81% within the attacking third, 52% duel success rate

The newest member of the USMNT player pool might also be the most difficult to evaluate. Fast and ridiculously confident on the ball, Musah has alternated between starter and substitute. He wins 1-on-1s, but he isn’t heavily involved in attack, and his biggest strength to date has been late-game disruption as a substitute: in that role, he’s averaging 10.2 defensive interventions and 7.2 ball recoveries per 90. He looked good as a disruptor in two friendlies with the USMNT in November, too.

Musah’s game is still very much a work in progress — reminder that he’s just 18 — but there might be a path to playing time off the bench in the coming months.

Grade: C+

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Taylor Twellman praises Gregg Berhalter and the USMNT for landing Yunus Musah.

Zack Steffen, GK, Manchester City (English Premier League)

Age: 25
Key stats: 0.5 goals per match allowed, -0.4 goals prevented, 89% pass completion rate

After a 2019-20 loan to German side Fortuna Düsseldorf, Steffen has earned 10 overall starts for City this season: one in the Premier League, four in the FA Cup, four in the League Cup and one in the Champions League. Gaining that experience on what is the best team in Europe this season is valuable in and of itself, but his actual performances have been sturdy as well. He kept five clean sheets and while his five goals conceded were higher than the 4.6 xG of the shots on target that he faced, it’s basically at the break-even point.

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SATURDAY, MARCH 27
• Perth Glory vs. Newcastle (6:15 a.m. ET)
• Russia vs. Slovenia (9:50 a.m. ET)
• Netherlands vs. Latvia (12:50 p.m. ET)
• Serbia vs. Portugal (3:35 p.m. ET)
• Wales vs. Mexico (3:50 p.m. ET)
SUNDAY, MARCH 28
• Georgia vs. Spain (11:50 a.m. ET)
• Albania vs. England (11:50 a.m. ET)
• Romania vs. Germany (2:35 p.m. ET)
• Bulgaria vs. Italy (2:35 p.m. ET)
• Kosovo vs. Sweden (2:35 p.m. ET)
• Poland vs. Andorra (2:35 p.m. ET)
• Israel vs. Scotland (2:35 p.m. ET)

He’s also adapting well to Pep Guardiola’s play-from-the-back approach: his pass completion rate is 89% (career: 73%), and he’s averaging just 3.3 possessions lost per 90 (career: 7.8). Life as a backup keeper is a tricky thing, and we’ll see what Steffen’s future holds in Manchester, but he’s made the most of his opportunities this year.

Grade: B

The newest kids on the international scene

This group consists of either young players who haven’t seen much senior ball or Americans who only recently moved overseas.

Daryl Dike, FW, Barnsley (English Championship)

Age: 20
Key stats: Five goals (2.7 xG) on 16 shots, 8 chances created in just 715 minutes

Dike’s career has exploded. Drafted by Orlando City out of the University of Virginia barely a year ago, he combined eight goals with four assists in 22 MLS matches last year, then nearly scored in his USMNT debut against Trinidad & Tobago on February 1. Snatched up on a loan by second-division promotion contender Barnsley, he’s scored five times in 11 matches, including this screamer against Birmingham City.

MORE: Jeff Carlisle on Dike’s ‘long way’ to USMNT scene

Though some of his underlying stats — only 2.0 shots per 90 minutes at Barnsley and only 2.7 total xG — suggest his torrid form will likely subside soon, Premier League clubs have evidently inquired about the 6-foot-1 Oklahoma native. He is a burly presence, and he is picking up steam in a hurry.

Grade: A-

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1:24

Brenden Aaronson discusses the abundance of young talent in the USMNT system and his goals with the team.

Brenden Aaronson, MF, RB Salzburg (Austrian Bundesliga)

Age: 20
Key stats (per FBref.com): Two goals and 2 assists in 630 league minutes

Aaronson also parlayed a quality 2020 MLS campaign (four goals, 33 chances created, eight assists for Philadelphia) into a European gig. Though it is not in one of Europe’s Big 5 leagues, Salzburg is Austria’s best club.

Aaronson’s creativity and aggression were on display against Jamaica; he scored a goal, sent two shots on goal, created a scoring chance and completed 14 of his 15 pass attempts in 45 minutes. For Salzburg, he has played in 10 league matches and two Europa League matches thus far and has contributed four times to the score sheet. His ability to pressure the ball was a natural fit with a Red Bull club, and odds are solid that Salzburg will be back in the Champions League next fall.

Grade: B

Konrad De La Fuente, FW, Barcelona (Spanish Primera Division)

Age: 19
Key stats: Two chances created in 17 Champions League minutes

De la Fuente has done most of his work for Barcelona’s “B Team” this season, making only cameos for the senior side in the Champions League (17 minutes) and Copa del Rey (19). He has proven to be an accurate passer along the sidelines, but we’ve learned more from his time with the United States’ U20 team than anything he’s done so far at the club level.

Grade: C

U.S. Men’s Soccer Key Dates

Olympic qualifyingMarch 18-30Friendly vs. N. IrelandMarch 28Friendly vs. SwitzerlandMay 30Nations LeagueJune 3-6Gold CupJuly (dates TBD)OlympicsJuly 21-Aug. 7World Cup qualifyingSept.-March ‘222022 World CupNov. 21-Dec. 18 ’22

Matthew Hoppe, FW, Schalke 044 (German Bundesliga)

Age: 20
Key stats: Five goals (2.7 xG) on 16 shots, 6 chances created

First impressions matter. In his league debut for struggling Schalke on Jan. 9, Hoppe netted a hat-trick and helped the team end a nearly historic losing streak. He scored the team’s lone goals in losses to Eintracht Frankfurt on Jan. 17 and 1. FC Köln on Jan. 20 as well. Since then: zero goals and zero chances created in 616 minutes. Regression comes for us all, and while Hoppe’s stock is higher than it was at the start of the calendar year, it appears he’s still a work in progress. But he could get valuable minutes and developmental time with Schalke in the 2. Bundesliga next season.

Grade: C

Owen Otasowie, MF, Wolves (English Premier League)

Age: 20
Key stats: Three shots, 2 chances created (1 assist) in 133 minutes

In some ways, it’s been a frustrating 2021 for the New York-born midfielder. He missed a potential game-winner in the closing seconds against Brighton on Jan. 2, and in his only touch on Mar. 2 against Manchester City, he was dispossessed in the 90th minute, leading directly to a goal that put the match away. Still, he made his Premier League debut at the age of 19! He’s already played in the Europa League! He has missed opportunities to make a difference so far, but he will get more.

Grade: C

Bryan Reynolds, DF, AS Roma (Italian Serie A)

Age: 19
Key stats: 82% completion rate in 30 minutes

After a solid 2020 campaign for FC Dallas, which featured 16 chances created (three assists), 11.6 defensive interventions per 90 and a 54% duel success rate, Reynolds was acquired by Roma on February 1 in a loan-to-buy deal. He made his debut on March 14, playing 30 minutes in a surprising loss to Parma.

Grade: incomplete

Paul Arriola, MF, Swansea City (English Championship)

Age: 26
Key stats: 71% pass completion rate, 1 shot, 3 ball recoveries in 17 minutes

After successful stints with both Tijuana and DC United (and recovery from a torn ACL last February), Arriola was, along with national teammate Jordan Morris, brought in on loan for the rest of 2020-21. He has made only two appearances thus far.

Grade: incomplete

Jordan Morris, FW, on loan at Swansea City (English Championship)

Age: 26
Key Stats: 30 touches and zero shots in 90 minutes

Sigh. After missing all of 2018 to an ACL injury and coming back to score 25 goals for the Seattle Sounders in 2019-20, Morris earned a loan bid with Swansea … and tore his ACL after just 156 total minutes and no shot attempts.

Grade: very, very incomplete

Published: 2021-03-27 15:08:45

Tags: #Grading #Pulisic #McKennie #Musah #nearing #season

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