(With the new year upon us, SBI will begin a new regular Monday series, the American Soccer Kickoff, which will highlight the biggest storylines in American soccer from the weekend)
The past and future of American soccer both made headlines over the weekend, giving U.S. Men’s National Team fans some reason for optimism after some otherwise lackluster recent weeks.
Gio Reyna and Brian McBride grabbed headlines over the weekend, with Reyna impressing during Borussia Dortmund’s winter camp and McBride becoming the new general manager of the USMNT.
There were other positive developments, from Josh Sargent’s impressive showing in his return with Werder Bremen, and Tyler Adams having one of his biggest competitors for defensive midfield minutes at RB Leipzig being sold.
Here is a closer look at some of the weekend’s biggest storylines across American soccer:
Reyna shines in Dortmund camp
Gio Reyna scored a goal and added an assist in Borussia Dortmund’s winter break friendly win against Feyenoord.
Dortmund had a big winter break, landing highly-rated Norwegian striker Erling Haaland, but reports out of the club’s camp suggest Reyna was one of the most impressive players of the break after joining the first team for the camp.
— Ruhr Nachrichten BVB (@RNBVB) January 12, 2020
Reyna is looking like a prime candidate to join the first team for the second half of the Bundesliga season. Not bad for a 17-year-old who is continuing to travel a familiar path previously blazed by Christian Pulisic.
McBride starts USMNT GM job
U.S. Soccer’s long-awaited hiring spree reached full speed on Friday, with Brian McBride being announced as the new USMNT general manager.
McBride joined the team at its January camp in Florida on Saturday, jumping into the role previously held by Earnie Stewart before Stewart was promoted to U.S. Soccer sporting director.
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) January 10, 2020
McBride’s hire was welcome news given his highly-regarded reputation in American soccer circles. The hire brought some much-needed goodwill for U.S. Soccer after the highly-criticized appointment of Anthony Hudson as U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team coach.
So what is McBride’s role exactly? Here is how it was described when his hiring was announced:
Working closely with Stewart and Berhalter, McBride’s primary areas of focus will be to oversee the development and management of the player pool, build and guide the culture within the Men’s National Team environment, manage relationships with clubs and represent the USMNT on the global stage.
McBride’s post-playing resume is light on management experience, at least when it comes to pro clubs or national teams, but the impeccable reputation he developed during his playing career has led to mostly positive reactions to his hire. That honeymoon period won’t last forever though. It wasn’t too long ago when Earnie Stewart’s hiring as USMNT GM was met with positive reactions too, and nowadays Stewart’s popularity among USMNT fans has plummeted due to a widely-held belief that the program has stagnated under his guidance.
Sargent nets double in Bremen return
Gio Reyna isn’t the only American to enjoy a good winter break camp with his Bundesliga side. Josh Sargent marked a successful return from injury with two goals in Werder Bremen’s preseason win against Hannover.
Sargent looks to be fully recovered from the hamstring injury that sidelined him in early December.
Pulisic’s latest knock raises durability concerns
Christian Pulisic missed Chelsea’s win against Burnley, and is expected to miss more time with an adductor injury suffered last week. It’s the latest in a long list of stints on the sideline for the American story, and it has led to some questions about his durability.
FOX Sports analyst and former USMNT defender Alexi Lalas expressed his concern, even mentioning Pulisic in the same breath with former USMNT standout and injury-prone midfielder John O’Brien:
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) January 10, 2020
Does Lalas have a point? Pulisic has had multiple stints on the injured list, both at Chelsea and Dortmund, but he has also managed to avoid long-term issues, and has generally responded to those stints on the sideline with good recoveries and returns to his team’s playing rotation.
The reality is that injuries are part of the game, and advances in sports medicine have allowed clubs to better identify injuries, even minor ones, and clubs with the depth to rest top players have the luxury of erring on the side of caution rather than pushing players to play with the type of minor ailments that they might have played through in prior generations, like when Lalas was a player.
Is there something to be said for players who successfully avoid injuries and missed games? Absolutely, but if you take a closer look around the world’s game you will find fewer and fewer top players successfully making it through a full season without some time spent in recovery mode.
Could Pulisic be more durable? That much is clear, but he’s also 21, and responded very well each time he has been forced to the sidelines. The injuries are something to keep an eye on, but lumping him with the most injury-prone players in American soccer history feels like a serious leap.
Demme deal a boon for Adams
Speaking of injuries and their impact, Tyler Adams had his own injury ordeal to get through after a persistent groin injury and subsequent foot injury kept him sidelined for the second half of 2019. While he recovered, RB Leipzig enjoyed an outstanding first half of the Bundesliga season, and its midfield helped lead the way.
When Adams was played at right back in his return to the Leipzig lineup, it looked like an option to get Adams on the field, but the recent sale of Diego Demme to Napoli is a big boost to Adams’ chances of resuming his role as regular starter in the heart of RB Leipzig’s midfield,
Adams still faces plenty of tough competition for minutes, with the likes of Konrad Laimer, Amado Haidara and Kevin Kampl, but the fact he was plugged into the lineup just before the break suggests Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann rates him and will give him his chance to stake his claim to the spot left open by Demme’s departure.
NYCFC a good fit for Zelalem
Gedion Zelalem’s quest to revive his career has taken him to New York City FC, where he signed after an unsuccessful stint at Sporting Kansas City.
The move has plenty of risk, but the opportunity for a big reward for the 22-year-old midfielder. He never felt like a good fit with Sporting KC’s counterattacking style. NYCFC’s possession-oriented style — assuming it isn’t drastically changed by new coach Ronny Deila — should suit Zelalem’s strengths well.
Throw in the fact Zelalem will have a chance to play on the small field at Yankee Stadium (and Citi Field) and his quick feet and deft touch could make him a real threat in NYCFC’s setup.
The risk lies in the heavy competition he will face for minutes. NYCFC is stacked in central midfield, with Maxi Moralez, Keaton Parks, Alexander Ring, James Sands, Tony Rocha and Juan Pablo Torres, but given the fact NYCFC will be competing on multiple fronts this year (Concacaf Champions League, U.S. Open Cup), there will be minutes to go around and Zelalem could thrive in New York in a way he wasn’t able to at SKC.