Those of you who follow MLS know how really wild it can get at times (#MLSAfterDark anyone?). Those of you who follow the USMNT know how rough and bruising CONCACAF can be. Now imagine you have a competition that takes the craziest, most crunching-tackle-that-only-leads-to-a-yellow-card-at-best parts of MLS and CONCACAF and combines them into one tournament that at any given moment can go completely off-the-rails. And that is what we call the CONCACAF Champions’ League (CCL).
MLS has always fallen painfully short in CCL, a competition absolutely dominated by Liga MX. Of the twenty-four teams to have played in the final of the current form of the contest since 2008, TWENTY have been Mexican teams, which includes all twelve winners. Only Los Angeles FC, Toronto, Montreal Impact, and Real Salt Lake have finished as runners-up (though DC United and LA Galaxy each won the previous iteration of the tournament called the Champions’ Cup in 1998 and 2000 respectively, so shouts out to them). A variety of factors contribute to the inability of MLS to close the deal in the CCL, chief among them that MLS teams are in pre-season when it takes place, in contrast to Mexican, Central American, and Caribbean leagues often being in full swing. It’s not easy trying to get to full match fitness in the hot, muggy, sometimes high-elevation conditions of away games in CONCACAF, not to mention the extremely hostile crowds, though the fall dates for the semis and the finals could be a favorable twist this year. We can also point to the gap in spending and perceived quality between Liga MX and MLS (how big the gap in quality really is remains up for debate).
THAT BEING SAID, this does not stop the MLS fans from beginning another year with a (albeit somewhat jaded) sense of hope that this could be THE year it finally happens. The year an MLS team could finally win the CONCACAF Champions’ League. This time around is no different, and results have been promising so far! The five MLS teams in this year’s contest (Atlanta, Philly, Portland, Toronto, and Columbus) went undefeated in both legs of the first round, leading to Liga MX matchups in the quarterfinals for all but Atlanta and Philly, who play each other (guaranteed MLS spot in the semifinals, let’s gooo). Five MLS teams have never made it to the quarterfinals before. Ever. But what’s exciting about this is not just advancing to the next round. It’s that, at times, several of the MLS teams thoroughly dominated their opponents. Portland and Philly certainly didn’t let anyone question who would be advancing late into their second leg, after highly contested first matches. And Columbus left no room for doubt right out of the gate on night one.
That’s not to say there weren’t moments of CONCACAF-y craziness and heart-stopping moments of extreme anxiety for those watching (had to catch my breath a little after Toronto leaving things a bit too close late in the game against defending Liga MX champion side Leon). Several yellow cards were awarded after studs-straight-to-the-ankle tackles that certainly should’ve resulted in a card of a much darker shade. After Philly’s first leg against Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissa, it was announced that the referee for the game would not be officiating further in the competition following a red card tackle that resulted in only a yellow and led to a bit of a brawl. Somehow this was followed by a very similar tackle and yellow card result in the second leg; go figure.
The best thing about MLS and CONCACAF, though we sometimes love to hate it, is the unpredictability that makes it so much fun. We don’t watch CCL for pristine soccer. We watch for the drama and the mess, the heart-stopping anxiety, and the equal chance that the game will end in jubilation or despair as we wait (somewhat impatiently) for MLS to assert itself as the dominant league in the region that we want it to be. We watch because we still hold out hope that one day an MLS team will emerge when the smoke (or rather the humidity) clears as CCL champions (wow, I can’t even describe how much I really hope it’s this year). A title wouldn’t mean that MLS has arrived as THE dominant league in the region, but it’s a big step in the right direction. That first win will be historic. When that finally happens, it’s going to be incredible. And if you haven’t been watching, it’s way past time for you to catch that #CCLFever.
Winter 2023 Transfer Window Preview
In a couple weeks we enter silly season. During the month of January, the global football market will open up to leagues across the world and we can expect there to be a lot of action involving American players.
Why? There are lots of reasons for players to change clubs:
- Not getting enough playing time to develop / stay sharp
- Not playing at a high enough level of competition
- Not a good tactical fit
Here is a list of players that I believe could benefit from a chance in scenery starting with the most urgent:
IT’S DIRE, GET OUT
WING, Christian Pulisic, Chelsea
Is really dire? Maybe not, but he’s clearly undervalued at Chelsea and Pulisic is too good to not be playing a significant role somewhere. Chelsea is once again linked with every attacker on the transfer market, so clearly he really isn’t in the plans. Newcastle seems to be the favorite to land Pulisic in January and I love the fit.
WING, Konrad de la Fuente, Olympiacos
Konrad de la Fuente moved to Greece thinking he could get regular playing time after a managerial change at Marseille. Instead, Olympiacos signed a thousand foreign players even though only a set amount of foreign players (5) can make matchday squads, and de la Fuente has been an odd man out. Konrad isn’t in training with Olympiacos or Marseille right now and is instead looking for a new loan for the remainder of the season.
AM, Richie Ledezma, PSV
Ledezma had the choice to stay at PSV or find a loan this summer and he chose to stay, likely thinking he’d get more minutes than he has. He has the same choice to make in January and hopefully this time he chooses to leave — he needs more minutes to grow.
RB, Reggie Cannon, Boavista
Cannon is starting every week and that is good, but he is also playing center-back and I just don’t think he’s developed much since moving to Boavista. He didn’t make a World Cup roster which featured four right-backs, so maybe that is a sign that a change is needed? I think it is.
CM, Gianluca Busio, Venezia
There was a brief moment in time when Busio’s move to Venezia looked like a great one. That seems like a long time ago and now he is struggling to find starts for a club in the bottom third of Serie B. I am sure the market for Busio has weakened, but there still might be interest in Serie A or other leagues where he could benefit from a career reset.
CM, Eryk Williamson, Portland Timbers
I think it’s very likely Williamson played his last match in Portland. It’s been reported that LAFC would look to trade for him to replace Jose Cifuentes who is likely heading to the Premier League. There has not been a lot of reported interest abroad for Williamson, so a move within MLS is most likely.
RB, Justin Che, Hoffenheim
Che’s 18-month loan with Hoffenheim looked promising last year when he was getting some appearances towards the end of the season, but with a managerial change he has fallen out of favor and has been stuck with Hoffenheim’s reserve team. I am sure Dallas and Che can end the loan early and hopefully find a better opportunity in Europe. Another half season in MLS wouldn’t hurt either, but I don’t think Che and his team want to go that route.
THE RIGHT TIME FOR A CHANGE
LB, DeJuan Jones, New England Revolution
It’s not like his situation at New England is bad, he just hasn’t been able to get the attention of USSF. Perhaps a successful move overseas helps energize his stock.
LB, John Tolkin, New York Red Bulls
I don’t think Tolkin has anything left to prove at NYRB and he is ready to make the jump to Europe. Last summer he was connected Anderlecht in Belgium — that level feels like the right next step for him.
CF, Brandon Vazquez, FC Cincinnati
Vazquez had a breakout season last year and I think both he and FC Cincinnati should strike while the iron is hot. A top third club in the English Championship could be a great next step for him.
CB, Joshua Wynder, Louisville City
Wynder was a full-time starter in USL at the ages of 16 and 17 last season and of the top American prospects born in 2005. In order for him to continue to push himself and develop I think he should look to move to Europe or MLS this season. There has been lots of interest reported from both. If it is Europe, he will have to wait until he turns 18 in May, but he could sign a pre-deal like fellow LouCity player Jonathan Gomez did.
SS, Quinn Sullivan, Philadelphia Union
Sullivan likely isn’t happy with his usage rates last season, but Curtin and company were in a tough spot trying to find their young players minutes while pushing for a MLS title. With Cory Burke gone, there might be more striker minutes available within Curtin’s two striker system. That could be enough to entice Sullivan to stay, but my hunch is that he’d like to get his European career started this winter.
WING, Cade Cowell, San Jose Earthquakes
New San Jose Earthquakes manager and former FC Dallas manager and USMNT assistant coach Luchi Gonzalez says he has big plans for Cade Cowell. Are his plans to move him to right-back? Probably not, but I am not convinced another season in the South Bay is the right move for Cade. His development has stalled over the last two seasons and I think a change of scenery would be useful. Joe Scally’s club, Borussia Mönchengladbach has reportedly been interested as have some Premier League clubs.
CB, Sam Rogers, Rosenborg
Rogers is a former Seattle Sounders Academy player that has spent the last two seasons in Norway. He had a breakout season of sorts for third place finishing Rosenborg playing as the LCB in a three back system, scoring an impressive six goals and one assist. It would be nice to see Rogers see if he can elevate his game to an even higher level of competition.
DM, Danny Leyva, Seattle Sounders
The Seattle Sounders will have Leyva, Obed Vargas, Josh Atencio and João Paulo competing for midfield minutes next season which leads me to believe that one of the younger guys should leave to get the time needed to advance their career. Vargas and Paulo are coming off serious injuries, so it’s possible that Seattle holds on to all of the guys until the summer when there are less health concerns, but one could go in January. My bet would be Leyva because he is a more attractive prospect than Atencio, but Seattle seems to rate Vargas more.
CB, Jalen Neal, LA Galaxy
Neal is one of the most first team ready, young center-backs in MLS, but I am not sure he is going to get an opportunity from the Galaxy on the first team this year and it might not come next year either. I think it is time to move to another club within MLS or go abroad where he can play in a more competitive reserve league. Galaxy 2 won’t be in the USL next year, they will be in MLS Next Pro, a big step down in competition, so a loan to a USL club is also a decent option though I’d prefer a higher level than that.
HEAR ME OUT
WING, Tim Weah, Lille
Weah does not need to be playing right-back and I think there are better clubs and better fits for him out there. I’d like to see him leave even though I don’t think Lille is keen to move him, nor does the market seem to be too hot on him right now.
CF, Josh Sargent, Norwich City
I am tired of watching Josh play on the wing when he is the best striker on the team. It’s a waste.
GK, Matt Turner, Arsenal
Matt probably stays at Arsenal to continue their FA Cup and Europa League campaigns, but I think Matt has proven he should be a starting goal keeper for a pretty good club. I’d like to see him do that sooner rather than later.
CB, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Celtic
CCV has achieved great success and stability at Celtic, but I also think he runs the risk of stagnating. I would like to see Carter-Vickers move to a better league as soon as he can so he can continue to grow.
CF, Haji Wright, Antalyaspor
What more does Wright have to prove in Turkey? He clearly can rack up goals in that league. I’d like to see him move to a better league and see if he can continue to be an efficient goal scorer.
All of the guys are in pretty good club situations because they all have key roles and the competition level is fine based on where they are at in their career.
CM, Yunus Musah, Valencia
There are some big clubs after Musah (Arsenal, Chelsea, Inter Milan), but he’d likely take a hit in playing time initially so I am not sure that is best for him right now. The counter is that nothing is certain and maybe Musah needs to take this opportunity while it is here.
CM, Weston McKennie, Juventus
Juventus seems like a turbulent situation and perhaps a move to the Premier League would be best for McKennie. Tottenham has been after McKennie for what seems like multiple years.
LB, Jedi Robinson, Fulham
Robinson and Fulham have been a great story in the first half of the Premier League season, but will they be able to keep it up? Newcastle is reportedly preparing a 15M offer for Robinson and that could be a better long term play for him.
CM, Johnny Cardoso, Internacional
Cardoso is coming off his best season as a pro and his club finished second in the Brazil. Spanish and Italian clubs seem in on him and a move seems inevitable, but another year in Brazil would not be the worst thing.
DM, Tanner Tessmann, Venezia
Tessmann is playing some of the best football of his life right now and the new manager trusts him as Venezia fight for their lives in Serie B, but there is reported interest from Serie A clubs. My gut tells me Tessmann should stay and help keep Venezia in Serie B, ride the form that he is in and perhaps he will have even stronger interest in the summer.
CF/AM, Jesus Ferreira, FC Dallas
Ferreira and Dallas are in an interesting position. Ferreira had a great season last year and Dallas looks like an emerging side in MLS as well. Ferreira also signed a designated player contract last year so his options are more limited in finding clubs abroad that will meet his salary requirements, but Ferreira is at a very critical age for development and he may not be able to grow much more in MLS, so, he likely needs to leave at the end of the next season at the latest. My guess is Dallas is going to go for a MLS Cup this year and then look to rebuild in 2024.
Summer 2022 Transfer Window Preview
The summer transfer window is a historically more action packed window where clubs tend to spend more than they do during the winter window. This year it will be an even more important window for players fighting for a spot on the World Cup roster. Gregg has made it clear that for players that are not considered “locks”, how a player establishes himself with his club during the preseason and early parts of the season leading up to the final September camp will be incredibly important. In this article we will look at three categories of US players:
- Players looking to take the next competitive step
- Players looking for situations that give them a chance to play more consistently
- Players who have been rumored to be on the move that I think should stay put
Before we look at potential transfers, let’s catch up on movement that is already planned this summer:
GK, Matt Turner, New England Revolution → Arsenal FC
Matt is moving to Arsenal on July 1. Will the move to the Premier League raise his technical level? Or will he get rusty as a backup that rarely gets time in competitive matches.
CB, John Brooks, VfL Wolfsburg → TBD
There hasn’t been a lot of news to report on potential destinations for Brooks this summer. The only credible news I have seen is John being linked with Hoffenheim. Hoffenheim will have a new manager next season and reports are that John’s agent has a good relationship with the club and he is well thought of there. Chris Richards likely won’t be back with Hoffenheim, but young Justin Che is (fellow German-American). Even if it is not Hoffenheim, I think John will have demand from mid table teams in one of the top 5 leagues, but the Bundesliga is where he’ll likely end up.
CB, Kobi Henry, Orange County SC → Stade Reims
This move had been rumored a while ago by ESPNs, Jeff Carlisle. I was starting to wonder if it was just agency smoke, but the deal has been made and Kobi will deliver the largest USL transfer fee in league history at 700K. Kobi is 18 and will likely throttle between the reserve team and the first team. I think he is a few years away from being first team ready. Physically he is close, but he still has a long ways to go tactically and mentally. Be patient with Kobi, it could be a while before we see him play first team minutes with Reims.
RB, Bryan Reynolds, AS Roma → KVC Westerlo
Bryan is headed back to Belgium on another loan from Roma, this time with recently promoted KVC Westerlo. It’s been reported that there will be an option to buy for 7M€. I thought Bryan would be able to get loaned to a slightly stronger club, but I do believe the Belgian top flight is a good level. He was pretty good for Kortrijk FC last year after a Winter loan. I am excited to see what Bryan can do with a full offseason and season with a club that has plans to play him. It can be challenging playing for a recently promoted club, but it looks like Westerlo is looking to make moves and the middle to lower half of the Belgian league is typically more competitive than other leagues.
CM, Luca de la Torre, Heracles Almelo → TBD
What was widely assumed has been confirmed, Luca has an agreement in place to be moved this summer from Heracles, with one year left on his contract so Heracles can get some transfer money from the move. We have learned that this was going to happen whether Heracles get relegated or not. It will be very interesting to see where Luca ends up. He is a player that you really have to watch to understand how good he is and you have to think that clubs in the Eredivisie, that played against him will be excited to have the chance to sign him. Additionally, clubs in top 5 leagues with smart scouting departments will also be interested in him. He is a very skilled player that will be a bargain signing. His G/A stats have never been impressive, but he does so many things to help a midfield.
CM, Taylor Booth, Bayern Munich II → FC Utrecht
This is the planned move I am most excited for this summer. Taylor did not get a loan this year after refusing to extend his contract, so he played at too low of a level with Bayern’s reserve squad. Fortunately, Utrecht saw the talent and signed him on a free. Taylor will have competition in the midfield at Utrecht next year, but if he can breakthrough, he could be a sleeper pick to make the plane to Qatar.
AM, Brenden Aaronson, RB Salzburg → Leeds United
Brenden is joining former manager and fellow American Jessie Marsch at Leeds United. He is trading European competition for more consistent top level competition in the Premier League. Brenden and Jessie know each other well from their days in Salzburg. It’s a great system fit and Leeds will likely have a lot of roster turnover with pending sales of Raphinha and Kalvin Phillips.
CB, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Celtic FC → Tottenham Hotspur → Celtic FC
CCV has decided to return to Celtic after having the best season of his young, but winding career. I love the decision. He’s highly valued im Glasgow (13M transfer!!!), he’ll be in European competitions year in and year out and he’ll be able to continue to develop on the pitch. He won’t be in the most competitive league, but a couple of successful years at Celtic could turn in to bigger offers during the prime of his career.
Players LOOKING FOR A HIGHER LEVEL
GK, Gaga Slonina, Chicago Fire
Gaga’s move to Chelsea seems all but complete as the London club has out bit Real Madrid for young American keeper. It has been said that Gaga will be loaned back to Chicago for the remainder of the season or longer, similar to Caden Clark’s deal with RB Leipzig/NYRB. Gaga has struggled recently for Chicago, but clearly he has shown enough for the biggest clubs in the world to be bullish on his future potential.
LB, DeJuan Jones, New England Revolution
DeJuan is turning 25 this summer and he is one of the better left-backs in MLS. He has not been able to get a real chance from Gregg Berhalter and he needs to try something else to get on his radar. I think if he’s ever going to test himself in Europe, the time is now and New England seems to be in the middle of selling spree.
LB, John Tolkin, New York Red Bulls
John isn’t the splashiest prospect, but he’s really well rounded, mature and he is young. If he can string together some goal contributions this season, I think there will be a good amount of demand abroad. There has been reported interest from RB Salzburg.
CM, Timothy Tillman, SpVgg Greuther Fürth
Fürth exercised their club option to extend Timothy another year. With Fürth heading to 2. Bundesliga, I am expecting mid-low Bundesliga clubs to come calling and for Tim to get a chance with another club this summer.
CM, Gianluca Busio, Venezia FC
I would be comfortable with Gianluca in this category or the “stay put” category. Venezia spent a lot of money on Busio, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him grind it out and help Venezia get back to Serie A for the 2023-2024 season. There has been reported interest in other Serie A clubs and I would also be happy to see him stay at that level and develop. Either way, Busio needs to continue to develop and figure out what role will be most effective for him. Is he a 6, 8 or 10? He played all of those positions with Venezia last year. I think he his best suited long term to play the 6 if he can manage the defensive responsibilities that comes with it.
AM, Djordje Mihailovic, CF Montreal
Next to Gaga Slonina, Djordje is probably the hottest American commodity in the MLS. There is a lot of reported interest from big clubs and it seems likely that Djordje’s time to go to Europe is now. He just received his first call-up to the USMNT, if the camp goes well, you have to wonder if now is the right time to move to Europe or if he should stay where he is a known commodity and move after the World Cup?
WING, Cade Cowell, San Jose Earthquakes
Cade is starting to get into a good rhythm for the post-Almayda San Jose Earthquakes. He is starting consistently at LW and contributing consistently. He’s still raw and the technical aspects to his game have not developed as quickly as you’d like to see. Does he need a move abroad to better develop those skills? Does MLS allow him to rely too much on his athletic ability? If he continues to put him numbers, I could definitely see big name clubs trying to facilitate a move and betting on his rare physical profile. There have been reported interest from Everton.
ST, Jordan Pefok, BSC Young Boys
I don’t think there is much more for Jordan to prove at the current level after winning the golden boot in first year in the Swiss Super League. Jordan is in his prime and needs to see what he can do in a top 5 league. There have been reported interested from Bundesliga clubs with Borussia in their name: Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach. Both moves would likely be for a substitute role, which I think is fine. I can see Pefok doing well as a 60 or 70 minute sub looking to poach a late goal.
PLAYERS LOOKING FOR MORE PLAYING TIME
GK, Zack Steffen, Manchester City
It’s become very clear that being GK2 at Manchester City isn’t benefiting Zack’s career. He needs to request a loan or permanent move where he can have a better chance to play consistently.
GK, Ethan Horvath, Nottingham Forest
Ethan Horvath and Nottingham Forest are headed to the Premier League after a magical season. Ethan is the clear #2 at Forest behind Brice Samba. It has been reported that Forest is looking to move Samba, most likely because they are looking to sign a proven Premier League keeper. It would be better for Horvath and the USMNT if he was loaned out where he could be the #1 option, but I just don’t see that happening.
LB, Jonathan Gómez, Real Sociedad
Real Sociedad B is getting relegated to the third tier of Spain. That’s not a great level for JoGo. Will he get a chance to have a role on the first team or will they look to loan him to a lower table LaLiga club, or potentially a LaLiga 2 club? A strong start to the 2022-2023 season at a good level could be enough to get JoGo into the September camp with an opportunity to take the LB2 job for the World Cup.
RB, Brandon Bye, New England Revolution
Brandon is having a very strong season in New England and has had a couple of nice seasons in the MLS. He is in the prime of his career and has yet to get a cap for the United States. Like DeJuan Jones, the time is now for Bye to test his skills overseas. There is reported interest from Fulham and Lille.
CB, Chris Richards, Bayern Munich
Chris Richard’s 2022/2023 club situation is one of the most important to monitor. Bayern is losing a starting CB, but will Chris earn the right to be a starter? It has been reported that Bayern is going to give Chris a strong look this offseason to have a bigger role with Bayern this year. If that does not manifest itself, Chris has options elsewhere for a loan or permanent deal in Crystal Palace, Southampton and Hoffenheim, where he has had two successful loan spells in the last two years.
CB, Kik Pierie, Ajax
After a solid year with Twente last season, this year has been brutal for Kik. He was injured for the majority of the season and struggled once he returned to the squad. He will be back with Ajax this summer and likely looking for a move.
CB, Matt Miazga, Chelsea FC
Matt’s loan to Alavés was not a successful one. He had some bright moments early in the year, but lost his starting job and never really recovered. He’ll be heading back to London this summer and looking for a new loan or permanent deal. Is it time for him to come back to the MLS? Or does he go back to the Netherlands or Belgium where he has had the most success?
DM, Johnny Cardoso, Sport Club Internacional
So far this season, Johnny has taken a step back in minutes for Internacional. There has been reported interest in Johnny from the MLS and perhaps some interest from Europe. Maybe it’s time for a new start where he can potentially have a better opportunity to play more and develop?
AM, Malik Tillman, Bayern Munich
Malik is the newest dual-national player to commit to the USMNT and he received his first chance with the team in the June camp. Malik showed flashes of talent, but also looked like a player that needs more senior minutes at the Club level. Malik made his senior team debut with Bayern, playing in both cup, league and European competitions, mainly because of injuries in the squad. i would love to see him get a loan to a lower table Bundesliga team, perhaps one of the newly promoted clubs Schalke or Werder Bremen?
AM, Richard Ledezma, PSV Eindhoven
Richie had a very challenging season in 2021/2022 coming back from a torn ACL injury. He throttled between Jong PSV and the first team, but saw very few minutes with PSV. He did end the season with the longest run-out of the season and contributed his first goal. This is a big summer for Richie. His chances of doing enough to displace Paul Arriola for a World Cup spot, in Gregg Berhalter’s eyes, will be very difficult, but a great preseason with PSV and a key role with the prestigious club would turn some heads. If it does not look like Richie is going to be a key player for PSV next year, he needs to look elsewhere so that can develop on the pitch.
AM, Caden Clark, New York Red Bulls
2022 has not gone to plan for Caden Clark. Many thought he’d be a locked in starter for NYRB this year, but he was used as more of a super sub role early in the year. That was going okay and then he injured himself at a US U20 camp. He is just now getting back into fitness and playing for NYRB. It’s been reported that he isn’t happy with how much time he is getting and that RB Leipzig likely isn’t as well, so it’s possible that Caden goes to Europe this summer on a different loan deal where he can get a fresh start. I think that might be good for him. I am not sure the current NYRB system suits his game very well.
WING, Alex Mighten, Nottingham Forest
Alex Mighten, along with Horvath will get his first chance in the top league in the world. Mighten started the season as a starter when Forest was really struggling. He then was moved to the bench where he was regularly used. In the middle of the season Alex was injured and when he came back he had more diminished role. Alex will train and fight to become a more utilized part of the attacking rotation next year and Forest will likely look to make a lot of moves to strengthen their roster as they head to the Premier League for the first time in decades. It’s possible Mighten gets loaned to a Championship club where he has a better chance to develop on the pitch.
ST, Matthew Hoppe, RCD Mallorca
I don’t think any 2021 Summer transfer turned out worse than Hoppe to Mallorca. He has had 127 minutes in 4 appearances in LaLiga. I was very optimistic about this transfer when it happened, but clearly I was misguided. There have been reports of MLS interest, which I think would be fine, though I think he can play at a higher level. The most important thing for Matthew is to go somewhere and play and build his confidence back.
ST, Folarin Balogun, Arsenal FC
Folarin Balogun is a high priority dual-nat that is currently focused on England, but Gregg is in communication and will continue to leave the door open. Flo received his extended opportunity with a senior team during his loan to Middlesbrough. It was up and down but he showed flashes of his potential. He’ll be heading back to Arsenal this summer and he will most likely look for a new loan deal. There are rumors that Fulham is interested on a loan with an option to buy.
PLAYERS WHO SHOULD MOVE FOR OTHER REASONS
RB, Reggie Cannon, Boavista FC
Reggie lost his right-back job last season and was moved to right center-back in Boavista’s back three formation. This role is better suited for his skillset right now, but it’s not helping him develop his offensive game. Boavista has also been in financial crisis for a few years. I am not sure if there is a strong market for Reggie, but I do think a move could help him develop a bit more. As of right now, his offensive limitations are limiting what he can bring to the USMNT.
Players who have been rumored to be on the move that I think should stay put
RB, Sergino Dest, FC Barecelona
Xavi loves him. Xavi doesn’t rate him. Xavi rates him. Xavi wants to sell him. I don’t know what the hell is going on in Barcelona, but what we do know is Serg loves being a Barca player and he is going to fight like hell to be an important player there. It has been recently reported that Dani Alves will not return to Barca, but it’s possible that they are still looking to acquire Cesar AzpilicuetaI — thought I don’t think he would be tough for Dest to fend off for playing time. I think he should stay and continue to fight.
RB, Shaq Moore, Tenerife
Shaq Moore is the only American that hasn’t finished his European season. He has one more match to try and help Tenerife get promoted to LaLiga. They play at home in the second leg of the promotion final after a 0-0 draw on the road. MLS clubs tried to acquire Shaq during the Winter transfer window, with the most publicized club being Nashville. Those reports have persisted and it sounds likely that Shaq will be heading to the MLS no matter what happens in the promotion match. I do wonder if Tenerife and Shaq’s position would change if they win and get the promotion to LaLiga. Do they feel Shaq could help at that level? Shaq may never get another chance to test himself at that level. We’ve seen how tough it is as a bottom level club in a top competition. I don’t feel strongly either way. I do think Shaq is still in the mix for a World Cup spot after underwhelming performances in the June window by Reggie Cannon, DeAndre Yedlin and Joe Scally, so a summer transfer to the MLS where he can show what he can do might be the best move for him.
DM, Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig
Tyler’s playing time took a significant dip when Tedesco took over midseason and pivoted to a more composed, possession based system. Many think Tyler should move on where he is more likely to be an every day starter. I agree, but his place on the USMNT is not in question, so I’d prefer he stayed at Leipzig, try to boost his stock at the World Cup, and then move in the winter. It’s also not the worst thing that Leipzig need him to be better in ball progression to get more time, that is where he needs to develop. As of now, Tyler has been linked to Leeds United and Sevilla. I really like the Sevilla option.
CM, Weston McKennie, Juventus FC
Juventus is about to sign Paul Pogba, does that mean Weston is on his way out? Not necessarily, though there has been off and on reported interest from Champions League bound, Tottenham. Wes was in the midst of the season of his career before his leg injury. I’d like to see Wes stay with Juventus and play alongside Pogba. That midfield would be fun as hell and I trust Wes to fight and win minutes no matter who is there.
WING, Christian Pulisic, Chelsea FC
I do not enjoy Chelsea fans as much as the next guy or gal, but they are a top club and I do not prioritize Pulisic being an every match starter. I prefer the load management he gets at a super club like Chelsea. Would I be upset if he want to say, Liverpool, absolutely not. Anytime you can play for a manager like Klopp, you do it, but if Pulisic does stay at Chelsea through to the winter window, I would be fine with it.
WING, Konrad de la Fuente, Olympique Marseille
Konrad has immense talent, but does Konrad have the drive to be great? I have no idea, but he had an up and down first season as a consistent senior player and there were reports of a lack of work ethic and desire. Marseille will be in the Champions League next year and I would prefer Konrad work his tail off to get back in the rotation at the club that gave him his first big chance.
ST, Haji Wright, Antalyaspor
Haji’s successful loan ends with Antalyaspor at the end of June at which point he will return to SönderjyskE, but that is almost certainly temporary. Antalyaspor will certainly be interested in retaining Haji’s services on a permanent move, but there will likely be competition. It’s been reported that one of the biggest clubs in Turkey, Galatasaray, has interest and will likely drive the price up. I would love to see Haji return to Antalyaspor and build off of a career year with one of the more promising young managers in Europe, Nuri Sahin.
Luca de la Torre
In 2021, many USMNT players have upped their game to where every camp roster can be seen has having anywhere between 5 and almost a dozen “snubs” (depending on how mad online you get). One such player that has upped their game in my eyes has been Luca de la Torre. As someone who watches a lot of Heracles Almelo over the past 2 seasons, I think he has shown a skillset that could contribute to the USMNT either off the bench or as a rotational starter. Some might ask “Really? Heracles? You watch that club?” and the answer is yes. I think it started with about a month’s stretch of matches where there wasn’t a “top five league” USMNT pool player with a match the same time as Heracles, so I tuned in and kept tuning in.
RECENT HISTORY AND POSITION CHANGE
I’m always going to be perplexed why there wasn’t more hype around Luca post-2017 u20 World Cup. 1 goal and 4 assists (legit assists, too) are good numbers. Remember all the hype Josh Sargent had during that u20 WC? Luca assisted half of his goals. But there was no loan in the works or seemingly no interest of a transfer, just back to the Fulham reserves with an occasional cup appearance. He had small injuries here and there, but it feels like Fulham either didn’t take care of him or his agent told him to stay put. This isn’t a shot at the club as a whole, because some excellent players have come from there. But this specific situation doesn’t feel like either one of the parties did as much as they could.
He showed up to Heracles Almelo on a free transfer as a winger in the summer of 2020 after his Fulham deal ran down, but manager Frank Wormuth (former German u20 coach and DFB Head of Coach’s Education courses for 10 years) quickly decided his future was as an 8 and worked with him to catch him up to the level needed. He started lining up as an 8 around December 2020 and had positive outcomes. Some work was needed defensively, but the on-the-ball and in-possession things were clicking immediately.
RETURN TO THE USMNT AND TURNING DOWN THE GOLD CUP
His work did not go unnoticed. He received a callup from Gregg Berhalter to the March 2021 USMNT camp and looked very good in both substitute appearances. The calls for a look in the summer got louder but club commitments made things complex.
Heracles started preseason *very* early. One of the earliest in all of Europe. They played a dozen preseason matches. If Luca went to the CONCACAF Nations League, he would’ve had a 15-day offseason after the Costa Rica match instead of a 5-week offseason. Going to the Gold Cup meant he would’ve missed the majority of Heracles’ preseason and potentially lost his spot in the starting XI. I don’t think it would’ve happened, but the only opinion that matters here is Wormuth’s and he’s very particular about certain details for his team.
HERACLES’ CURRENT SEASON
The preseason for Heracles didn’t start well as they lost their center back captain to crosstown rival FC Twente. When asked, Wormuth bluntly said “They could pay him more and we could not.” A 4-3-3 against PSV on opening day resulted in a 2-0 loss. Wormuth quickly switched to a 4-2-3-1 and it started to look better. Had some good results early, but the team has had mostly bad luck and poor finishing since their draw against Ajax.
Leading attacker Rai Vloet was suspended by the club while under police investigation for being involved in an alcohol-related car crash (where a 4-year-old died). He was reinstated on January 10th with the investigation still ongoing. 2nd best attacker Ismail Azzaoui tore his ACL for the third time and is out for the season. And Delano Burgzorg, who is a very-frustrating player to watch but is still their leading scorer, is out “until early 2022”. That’s a lot of goals (22) from last season that have been unavailable.
LUCA’S CURRENT SEASON
We are one match over the halfway point in the Eredivisie season, so it would be a good time to evaluate Luca de la Torre’s performance so far.
On matchday 1 he played what looked to be a “rotating 6” with Kiomourtzolgu in a 4-3-3 and it didn’t go well. Heracles were without their best defender, Marco Rente, and had to play their true 6, Lucas Schoofs, at CB. Not optimal when playing PSV in your first match. But over the course of the season, he’s typically played in a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1. However, he has recently been the “10” for the club through multiple attacking injuries. His style is one of progressing the ball quickly to the wingers/strikers or combine with the fullbacks when the play has slowed down. There are many passes I’ve seen him give to left back Giacomo Quagliata and thought “that would be a money pass to Antonee Robinson” as many of those passes have put an overlapping fullback into a good position of attack. Recently, a long switch to LB Quagliata and back heel to RB Fadiga in the match vs. Groningen are great examples of Luca making passes that put players in positions of strength.
As far as *who* he has completed the most passes to, Quagliata and Fadiga are #1 and #3 on the list with CB Knoester at #2 The passes to Knoester are usually to either reset a possession or a quick switch. The left-footed Knoester is one of the better ball-progressing CBs in the league, so it’s rarely a pointless back pass from de la Torre. He does well to position himself as cover when the fullbacks are released, especially on the left side.
For a box-to-box player, the numbers are all there. High number of duels, dribbles, and has a lot of distance covered.
Current Eredivisie rank:
Duels won – 21st with 97 (10th among midfielders)
Dribbles completed – 9th with 31 (73.8%), 2nd in % completed among those w/ 30+ attempts.
Distance covered – 2nd with 209 kilometers while playing the lowest number of minutes of anyone in the top 10 (Note: the distance data from the Cambuur match hasn’t been added yet).
Pass completion in opponent’s half (min. 500 total passes) – 7th at 84% and is the first player not from the top 3 of PSV, Ajax, or Feyenoord.
Now to really get in the weeds, he has an Open Play xA of 1.64 (ranks 42nd and leads Heracles) and has an xT (Expected Threat) of 1.01 (ranks 77th). Considering his team, good numbers, not great.
However, his xT Through Carries is 0.46, which is 34th in the Eredivisie and above players such as Steven Berghuis, Albert Gudmundsson, Joey Veerman, Frankie Midstjo, and Riechedley Bazoer. He is one of the better midfielders at progressing the ball through carries in the league.
The question I hear most is “If he’s so good, why doesn’t he have any assists?” I made a YouTube video that gives a bit of an answer to that question while showing other things.
Stat site Soccerment gives his overall passing performance a score of 60. Which is good enough for 8th in the Eredivisie. It comes with 8 factors:
Passes own half p90, Pass accuracy own half, Passes opp. half p90, Pass accuracy opp. Half, Long passes p90, Long pass accuracy, Forward passes %, Possession losses p90
This is some good Eredivisie company for a player in the bottom half of the table to be in.
His ball progression is impressive in both the eye test and the statistical analysis. Thanks to Robin Wilhelmus, he’s attempted 156 progressive passes with 138 completed (88.5%). Only two of those were in his defensive third. That’s 8.19 progressive passes in the middle and final thirds per 90. Here’s how that number compares among other USMNT midfielders:
de la Torre – 8.19
Acosta – 5.13
Adams – 4.12
Lletget – 3.79
Roldan – 3.66
Busio – 2.67
McKennie – 2.50
Note: The data for Luca is from a Dutch stat site and the other players data is pulled from fbref which doesn’t count the defensive 2/5th of the field. Luca’s numbers don’t count the defensive 1/3, so there’s a 6-7% difference in counting progressive passes via field positioning. It’s not a perfect comparison but it’s the best I can do with the resources I have.
He’s also had 43 progressive runs so far, which is 2.6 progressive runs per 90. He’s had 113 passes or carries into the attacking third in 17 matches, or he gets the ball into the attacking third 6.8 times per match.
So that’s a combined total of 199 progressive runs and attempted progressive passes in 17 matches.
He’s known as a dynamic, ball-progressing 8, but he’s also able to ride out windows of pressure from the other team and defend space or even straight up man mark a player. In the match against Ajax, Berghuis had trouble getting the ball in the right middle third and it’s no coincidence Luca’s role was as the left-sided pivot.
He’s also extremely effective at pressing. He has 388 pressures, which is 23.4 per 90 and he ranks in the 90th percentile in the Eredivisie in pressure regains.
I just gave a lot of numbers because the eye test shows he’s having a good season and the numbers more than back it up.
He’s given away two penalties this season. The one against NEC Nijmegen was not good. Giveaway and untimely/freak-out tackle while down a goal and a man. The one against Vitesse? The more I watch it, the more I’m surprised the official called it. In re-watching the whole match, the official let a lot of physical play go in the 1st half (with an outright shove on Luca by Bazoer) yet called a soft hand from behind on the shoulder in the 18. On one hand, you can’t give attackers the chance to go down, yet the call didn’t go with the tone the official set both before and after the penalty.
As far as Heracles goes
They’ve been very unfortunate with injuries, but even when healthy they’ve had trouble simply putting the ball in the net. The most recent match v. Cambuur is their season in a nutshell. 3.52 xG for Heracles vs. 0.44 xG for Cambuur and it ended in a 1-1 draw.
In matches against Vitesse, Heerenveen, PEC Zwolle, Sparta Rotterdam, and Go Ahead Eagles, they earned 1 point. Why is that significant? Heracles’ xG for those matches is 5.61 to their opponents’ 5.39. While it’s a somewhat small sample size for xG, the fact they have just 1 point and couldn’t snatch a win at some point shows their performance in front of goal.
The 2nd half of the season will be interesting to watch. He’s one of Heracles’ top performers (CB Rente being the other). There have been pundits taking notice of what he can bring and there’s a feeling he’s on the radar of most Eredivisie clubs.
Heracles have an option for another year, but in the Eredivisie that would mean a 25% salary increase. Heracles supporters think it will happen and want it to happen. I do think he will be valued as long as he’s there. When Heracles lost to the nine men of Go Ahead Eagles 4-2, that was the only match Luca did not play in because of traveling back from the US. After the game, Wormuth said “We did not look like a real team in the last 15 minutes.” The fact Luca was not available 100% factored into that statement being made.
SO…WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE USMNT?
First, I’m not going to turn this into being “anti-This Player”. There are a lot of players who haven’t played particularly well for the USMNT that still get paid a lot of money to play soccer as their job. They make more money in one year than I do in five years. I view that as an overall success in life. Now that I’ve said that…
I personally think Luca can do a job better than other players who’ve had well over 1k minutes in the Berhalter era and for that, I’m disappointed he only has 13 WCQ minutes. I think going forward he should be in the WCQ group (hopefully as early as January). I think he would be a great off-the-bench option if midfield ball progression isn’t happening with the starters. Even if he doesn’t do anything that wows the crowd, he’s fairly ball secure and usually keeps the play moving within 3 touches. And he knows some of the core from the CONCACAF grind of the u17 and u20 level. He spent time in u17 residency with Pulisic, Adams, and McKennie. Familiarity is already there.
He’s also shown he’s fine defensively. 6.87 tackles, interceptions, and passes blocked per 90. He’s much better at off-the-ball positioning to make the ball go elsewhere this season, too. When he wins the ball, he does so in a way that either gets it up the field quickly or gets it to the LCB so he can start the possession.
If you asked for one sentence why Luca de la Torre should be in the WCQ picture moving forward, it would be: “A ground-covering 8 that constantly looks for quick progressive passes to overlapping fullbacks.”
- Plays quickly
- Combines with fullbacks well
- Covers lot of ground; Called “Superfit” among TV pundits in the Netherlands
- Can hold the ball until a progressive opening develops
- Can do a job defensively and in the press
- Can be “too safe” w/ passing in the opening 10-15 minutes
- Struggles in duels against players much larger than him
- Rarely defends set pieces, usually in a one or two-man wall or cleans up outside the 18 on corners
If you made it this far, thank you for reading. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find Eredivisie stats since they are harder to find than the top 5 leagues. The original idea of this article is to help those USMNT supporters that don’t watch Heracles Almelo weekly. And since the Venn Diagram of USMNT supporters and Heracles supporters is basically two separate circles except for me, I figure I’d get to writing. Thank you @lambertsmarc, @RobinWilhelmus, @JohnSpaceMuller, and @CarlonCarpenter for all their help with statistical data and how I can/should interpret it.
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