“Just keep plugging away. Just keep going. You never know: twists and turns, up and downs, life and football is a rollercoaster. But if you just keep going, there’s nobody to stop you but yourself.”
We’re talking about Fulham center back and St. Louis native Tim Ream, of course, whose excellent English Premier League campaign with the Cottagers earned him a late, late return to the USMNT fold last week, as he earned a ticket to the World Cup after going more than a year without a call-up.
Thankfully for Gregg Berhalter and USMNT supporters, Ream and the rest of the European-based Yanks seem to have made it through the final weekend of pre-World Cup club soccer with no heartbreaking late injuries before jetting off to Qatar. We’ll start at Craven Cottage.
Ream was one of Fulham’s top-rated performers as the Cottagers hosted Manchester United on Sunday, logging 79 touches, completing 87% of his passes and drawing a good save out of David de Gea with a corner-kick header in addition to a slew of defensive actions at left center back.
His club/country colleague Antonee “Jedi” Robinson was also solid at left back, playing a role in the buildup to Fulham’s equalizer. But all their work to earn what would’ve been a respectable 1-1 draw went out the window in extra time as teenage substitute Alejandro Garnacho slashed open the right side of FFC’s defense for a last-gasp winner for the Red Devils.
The story across town in North London was similar, albeit perhaps even more frustrating, when Leeds United visited Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.
Tyler Adams logged his usual tenacious engine-room shift for the Whites while Brenden Aaronson assisted on Crysencio Summerville’s opening goal, only for Leeds’ leaky defense to get torn apart repeatedly as they blew three leads and conceded two goals in the final 10 minutes for a 4-3 loss. To add insult to injury, a late second yellow card to Adams got him ejected, meaning his World Cup break will run a bit longer than originally expected when he eventually rejoins LUFC next month.
If there was a Golden Boot race for USMNTers in Europe, it would be a hot one this season, as Sargent continues to keep pace with Turkey-based Haji Wright at the top of the heap with nine league goals apiece. The red-haired striker bagged his ninth of the season in the Canaries’ 2-1 English Championship home loss to Middlesbrough, beating his countryman and surprise World Cup snub Zack Steffen with a low-angled strike to open the scoring.
Sargent also had a decent shout for a penalty kick waved off before ex-Charlotte FC asset Riley McGree – remember him? – sparked Boro’s comeback win with a screamer of a half-volley from range. Notably for Stateside audiences, the visitors also gave Matthew Hoppe 15 minutes off the bench.
In the World Cup outlook, the big takeaway here is Sargent’s ongoing liveliness. The St. Louis kid keeps flashing a well-rounded skillset elevated by his obvious rhythm and confidence, and looks to us like a leading contender to start the Group B opener vs. Wales.
They grew up together in the New York City FC academy, and on Friday Scally and Reyna faced off in a distant land as Borussia Monchengladbach hosted Borussia Dortmund in what turned out to be quite a Bundesliga barnburner.
Spearheaded by Marcus Thuram, Gladbach’s transition-savvy attack ripped BVB apart repeatedly in a wide-open 4-2 win, with Scally his usual quietly effective self at right back. Stationed on Dortmund’s right flank, Reyna played only the first half and probably should’ve bagged a goal and an assist during that time, showing some of his quality, but not quite taking the game by the scruff of the neck to the extent his team needed.
Most importantly for the national team, it was the latest outing in Reyna’s steadily-accumulating sequence of match appearances since the injury-plagued attacker returned from his latest muscular problem last month. That begs two questions: Is he ready to start for the Yanks in Qatar? And is he performing at a high enough level to displace Tim Weah or even Christian Pulisic from the starting XI?
Berhalter and his staff have some tricky decisions to make over the next week, starting with how to gauge this trio’s readiness for minutes vs. Wales in light of their recent muscle strains.
McKennie and de la Torre did not make their club teams’ gameday squads over the weekend, which means even if they’re ready for the World Cup opener in sheer fitness terms, they will have gone weeks since their last match outings. McKennie is a talismanic piece for the USMNT in both performance and personality terms, yet it’s looking quite conceivable he won’t be fully ready for the opening whistle of the opening match.
De la Torre would be one of the leading contenders to step in for McKennie if he were fit and healthy. Alas, that appears to not be the case at present, with Berhalter saying at Wednesday’s roster release event the Celta de Vigo midfielder will need to be brought along to full speed by the performance staff while in Qatar.
We suspect all this adds up to a higher likelihood of Berhalter “flipping the triangle” in the center of the park vs. Wales – going to more of a 4-2-3-1 formation than the usual 4-3-3. One possible look there: Adams and Yunus Musah sitting deeper behind a central attacking midfielder like Aaronson or Pulisic.
Turner, meanwhile, was on the bench for Premier League-leading Arsenal’s latest win, yet hasn’t seen featured in a match since a Europa League win over PSV Eindhoven on Oct. 20. Does that open the door for Ethan Horvath – who’s playing most every game for Luton Town – or Sean Johnson to snatch the starting job in goal?
Elsewhere, Pulisic was lively in a 45-minute substitute outing for Chelsea but couldn’t prevent the Blues from falling 1-0 at Newcastle United, their fourth loss in their last five matches and another sign of the recurring turmoil around Stamford Bridge that so often makes USMNT duty a relief for the kid from Hershey.
Sergiño Dest logged 34 minutes off the bench for AC Milan in their Serie A win over Fiorentina on Sunday, a good sign given the fullback’s recent adductor issues, though not exactly conclusive proof he’s ready for a full 90 vs. Wales.
And surprise US roster snub Ricardo Pepi shook off his disappointment to score yet again for FC Groningen in the Netherlands, his sixth strike of the season. This is encouraging both in the long run of the FC Dallas product’s personal development and the World Cup short term if, as we suspect, he’s on the USMNT’s list of alternates ready to report to the Persian Gulf in the event of an injury to another attacker.
One final note: With Qatar 2022 looming, this is our USMNT weekend wrap swansong. But we’re jetting off to Doha this week and will be serving up plenty of on-site coverage in the coming days, so keep it locked here on MLSsoccer.com.