National Writer: Charles Boehm

Pulisic answers Chelsea doubters, Pepi stays red-hot as World Cup nears for USMNT


With every minute of match action at a premium in the countdown to the start of the 2022 World Cup next month, it was a busy and largely encouraging week for many members of the US men’s national team player pool.

But before we dive in, some fresh and encouraging news about the one who’s been the missing link far too often in this cycle thanks to injury woes: Gio Reyna.

It seems the teenage talent could take the pitch for Borussia Dortmund again as soon as midweek, as BVB prepare for big games vs. Sevilla and Union Berlin. A healthy and productive return would be music to the ears and art to the eyes of USMNT fans and staffers alike.

Christian Pulisic starts, scores

With less than a week between the Blues’ massive UEFA Champions League meetings with AC Milan, Chelsea boss Graham Potter elected to rotate his lineup heavily for Wolves’ weekend visit to Stamford Bridge, and Pulisic was a top beneficiary.

Working the left wing in a 4-2-3-1 shape Potter later hinted had him in mind, the kid from Hershey threatened Wanderers fullback Nelson Semedo repeatedly and drew some good goalkeeping from José Sá. But he failed to convert several good looks as CFC dominated, and did not make it count until Kai Havertz broke through in first-half injury time.

Pulisic finally converted via a slick combination with Mason Mount after the break, showing real quality to lift an angled finish over Sá with his weaker left foot for his first club goal of the season before making way for Reece James in the 72nd minute of an eventual 3-0 victory that breaks Chelsea’s four-game winless skid in league play.

NBC Sports has helpfully provided touch-by-touch CP10 analysis of both the written and video varieties, and that lens underlines both the brightness and wastefulness of his afternoon as he shifted through the gears over the course of this rare start.

Still, it was a statement of intent to Potter and perhaps earned him some minutes off the bench in Tuesday’s key visit to the San Siro, where the Blues could really use a result to balance out the cost of their shock loss at Dinamo Zagreb last month.

Pristine Europa League laundry for Matt Turner

Making another start for Arsenal in Thursday’s UEL visit from Norwegian upstarts (and former home of Zarek Valentin) Bodo/Glimt, Turner posted the first clean sheet of his Gunners career in the 3-0 win.

As simple as such a result may look on paper under the prevailing conventional wisdom, he wasn’t sitting on his hands all game, either. The New England Revolution alum was called to make three saves and logged 37 touches; big ups to CBS Sports for giving us a timely in-depth piece – with quotes from the man himself! – to examine his evening more closely.

These are the midweek matchday experiences Turner must suck the proverbial marrow out of in the countdown to Qatar, and he seems to have the mental wiring to do exactly that.

For reference, his USMNT goalkeeping counterparts Zack Steffen and Ethan Horvath started both of their English Championship clubs’ respective matches since the international break. Steffen was a top performer in Boro’s 1-0 win over Birmingham City before Saturday's 2-0 loss at Millwall, while Horvath's Luton Town drew 3-3 with Huddersfield and 0-0 at West Brom.

Red-hot Ricardo Pepi bags a brace

Is that the sound of a choo-choo train whistle piping up in the Netherlands?

The Eredivisie once helped Jozy Altidore jump-start his career, and it seems to be having a comparable effect on Pepi just a few weeks into his Dutch loan adventure. The FC Dallas product was man of the match and scored both of Groningen’s goals against RKC Waalwijk on Friday, running his total to 4g/1a in five games.

Alas for Pepi, some grievous defensive errors stole the show as Groningen fell 3-2 at home, with the clumsy first-half sequence that led to both a Waalwijk penalty kick and red card for Radinio Balker particularly costly.

‘The Pride of the North’ are now 1W-4L-0D in their last five and have slipped troublingly close to the drop zone, but it’s hard to think of how Pepi could have done any more to help since his arrival.

Cascadian catastrophe for Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan, Eryk Williamson

An Audi MLS Cup Playoffs without Cascadia? Sounds surreal, but that’s the deal, as the results of the final week of the regular season doomed the PacNorthwest trio to early curtains in 2022.

Basically, this has never happened – not to mention the fact that Portland or Seattle have represented the Western Conference in every MLS Cup final since 2015.

That has both emotional and logistical consequences for the above trio as they each try to snare one of the USMNT’s final World Cup roster spots. All three are likely to top the list of participants in the domestic training camp Gregg Berhalter will convene (time and location still TBA) this month for MLS-based USMNTers who’ll need to stay fit and sharp between the end of their club campaigns and the onset of the tournament.

Notably, Williamson was left on the bench for the Timbers’ 3-1 Decision Day loss at Real Salt Lake, where a win or draw would’ve seen them into the postseason at RSL’s expense. Afterwards coach Gio Savarese made clear that EW was fit to play, then turned cryptic, saying Williamson was “maybe not being at his best to contribute what I think a team needs from a player,” yet also admitting that “nevertheless, we missed him.”


Meanwhile Morris played only the first half of Seattle’s dead-rubber 2-2 draw with San Jose, looking quite uncomfortably gimpy after a collision but not seriously hurt, according to his coach Brian Schmetzer: “It was just precautionary. He knocked knees very early ... [but] I talked to him at halftime and he's fine, just a knocked knee.”

Roldan, for his part, went the distance in an attacking role vs. the Earthquakes, his first full 90 since undergoing groin surgery in August.

Josh Sargent, Brenden Aaronson bright in defeats

Pop quiz: Which Yank is joint tops in the English Championship’s goals + assists chart after 13 matches? None other than Sargent, as the ginger from St. Louis netted his seventh goal of the campaign just seconds after the opening whistle in what would turn out to be a frustrating 3-2 home loss to Preston North End for Norwich. In fact, he was one of three Yanks to make the second tier’s team of the week:

With 7g/2a, Sargent now stands level with Hull City’s Oscar Estupiñan (8g/1a) in Champo G+A, ensuring that he’ll remain in the thick of the USMNT No. 9 conversation for some time to come – albeit with the specific extent to which Berhalter rates him still in some doubt thanks to the coach’s hazy handling of, and public utterances about, the Canaries star.

Up in the top flight, Aaronson started per usual in Leeds United’s visit to Crystal Palace, and got the Whites on the board early when his twinkle-toed dribble and shot off the post set up teammate Pascal Struijk for a straightforward finish for LUFC’s opener:

But Jesse Marsch’s squad could not make their early dominance count and were second-best in the second half as Patrick Vieira orchestrated a Palace comeback for a 2-1 win in this Hudson River Derby-flavored clash of former New York Red Bulls and NYCFC bosses.

Looking ahead…

USMNTers across the Old Continent will be involved in a particularly weighty set of UEFA continental fixtures looming this week, like Turner likely to start Arsenal’s reverse fixture with Bodo/Glimt on Thursday, and even some head-to-head matchups like Pulisic’s Chelsea vs. Sergiño Dest’s Milan.

You can find and stream those matches over on Paramount Plus, and with the World Cup barely a month away, rest assured that Berhalter and his staff are doing exactly that, too.