With one touch apiece, two of the U.S. men's national team's brightest young talents gave a glimpse into what they bring to the table–and something that the U.S. has been sorely lacking with consistency.
Christian Pulisic's goal for Chelsea and Giovanni Reyna's assist for Borussia Dortmund headlined a noteworthy weekend for Americans abroad, a welcome change of pace for U.S. fans after weeks of moral victories and relative degrees of success following the restarts of their respective leagues.
Both efforts were the result of well-timed runs into dangerous areas in the flow of the attack. In the current incarnation of the USMNT, proficiency, inventiveness and productivity in the final third have not exactly been found in abundance. And while it's true that what's done with one's club isn't necessarily replicable with a national team–the talent around a player at a club may be significantly better or more cohesive (or both), or a club system may play more into a player's strengths–it's tantalizing to think about what a national team with a healthy Pulisic and more battle-tested Reyna could be capable of doing.
Take Pulisic's equalizer vs. Aston Villa, for instance, the result of a charging run to the back post to meet a curling ball from a surging fullback. It's a goal straight out of Gregg Berhalter's dreams. Not bad for a player who had been on the field for five minutes, seeing his first competitive action since New Year's Day thanks to the combination of a nagging injury and the pandemic shutdown.
"He was hungry, I know that and I felt for him," Chelsea manager Frank Lampard said of Pulisic, who also completed all three of his long ball attempts as part of a 12-for-19 passing performance. "He has trained well and has come back strong from his injury. The ability to arrive in the box is a big thing, and it’s something Christian has. It is a difference between being a very good player on the flank and a top-class player."
It's also one of the things the U.S. so badly needs, and it was provided by Reyna, too, albeit down the middle of the field and not out wide. On the day of his first start for Dortmund–something that may have come a game earlier if not for a non-COVID-19 sickness ruling him out of a midweek loss to Mainz–Reyna, who was 64 days older than Pulisic when he made his first Dortmund start in the Bundesliga in 2016, had been largely quiet for the first half an hour. Then, with one move into the box and one deft touch to set up Erling Haaland's opener against RB Leipzig, he showed why Haaland dubbed him "The American Dream."
The assist helped cap a superb spell of play for Dortmund, and it also displayed Reyna's supreme field awareness. His run into the box was timed perfectly, and his ability to judge, in the moment, that he could A) find an onside Haaland in a tight space, B) weight his touch perfectly while in stride and C) choose to pass instead of shoot, with the opportunity to score on his first start right there, showed the aptitude of a player whose age simply doesn't matter.
"I called him 'The American Dream' before, and that's true. He is 17 years old, and what he was doing on the pitch today was amazing," Haaland, still just 19 himself, said after the match. "He has a huge future in front of him."
Reyna, to his credit, has the self-awareness to go along with his field awareness. He rued an instance where he didn't pass to Haaland, and considering the Norwegian's track record, that left him room for a proper self-critique.
"You just have to pass it to him and he scores. That's what I did today. I should've passed to him one more time and he would've scored," Reyna, who completed 36 of his 42 pass attempts in his 81-minute showing, said in his post-match comments.
The next step for both is building on this tangible success and achieving it with consistency, though that'll be difficult to do considering the circumstances–more so for Reyna. Dortmund, which wrapped up a second-place finish with its win at Leipzig, has one match left, Saturday against Hoffenheim. The club is out of the DFB Pokal and Champions League, so it'll be back to the training ground for Reyna, who could have a new manager next season if rumors regarding Lucien Favre's future pan out. Favre, for what it's worth, has been a big and vocal proponent of Reyna and his talents.
"I want to finish the season strong, get more minutes next week, of course, and finish with a win and then work hard next season and hopefully work my way into the team and become a starter," Reyna said.
Chelsea, meanwhile, has at least 10 games left before its interrupted season ends–eight in the league, an FA Cup quarterfinal and a Champions League last-16 second leg, though it trails Bayern after a 3-0 loss in the home leg–which should afford ample opportunities for Pulisic if for no other reason than for Lampard's need to rotate the squad.
It's what happens next season that could be cause for concern. Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner are on their way to Stamford Bridge, and the club remains linked, along with the rest of the Premier League's upper echelon, to young Bundesliga talents Kai Havertz and Jadon Sancho. That's a lot of potential competition for a player who already had to fight for playing time against the likes of Willian, Pedro and Mason Mount and has shown to be injury-prone. Perhaps a full year of Premier League seasoning under his belt–not to mention a potential strong run of form to close this campaign–will serve a valuable purpose.
There's no telling when the two will be able to see if these moments can translate to the U.S. stage. Reyna was due to appear for the U.S. senior team for the first time in the March friendlies in Europe that never happened, while it's unclear whether Pulisic would have been fit in time to take part. Now, there's uncertainty over the international calendar and when the Concacaf Nations League semifinals, originally slated for June, and World Cup qualifying, originally set to start in September, will take place. Whenever they do, the U.S. will have two young players in the fold clearly capable of making the most of a moment, and for a team fixated on getting back to the World Cup stage, there can never be enough of those.
Pulisic and Reyna were the American stars of the weekend, but they weren't the only ones who stood out. Here are some of the other highlights from overseas:
Richards makes his Bayern debut
One of the benefits of clinching the league title with a couple of games to go is giving playing time to younger players who otherwise wouldn't be getting it. That's the circumstance that led to former FC Dallas product Chris Richards, 20, making his full debut for Bayern Munich. It may have been just a six-minute cameo in a game whose result was sorted, but the list of Americans who have played for Bayern's first team isn't very long.
Perhaps there's a bigger role to play in Saturday's Bundesliga finale at Wolfsburg, and with Javi Martinez and Jerome Boateng both 31 and out of contract at the end of next season, maybe more minutes open up. Or maybe a loan to a top-flight club with more attainable first-team minutes is in the cards. Either way, things are looking up for the Alabama native.
Adams fares well in second-half showing
Tyler Adams was on the wrong end of Reyna and Dortmund's win, coming off the bench at halftime for RB Leipzig. As is normal for him, he was consistently involved in the action, tying for a team-high with three interceptions and completing 29 of his 33 passes (including 2-for-3 on long balls and 1-for-1 on crosses).
He also got Reyna's jersey from the day as a consolation prize, even though it had been presumed that jersey swaps would not be happening for the time being in the coronavirus-protocol era.
Sargent, Werder Bremen go to the wire
Either way, Werder Bremen will end the Bundesliga season in the relegation zone. It's just a matter of whether it'll be in an automatic drop spot or in the playoff place, which comes with a potential life jacket.
Josh Sargent started and had another productive day from a personal standpoint in a 3-1 loss to Mainz, firing off four shots (two on target), but the result leaves Werder Bremen two points behind Fortuna Dusseldorf in the playoff place. The math is simple: in Saturday's simultaneous finales, Werder Bremen needs to beat Cologne and hope Dusseldorf (which has U.S. midfielder Alfredo Morales and on-loan U.S. goalkeeper Zack Steffen) loses to Union Berlin. Otherwise it's down to the 2. Bundesliga (barring a move elsewhere) for the 20-year-old St. Louis-area native.
McKennie, Brooks square off
Schalke's struggles continued in a 4-1 defeat to Wolfsburg, which extended the club's winless skid to 14 games. Weston McKennie was, again, an individual bright spot for S04, following up his midweek goal by filling up the stat sheet. He passed at an 89% clip (32-for-36, 2-for-2 on long balls) and continued being aggressive going forward with a couple of shots (one on target) and a team-high four successful dribbles.
On the victorious end was John Brooks, who put in another commendable shift at center back. He won five aerial duels, had a team-high five clearances and completed a tidy 91% of his passes (51-for-56, 4-for-6 on long balls).
Vassilev, Yedlin non-factors in Premier League
Indiana Vassilev, Aston Villa's 19-year-old American forward, has remained rooted to the bench as an unused substitute in the club's first two games back. He did, however, sign a new two-year deal with the club last month.
DeAndre Yedlin, meanwhile, came on in mop-up duty for the waning seconds of stoppage time in Newcastle's 3-0 win over Sheffield United. He made a bigger statement earlier in the week, saying he's considering his U.S. national team future as it relates to representing a country "where all people aren't equal."
Robinson returns from heart ailment
English-American fullback Antonee Robinson was involved in a bizarre winter transfer deadline day snafu, which saw a move from Wigan Athletic to AC Milan fall apart at the last second. The reason, it turned out, was over a heart condition discovered at his medical, which required more time to test and vet than was available to both clubs.
He since had a procedure to correct the irregular heart rhythm and returned to the field with Wigan in an 86-minute stint vs. Huddersfield in the club's first game back in England's second tier. No matter how the rest of this season and the upcoming transfer window play out, that Robinson is back playing at all is progress enough.