While U.S. men's national team January camp enters its final week, the Europe-based core players were off having one of their most collectively prolific weeks of the season.
Three current national team players scored for their respective clubs, while two other key stars moved onto the last 16 of the FA Cup to headline the most recent batch of matches abroad. Two more players who figure to be in the national team mix this year and beyond debuted with their new clubs after leaving the MLS nest, while a former, but not forgotten, U.S. midfielder popped up at his new club with a debut goal to cap it all off.
Here's what stood out the most from the group of Americans abroad:
More McKennie magic
Juventus couldn't have possibly imagined it would be getting the consistent performances out of Weston McKennie that it has, yet the 22-year-old Texan has more than held his own with the Italian giant. Just days after winning his first trophy in Europe—the Supercoppa Italiana—he was at it again in Serie A, scoring the insurance goal in a 2–0 win over Bologna.
The goal was a header off a corner kick, capping another all-around strong performance from McKennie, who is just oozing confidence at this point.
It's easy to forget that McKennie is on loan from Schalke this season, but there's every reason to believe his arrangement with Juventus will be a long-term one. Juve has an option to buy that will range from $21.9 million to $30.2 million based on certain benchmarks, and it was always expected that the move would become permanent.
“We would be more than happy to have him back here. He still has three years on his contract. He’s still a great player—still a fantastic person. It’s going to be a win-win situation if he stays there permanently or if he will come back. But I think he will not return to Schalke next summer,” Schalke sporting director Jochen Schneider told Sports Illustrated in September. “I wouldn’t call [the loan] a trial. That’s not the perfect description. I know that they see a long-term investment in him and that Juventus, they don’t want to keep him just for one year. This was clear.”
What else is clear is that McKennie is more than holding up his end of the bargain to keep Juve interested.
Sargent needed this
You could choose to read plenty into the way Josh Sargent hit his laces through the ball in the 77th minute of Werder Bremen's win over Hertha Berlin. The stunning strike, which capped a 4–1 victory, seemed like a cathartic boost for a player whose chances to score have been few and far in between and actual goals converted even more scarce.
Coming off the bench for the first time this season, Sargent replaced the injured Davie Selke 32 minutes into Saturday's match, and he made the most of the unexpected opportunity. It wasn't just the strike, either—the turn and control to set himself up were just as impressive.
"I am exhausted, but happy. It was a little hectic when I came on, I wasn’t expecting it so early," Sargent said after the match. "I’m really happy that I scored today."
With Sargent missing out on the USMNT's November camp and pair of friendlies due to local COVID-19 protocols in Bremen, it's been over a year since he's been in camp under Gregg Berhalter—but he must've certainly caught the coach's eye with his first Bundesliga goal since Oct. 31 and just his fourth in all competitions this season.
A unique first for Adams
It's kind of wild to consider that Tyler Adams has scored arguably the most significant goal ever by an American male on the European stage, and yet he had done that without ever having actually scored a league goal for his same club, RB Leipzig.
That is no more, after Adams opened the scoring in what was ultimately a detrimental 3–2 defeat to Mainz on Saturday. Adams was first to the rebound of a shot that was ripped off the crossbar, instinctively and aggressively pouncing to give Leipzig the early lead.
It didn't last, though, and now Leipzig, having dropped points in three of its last four league games, is suddenly seven points off the pace in the Bundesliga. Such is the thin margin for error in the time of this Bayern Munich.
A new coach for Pulisic
Christian Pulisic was one of two core USMNT players to advance in the FA Cup over the weekend, joining Man City's Zack Steffen, but the real significant development for Pulisic is what came a day later.
Frank Lampard is out as Chelsea manager, throwing a significant curveball into Pulisic's daily development. It could wind up being a boon, though. While Pulisic has taken some significant strides under Lampard at Chelsea, he is reportedly going to be reunited with former Borussia Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel. It was Tuchel who gave Pulisic his Bundesliga debut, back in January 2016, and Pulisic had glowing things to say about the manager upon his club exit.
"I'm just very thankful for everything [Tuchel] did for me," Pulisic said. "[He] always just trusted me and gave me a chance. Of course he's given me tips and feedback with what he sees every day in training and stuff like that, small things."
That familiarity bodes well for Pulisic's continued growth, and with four Premier League matches scheduled in the next 12 days, the manager could be more likely to turn to a face he knows to hit the ground running.
As for Pulisic and Steffen's weekend cup performances, neither was particularly spectacular in his respective club's win, with Steffen conceding a goal to fourth-tier Cheltenham Town off a long throw-in routine and Pulisic putting a pair of shots on target vs. second-tier Luton Town but continuing to struggle to find the same attacking rhythm that saw his star rise over the summer.
Nevertheless, both of their clubs will be on the road in the fifth round in two weeks' time, with Chelsea at Barnsley and Man City at Swansea City—where new Swans loanee Jordan Morris could potentially get a crack at scoring on his countryman.
Hoppe's streak continues, then ends
Matthew Hoppe couldn't go on scoring forever. If there were ever a time for the most unassuming scoring streak by an American abroad to end, it would be against Bayern Munich, and so it was on Sunday in Schalke's 4–0 defeat to the reigning German and European kings, which keeps the club eight points out from escaping automatic relegation.
Hoppe had made it five goals in three games on Wednesday with an equalizer vs. Koln, which followed his hat trick vs. Hoffenheim and subsequent goal vs. Eintracht Frankfurt.
In attempting to start up a new streak, he'll have to fend off a veteran and club legend for playing time, after Schalke brought Klaas-Jan Huntelaar back from Ajax to assist in the fight against relegation.
Manager Christian Gross hinted that move could mean a temporary drop in status, but Schalke is eyeing a long-term future for the 19-year-old California native regardless of the Dutchman's looming presence.
“The club management is doing everything they can to ensure that he will continue to play for Schalke in the future,” Gross said last week. “It is really great how he is applying himself and giving 100% for Schalke.
“It wouldn’t be a problem for him if Klaas-Jan Huntelaar jumps ahead of him in the pecking order. He can benefit massively from Klaas-Jan and he is determined to keep developing.”
McKenzie, Aaronson debut
Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie both came through the Philadelphia Union system and both departed the club in the same offseason, so it's only fitting that both MLS 2020 Best XI players debuted with their new clubs on the same day.
McKenzie started in Genk's 3–2 defeat to first-place Club Brugge, while Aaronson came off the bench for his first official appearance under Jesse Marsch at Salzburg in a 2–0 win over lowly Rheindorf Altach. A transition and settling period for both should be expected, but it's an encouraging sign that they've both gone straight into the team to kick-start their respective European journeys.
Mix Diskerud is off on a new adventure, this time with Denizlispor in Turkey after technically being on the books at Manchester City since 2018. He spent all his time "at" Man City on loan with Goteborg (Sweden), Ulsan Hyundai (South Korea) and Helsingborg (Sweden again), but he signed with his new club on a free transfer last week, inking a one-and-a-half year deal to cover the rest of this season and all of the 2021–22 campaign.
The 30-year-old midfielder and member of the USA's 2014 World Cup team is off to a bright start, coming off the bench and scoring within five minutes, albeit in a defeat.
The 2–1 setback keeps Denizlispor in last place in the Turkish top flight, and it remains to be seen whether Diskerud's full season there takes place in the first or second division. With four teams being relegated from the temporarily expanded 21-team circuit (Turkey suspended relegation last season due to the impact of the coronavirus and promoted three to the top flight, which is usually at 18 teams. The league will be at 20 teams next season), Diskerud's club finds itself five points away from safety at the halfway point.