The Highs, Lows of Season-Ending Drama for USMNT Players Abroad

The impact of the season finales and other vital matches across Europe will be felt for a number of U.S. players next season and beyond.
Author:
Publish date:

The men's club season across Europe's top echelon will officially come to a close with Saturday's Champions League final, but for the vast majority of players—and all but two Americans in those leagues and at those clubs—the business end is done.

The weekend put a wrap on Europe's top domestic leagues, with titles clinched, Champions League berths sewn up, some promotions and relegations secured and others still in the balance with playoff finals to be played. With an increasing American presence across those leagues (see below for this season's unprecedented trophy haul), there was an increasing impact on a number of U.S. internationals with regard to each one of those facets, with five key developments in particular standing out over the last couple of days:

USMNT's Tim Weah, Weston McKennie and Josh Sargent

McKennie, Pulisic get help they need to return to Champions League

Clubs like Juventus and Chelsea don't pride themselves on needing boosts from the outside to achieve their baseline goals, but they'll happily accept the gifts they were presented Sunday. 

Juventus needed a result vs. Bologna and some help to avoid the ignominy of failing to qualify for the Champions League. It got both, with a 4–1 win (with Cristiano Ronaldo conspicuously absent) and Hellas Verona's 1–1 draw with Napoli vaulting Juve back into Serie A's top four. For Weston McKennie, who overall enjoyed a successful first season in Turin, it means more big European stages to come. He's a player who scored at the San Siro and Camp Nou this season and won't have to worry about the step backward that Thursday nights in the Europa League would have represented. Juve's reign atop Serie A may be over, and there are some significant questions facing the club this summer, but at least it's still a Champions League club (if not a Super club).

Chelsea still had an out had it finished fifth in the Premier League, with the winner of the Champions League being guaranteed a place in next season's competition, but fortunately for the Blues, that element of Saturday's final is off the table. That's thanks to Harry Kane and Gareth Bale, who helped deliver Tottenham a win over Leicester that kept Chelsea in the top four just barely after its last-day defeat to Aston Villa. Christian Pulisic started and assisted on Chelsea's lone goal on the day, but the club's form heading into the European final, as loser of three of its last four in all competitions, has to be worrisome. At least it knows it'll be in the competition again next season, regardless of how the final vs. Man City turns out.

Weah's Lille wins Ligue 1

Tim Weah was but a spectator on Sunday as Lille put the finishing touches on a remarkable title run in France by holding off Weah's former team, PSG, with a win in the season finale. It's the club's first title in 10 years, and it brought some needed intrigue and competition to a league that's been so obviously dominated by PSG and its deep pockets. Save for Monaco's 2016–17 title with a nascent Kylian Mbappé at the center of a remarkable group of talent, PSG had won every title dating back to '12–13.

Lille's attack was truly led by Turkish veteran Burak Yilmaz and Canadian rising star Jonathan David, but getting through the season unscathed was a blessing in itself for Weah, who had lost nearly all of last season to injury. He scored three goals in his 28 appearances (seven starts), totaling just 867 league minutes—he also scored twice in six Europa League games—but he'll have a platform to do much more with Lille guaranteed a Champions League group berth. Weah, 21, is under contract through 2024.

Sargent's Werder Bremen relegated

Werder Bremen had flown close to the sun last season, with its late doldrums being unpunished following success in Germany's promotion-relegation playoff. It flew too close, this season, though. A complete and utter collapse over the final 10 games of the season (0-9-1) sent Werder Bremen packing for 2. Bundesliga, with automatic relegation secured on the final day. 

It's horribly disappointing for the club and its 21-year-old U.S. striker, Josh Sargent, though he may not suffer along with the bulk of his teammates. ESPN reported last week that the club is open to selling him, given that he's a player who carries some significant market value, and now that relegation is a reality, the club will need to be even more mindful of its finances. Regardless of whether it's failing upward—and it surely won't feel like this to Sargent in the immediate aftermath—relegation as the impetus to send Sargent to a more prolific club could wind up being a net positive for the individual, who scored seven goals in 37 appearances (35 starts) this season. 

Green's Greuther Furth promoted

It's the circle of life: One U.S. international's club goes down, another's comes up. In Greuther Furth's case, Julian Green had a significant hand in the latter part of the equation, scoring the goal that ultimately secured the club's automatic ticket to the top flight. It came with his team down a goal and down to 10 men against Fortuna Dusseldorf, and Holstein Kiel's simultaneous loss meant that Furth only needed a draw to avoid the promotion playoff and claim one of the top two spots in the second tier. It wound up winning, 3–2, to be fully certain, but Green's goal came at a clutch moment. It's not the first time he's done something like that for the club, either. Three years ago, he scored from long range to steer the club away from automatic relegation to the German third tier. 

It's the culmination of a long road back to the German top flight for the 25-year-old former Bayern Munich product, who saw the fruits of his labor this season pay off with his first U.S. call-up under Gregg Berhalter. He'll be part of the squad that faces Switzerland on Sunday in a final tune-up for the Concacaf Nations League final four. Whether he makes the final squad for that competition will be known later on Monday, but either way, he's back on the radar in more ways than one.

Dike, Carter-Vickers's clubs fall short of promotion

Both Daryl Dike and Cameron Carter-Vickers were on loan, so the sting of failing to secure promotion shouldn't necessarily feel as harsh. After all, there's no guarantee they would've been joining Barnsley and Bournemouth, respectively, in the Premier League next season, anyway. But they definitely won't be after both of their clubs fell short of the promotion final. Carter-Vickers, the 23-year-old centerback, started and was generously credited with the assist on a goal in the second leg of the semifinals, as Bournemouth built a 2–0 aggregate lead only to watch it slip away in a 3–2 defeat to Brentford. What's next remains to be seen, though any future at Tottenham is highly unlikely. He's been linked to Newcastle, Anderlecht and a permanent return to Bournemouth.

Dike, meanwhile, came off the bench at halftime of the second leg but couldn't find his scoring touch in Barnsley's 2–1 aggregate defeat to Swansea. He finished his time with the club with nine goals in 21 appearances, turning heads along the way with his array of finishes. Orlando City has been adamant that the 20-year-old Dike is a $20 million player, but whether a club in England or elsewhere will meet that valuation is the ultimate question. At the very least, not playing in the promotion playoff final over the weekend frees Dike—along with Sargent and Green—to link up with the U.S. to face the 13th-ranked Swiss.

USMNT ABROAD: 2020–21 TROPHY WINNERS

UEFA Champions League: Either Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) or Zack Steffen (Man City)

English Premier League: Steffen

English League Cup: Steffen

Ligue 1: Tim Weah (Lille)

Copa del Rey: Sergiño Dest (Barcelona)

Coppa Italia: Weston McKennie (Juventus)

Supercoppa Italiana: McKennie

DFB Pokal: Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)

Belgian Cup: Mark McKenzie (Genk)

Belgian League: Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge)

Austrian Cup: Brenden Aaronson (Salzburg)

Austrian Bundesliga: Aaronson

Swiss League: Jordan Siebatcheu (Young Boys)

More Soccer Coverage: