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Sunday, July 21, 2024

USMNT Player Tracker: Cardoso debuts, Sergino’s destiny and McKennie on top

Daunting debuts, pivotal wins and audacious goals all feature in this week’s USMNT tracker.

We will be bringing you updates on the USMNT players plying their trade in various leagues around Europe. With the Copa America coming up later this year, and a World Cup on home soil looming ever larger on the horizon, we’re keeping tabs on how they perform every weekend.

Issue of the weekend

There are baptisms of fire and then there is replacing a club legend and making your debut against Barcelona in one fell swoop.

That was the task facing Johnny Cardoso as he made his bow for Spanish La Liga outfit Real Betis on Sunday. The 22-year-old started against the reigning La Liga champions in one of the defensive midfield slots traditionally occupied by Mexican Andres Guardado.

Cardoso on debut for Real Betis (DAX Images/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Cardoso, who signed from Internacional in Brazil earlier this month, had listed the chance to play with 37-year-old Guardado as one of the things he was most excited about upon completing the move.

But, last Friday, Betis announced that their veteran captain had been released after six and a half seasons and 218 games at the club.

During Guardado’s time at the Benito Villamarin Stadium, Betis have qualified for European competitions four times and won the Copa del Rey in 2022. But, this season, his relationship with manager Manuel Pellegrini, the former Manchester City and Real Madrid manager, has been stormy — culminating in a heated row after last month’s home draw with title-chasing Girona.

“The coach and I are like a married couple,” Guardado later said when asked about rumours they had squared up. “We love each other a lot and we argue as well. That doesn’t have to scare anyone. I don’t see the fuss over an argument.

“I don’t like this kind of thing that is internal to leak out, but yes, it happened. We discussed, it was a strong discussion, but it’s not the first time it’s happened.”

He went on to play one more game after that row and is returning to Mexico with Club Leon.

Guardado acknowledges the fans as he bids farewell on Sunday (Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

For Cardoso, who last started in the USMNT’s friendly against Ghana on October 18 in place of injured Bournemouth midfielder Tyler Adams, the churn of games at Betis should offer more opportunities. The Seville club paid a reported $6.3million (£4.95m) for his services.

Betis are without another midfielder in Guido Rodriguez, who fractured his leg earlier this month, and Cardoso started against Barcelona as one of the two deeper-lying midfielders alongside Marc Roca, who is on loan from Leeds United.

Barcelona ran out 4-2 winners in Seville in part thanks to an inspired performance and hat-trick by Ferran Torres but, at one stage, Betis pegged Xavi’s side back to 2-2 and their new American enjoyed a solid first taste of action in Spain.

Before he was replaced on 73 minutes, Cardoso had registered his team’s highest combined number of defensive actions and interceptions (16) according to FotMob, and was the game’s second most accurate passer with a 96 per cent pass completion — higher even than Barca’s Ilkay Gundogan.

If he appeared a touch risk-averse at times in possession, his defensive assuredness was not lost on the home fans, who cheered the New Jersey native as he left the field. He will have a chance to go again when ninth-placed Betis head to Mallorca on Saturday.

Player of the weekend

Another week, another big performance from Weston McKennie as he helped Juventus take a significant step forward in Italy’s title race.

The Texan contributed a third assist in his last two Serie A games during the 3-0 win at Lecce which saw the Turin club overhaul Inter and go top of the table.

While Inter do have a game in hand, the leap to the summit will give a shot of belief to Max Allegri’s men and provides further evidence that the manager’s decision to give McKennie a second chance when his future seemed so uncertain in the summer could yet prove key to their Scudetto hopes.

McKennie hurdles Antonino Gallo’s challenge (Ivan Romano/Getty Images)

The USMNT star should actually have been celebrating a goal on Sunday given his 68th-minute header was on target and heading in, only for team-mate Dusan Vlahovic to instinctively (let’s give him the benefit of the doubt) help the ball into the back of the net from point-blank range.

The 25-year-old midfielder also created two chances and his three league assists in 20 league appearances so far this season is as many as he managed in all 70 of his previous outings for Juventus in Serie A.

His USMNT team-mate Timothy Weah came on as a 57th-minute substitute. Both will already be targeting February 4, when Juventus face Inter in a game that will have a significant influence on the title race.

Quote of the weekend

On the pitch the future looks bright for Sergino Dest.

PSV Eindhoven’s unbeaten season to date continued at the weekend as the USMNT defender created the goal which saw them draw at Utrecht.

It was the first time PSV have failed to win in their 18 league games to date this term, but they remain a formidable 10 points clear at the top of the Eredivisie.

But Dest, like current team-mate Malik Tillman, is on loan in the Netherlands and was asked on Sunday about his future beyond this campaign, and whether he will return to parent club Barcelona. In that sense, the 24-year-old’s future is uncertain and, by his own admission, partly hinges on whether Xavi, who sanctioned his departure in the summer, is still in charge at Barca next season.

Dest evades Utrecht’s Taylor Booth (Joris Verwijst/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

“I think Barcelona, PSV and I have something to say about that,” he told VI. “And right now it’s too early to talk about that. Every player has his goals and every player wants to play at the top. That also applies to me.

“In the long term, I would like to return to the level where I came from. But a season like this… I just have to enjoy it. So I have my full focus at PSV at the moment. And at the end of the season, we will look further. Maybe I’ll stay, maybe I’ll go.”

How did other U.S. players get on?

Name: Jordan Pefok
Club: Borussia Monchengladbach
Position: Striker
Appearances: 12
Goals: 6

It’s two goals in his two most recent games for the Bundesliga outfit now after Pefok notched against Augsburg on Sunday.

Unfortunately for the 27-year-old, and fellow American Joe Scally, his first-half goal was not enough to prevent Gladbach losing 2-1 at home to Augsburg.

Name: Kevin Paredes
Club: Wolfsburg
Position: Defender/Midfielder
Appearances: 15
Goals: 1

A busy week for the 20-year-old, who celebrated being named the USMNT young player of the year on Thursday, spoke with The Athletic about his career to date, then helped his team hang on to a point as a 68th-minute sub in their draw with Heidenheim on Saturday.

His USMNT team-mate Lennard Maloney also started for the hosts.

Name: Luca de la Torre
Club: Celta Vigo
Position: Midfield
Appearances: 22
Goals: 1

An audacious back-heeled finish — providing a stylish first goal of the season — and an assist from the 25-year-old were bright points for his team in Wednesday’s 3-1 Copa del Rey last-16 win over Valencia. He broke the deadlock at the Mestalla by flicking into the net after 13 minutes, then crossed for Anastasios Douvikas’ header.

De la Torre was back down to earth on Saturday as Celta Vigo lost 1-0 at home against Real Sociedad.

De la Torre celebrates scoring against Valencia last week (Ivan Terron/Europa Press via Getty Images)

Name: Josh Sargent
Club: Norwich City
Position: Striker
Appearances: 10
Goals: 5

In just his second league start for the Championship club since returning from long-term injury, the 23-year-old striker was on target in an impressive 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion (for whom another American, Daryl Dike, appeared as a substitute) on Saturday. Sargent’s confidently-taken goal gave Norwich a 13th-minute lead and was his fifth in eight league appearances this term.

What’s coming up?

Antonee Robinson and Tim Ream, now recovered from a calf injury, will hope to figure for Fulham in the second leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final at Craven Cottage on Wednesday (3pm ET, ESPN +) as they bid to overcome Liverpool’s 2-1 advantage from the first game.

Juventus’ McKennie and Weah will attempt to maintain the pressure on Inter by beating Empoli on Saturday (12pm ET, Paramount +).

Scally and Pefok will seek to inspire a Monchengladbach bounce-back win over Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday (12:30pm ET, ESPN +).

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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