The High, Season-Ending Stakes for USMNT Players Abroad

The High, Season-Ending Stakes for USMNT Players Abroad

The margin between a successful season and disappointing one is wire-thin for a number of American internationals and their clubs.

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It’s been known for some time now that either way an American will win the Champions League title and become the second to do so, but before then there’s plenty of high-stakes business to be sorted involving U.S. players abroad.

Some of it was handled over the weekend. Gio Reyna and John Brooks had their clubs’ places in next season’s Champions League confirmed after Eintracht Frankfurt’s shocking loss to last-place Schalke. As fate would have it, American forward Matthew Hoppe was a catalyst in the win, with a goal and an assist (which denies another U.S. international, Timmy Chandler, a place in the Champions League). Tyler Adams and RB Leipzig also officially punched their return ticket to the Champions League, ensuring Jesse Marsch will take over a side that’s in the group stage yet again.

Elsewhere, DeAndre Yedlin and Galatasaray were denied the Turkish Süper Lig title after finishing second to Besiktas (the parent club of on-loan Sivasspor and U.S. winger Tyler Boyd) on goal differential. Yedlin’s club will be in the qualifying rounds for the Champions League as a result of the second-place finish, though.

All of this followed the league and domestic cup titles that have already been won across European leagues, but the intrigue doesn’t stop there. With a handful of players still facing the prospects of promotion and relegation and others staring at the possibility of a season without Champions League matches in 2021–22, this week will be pivotal in setting the stage for the year to come. 

Here’s an XI of U.S. players whose seasons, as long, congested and exhausting as they’ve been, will come down to the wire:

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea: Chelsea is hanging onto fourth place by a thread, with Alisson’s incredible heroics for Liverpool keeping the Reds within a point of fourth with two games to play. After everything it’s been through this season, for Chelsea to wind up trophy-less and outside of the top four would be outrageously cruel, yet the scenario is in play. Also in play, however, is a top-four finish that coincides with Chelsea being crowned European champion (or a Champions League title that brings with it a place in next season’s competition, regardless of Premier League table standing). It’s a fine margin between a season that will go down as legendary or catastrophic. An FA Cup final rematch vs. Leicester City on Tuesday will go a long way toward determining which scenario becomes more likely.

Weston McKennie, Juventus: After winning nine straight Serie A titles, Juventus is shockingly not guaranteed a Champions League place next season, currently sitting in fifth place and a point behind AC Milan for the league’s final UCL spot. Juve will be watching the Atalanta-AC Milan finale with great intent, knowing that an Atalanta win would open the door to a last-day great escape—but also knowing that a Milan win could send the Bianconeri tumbling to Europa League status. This, coming from the club whose chairman was driving the Super League locomotive.

Daryl Dike, Barnsley: The promotion playoffs kicked off Monday, with Barnsley falling to Swansea, 1–0, in a semifinal first leg between clubs whose ownership groups have MLS ties—and whose players would have as well had Paul Arriola and Jordan Morris not endured injuries while on loan with the Swans. Dike is the man in focus, though. His loan from Orlando City was extended through the promotion playoffs, which could run all the way until May 29, and, after then, it’s a matter of if he’ll be sold, for how much and to which club. All he’s done since arriving in England is score goals, with nine in 19 matches, and his value keeps rising. If he can fire Barnsley to the Premier League, then the sky really is the limit.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, Bournemouth: Like Dike, he’s on loan with his Championship club and might not taste the fruits of his labor should Bournemouth win the playoff and return to the Premier League. The Cherries beat Brentford, 1–0, in Monday’s semifinal first leg, and Carter-Vickers, who has longed for stability after being sent on loan perpetually from Tottenham, is playing for both personal and team gains.

Tim Weah, Lille: Lille could win Ligue 1 but also technically finish as low as third in France and miss out on an automatic place in the Champions league group stage, depending on how its finale at 12th-place Angers goes. Lille has been resolute in holding off PSG’s charge, but a 0–0 draw vs. Saint-Etienne over the weekend has the club just one point clear of the perennial French power entering Sunday’s simultaneous finales. Lille is seeking its first title since 2011—which was the last time PSG failed to finish first or second in the league table.

Julian Green, Greuther Furth: Green’s side is playing for promotion into the Bundesliga. It has at the very least secured a place in the promotion playoff ahead of Sunday’s regular-season finale against a Fortuna Dusseldorf team that can do no better than a fourth-place finish. Greuther Furth could wind up as high as 2. Bundesliga champion or as low as third and in the playoff. Regardless, Green has been yearning for a place back with the USMNT—his last cap came under interim manager Dave Sarachan in November 2018—and combining promotion to the Bundesliga with the season he’s had on an individual level, it would be hard to argue against his case.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen: Werder Bremen has tumbled into a relegation battle, currently sitting in the relegation playoff place and residing just a point clear of being sent down automatically. There could very realistically be a Sargent-Green battle for a place in Germany’s top flight next season. This is nothing new for Sargent and Werder Bremen, who won the German promotion/relegation playoff last season to remain in the Bundesliga and might have to go that extra mile again just to remain in the league.

Reggie Cannon, Boavista: Cannon’s Portuguese side climbed out of the relegation playoff place with an important win over the weekend and now controls its destiny in Wednesday’s season finale. Beat Gil Vicente and it’s safe, play to a draw and likely survive or lose and open the door for either a relegation playoff or outright relegation to Portugal’s second tier.

Lynden Gooch, Sunderland: Sunderland is in the League One promotion playoffs vs. Lincoln City, with semifinal legs set for Wednesday and Saturday before a potential final vs. Oxford United or Blackpool for a place in England’s second tier. Gooch, 25, has five goals in all competitions this season, including the winner at Wembley Stadium in the EFL Trophy final—the cup competition for clubs in England’s third and fourth tiers and U-21 sides from the top two tiers—and he’s trying to help steer the Black Cats back up the English ladder after a traumatic fall in recent years.

Ethan Horvath, Club Brugge; Mark McKenzie, Genk: Horvath’s Brugge (where he’s been a season-long backup goalkeeper to Belgian Simon Mignolet) is closing in on a Belgian league title, with McKenzie’s Genk five points off the pace with two matches left to be played this week in the championship round. Horvath’s side is likely to win it and secure another place in the Champions League group stage, but whether he’ll go along for the ride remains to be seen—he’s out of contract at the end of this season.

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