American Perspective: An intriguing weekend of soccer across the globe

With the March international break fast approaching, MLS in full swing, and key players like Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie returning from injury, it should be an intriguing weekend of soccer across the globe.

Of course, there are some areas of concern. Teenagers Tim Weah and Jonathan Amon have not played much in recent weeks. In the Premier League, DeAndre Yedlin was benched last weekend while Tim Ream and Fulham are deep in the relegation zone. In Germany, Julian Green is suspended for this weekend’s upcoming game for Greuther Fuerth.

Soccer on TV: Weekend Schedule

While not everything is perfect, here are 10 games to watch this weekend from an American perspective – starting with an emotional homecoming for a club legend.

VfL Osnabrueck - FSV Zwickau
Saturday: 8:00am ET

While not a game many American fans have circled on their calendars, Saturday’s game between VfL Osnabrueck and FSV Zwickau will have an enormous emotional impact on one specific American.

Sacramento native Joe Enochs is a club legend at Osnabrueck. After a 12 -ear playing career at Osnabrueck, Enochs moved into the club’s front office and even had two stints as its head coach (and a high role within the club’s academy). He is so popular within the club and its supporters that there is even a section of the team’s stadium named after him.

Last year, after 22 years with Osnabrueck in all capacities, Enochs was fired as the club struggled in the 3.Liga in his third season as its head coach. On Saturday, Enochs will return to Osnabrueck as the head coach of the opposing team, FSV Zwickau.

"I'd be lying if I said that it's a game like any other, and nobody would believe me," Enochs told the media this week.

The game will have massive implications for both teams. Osnabrueck currently sits atop the 3.Liga standings and is six points clear of automatic promotion. A win could go a long way towards having it return to the 2.Bundesliga. For FSV Zwickau, the small-budget club is simply trying to stay alive in the 3.Liga and sits just three points clear of the drop zone.

Ajax - Fortuna Sittard
Sunday: 10:45am ET

Andrija Novakovich, 22, has had a nice season so far in his loan from Reading to Fortuna Sittard of the Eredivisie. The Wisconsin native’s six goals in the league have helped the club remain competitive in the Dutch top flight after earning promotion last season.

But Fortuna Sittard has had a really tough time as of late. In its current three-game losing streak, the club has conceded 14 goals and now sits just two points clear of the relegation zone.

For Novakovich, Sunday’s game against Ajax provides him with an important opportunity to both help his club and impress future suitors against an elite opponent. Ajax is coming off a stunning win over Real Madrid in the Champions League and has more attention to itself than at any time within the past decade.

Novakovich has already scored against PSV, AZ Alkmaar and Feyenoord (in the cup) this season. A goal against Ajax would give him goals against the top four Eredivisie teams this season.

Los Angeles FC - Portland Timbers
Sunday: 6:30pm ET

Bob Bradley’s Los Angeles FC is off to a strong start this season, following a win over Sporting Kansas City on Sunday. Now it will look to earn six points from its first two games when it hosts another tough opponent in the defending Western Conference champion Portland Timbers on Sunday.

In just its second season, LAFC has already emerged as a potential contender and the team does not have many weaknesses -- aside from two older fullbacks in Steven Beitashour and Jordan Harvey. The front three of Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Christian Ramirez could be the best in the league and Walker Zimmerman is poised for a big year in central defense as he aims to take a role on the U.S. national team. This week, the team should be even better with Andre Hortanow available.



Portland is coming off a 3-3 draw against Colorado played in the driving snow. This will essentially be its first test in normal conditions and Portland has players like Diego Valeri, who know how to win in MLS. From an American perspective, Jeremy Ebobisse is starting at central forward and could be an important player for the U.S. U-23 Olympic qualifying team.

Werder Bremen - Schalke 04 (4-2)
Friday

Schalke suffered yet another defeat, going down 4-2 but not before Weston McKennie set up the game's opening goal. He had missed the last two games with a thigh injury. Josh Sargent did not dress for Bremen. 

Bayern Munich - Wolfsburg
Saturday: 9:30am ET

John Brooks is red hot at the moment and he has seen his stock soar in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, he put in one of his best performances of the season with Gregg Berhalter in attendance. Last week he scored Wolfsburg’s only goal in a 1-1 draw against Werder Bremen.

The bottom line is that Brooks is one of the most important reasons why Wolfsburg has improved from being a team that was almost relegated last season to being a team that could be in Europe next year. It trails sixth-place Bayer Leverkusen by just goal differential for a Europa League berth.

But Brooks will have an enormous test on Saturday against Bayern Munich. Perennially one of the best teams in Europe, Bayern has won four in a row and now sits in second place on the goal differential tie breaker. A result on Saturday could see Bayern move back into first place. Brooks will have to be sharp as Bayern has scored 12 goals in its last four games.

Reading - Wigan Athletic
Saturday: 10:00am ET

On a weekly basis, Matt Miazga is playing in critical games due to the tight relegation battle Reading has found itself. Along with Rotherham United, the two teams straddle the relegation line with Reading having the advantage on goal differential.

Miazga has done his part since arriving at the club in January. Reading’s defense has been stellar during that time but its offense continues to be its Achilles’ Heel. Last week it sneaked out a win over Ipswich with a stoppage time winner – on a day which Rotherham also pulled out a win.

On Saturday, 21st-place Reading has a game where it almost needs to win at home against 19th-place Wigan. Getting points against the lowest part of the table is critical for success and Wigan presents a golden opportunity. Rotherham, meanwhile, will face a much harder task away at third place Sheffield United.

It is possible that U.S. international Antonee Robinson could return to action for Wigan. The left back has not played for Wigan since injuring him self in November while with the U.S. team ahead of its friendly against England. Robinson played for Wigan’s reserve team on Tuesday.

RB Leipzig - Augsburg
Saturday: 9:30am ET

Tyler Adams, 20, has been a hit for RB Leipzig since arriving from New York in January. In almost 500 minutes of first-team action, Leipzig has conceded just one goal with Adams on the field while scoring 12 goals during that same span.

While Augsburg has struggled this season and is hovering just above the relegation zone, it is coming off a huge 2-1 win over leaders Borussia Dortmund. Similarly, Leipzig is on a hot streak where it has four wins and two draws in its last six games. Last weekend, it defeated Nuremberg 1-0 on the road and sits comfortably in third place and is heading for a berth in next year’s Champions League.

But Adams stock is soaring at the moment -- he was named the Bundesliga Rookie of the Month -- and he has become maybe the top American player in the game right now.
 
Borussia Dortmund - VfB Stuttgart
Saturday: 9:30am ET

It has been an absolutely brutal stretch for Borussia Dortmund since the start of February and has seen its once commanding lead atop the Bundesliga table reduced to just a slight advantage in goal differential over a surging Bayern Munich.

Over the past month it has won just once in five games -- including blowing a three-goal second half lead over Hoffenheim and being held to a scoreless draw to last-place Nuremberg. Last week, it lost to lower-table Augsburg. In the meantime, Dortmund was convincingly ousted from the Champions League at the hands of Tottenham by a 4-0 aggregate score.

While things have not been going well for Dortmund, Pulisic returned to action midweek in a 1-0 loss to Tottenham in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinal. The Hershey native had been missing for three weeks with a hamstring injury.

On Saturday, Dortmund will aim to maintain its weak grip on the Bundesliga lead when it hosts 16th place and relegation-battlers VfB Stuttgart. With Pulisic back, perhaps he can be part of getting the team back on track.

New York City FC - DC United
Sunday: 2:00pm ET

D.C. United had a very impressive opening weekend on Sunday when it convincingly beat defending champions Atlanta United. While expected to be a contender this year, DC United lived up to expectations in its first step. Next up will be a visit to the Bronx on Sunday to visit New York City FC – which blew a two-goal lead in a 2-2 opening weekend draw against Orlando City.

For American fans, this game will feature a lot of players in the mix for numerous U.S. national teams. D.C. United winger Paul Arriola was terrific in the win over Atlanta and, along with January Camp, made a statement to be part of Berhalter’s team moving forward. Meanwhile the goalkeepers for both teams, New York’s Sean Johnson and D.C. United’s Bill Hamid, are vying for the backup position the U.S. team.

Meanwhile, New York City winger Jonathan Lewis impressed at January Camp and could be part of the Olympic team along with NYCFC midfielder Keaton Parks. Both teams also have defensive midfielders who were on the 2017 U-17 World Cup team and could be on the U-20 World Cup team this summer. James Sands started NYCFC’s opener and Chris Durkin came off the bench for D.C. United in the win over Atlanta.



But D.C. United boasts more foreign power at the moment as well as Luciano Acosta is blossoming into one of the best players in the league and Wayne Rooney has lived up to the big expectations on him when he came into the league last summer.

Hannover – Bayer Leverkusen
Sunday: 12:00pm ET

Hannover is not just a bad Bundesliga team. It is on pace for a historically bad season. While not in last place (Nuremberg is actually one point worse) Hannover has been a complete disaster. In each of the last 10 Bundesliga seasons, the worst goal differentials have been: -35, -35, -31, -34, -31, -34, -36, -33, -31, - 27. This season, Hannover is currently at -34 with 10 games left to play.

Along with Nuremberg, Hannover is destined for relegation this year. And the club knows it too and that is why it promoted two U.S. U-20 teammates to the first team in left back Chris Gloster and striker Sebastian Soto to the first team this week. For both players, a first-team appearance would be their professional debut.

This promotion will allow both players to gain valuable professional experience at the highest level ahead of next season – likely in the 2.Bundesliga. Gloster and Soto have both been doing well for the youth teams at Hannover this season and Bundesliga minutes would be a huge boost of confidence for them heading into the U-20 World Cup in May.

Photos: LAFC, Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports.

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