American Perspective: Weekend games shine spotlight on U.S. call-ups

It is the final weekend before the start of a busy international weekend for the United States, which will have its full national team, the U-20 team and U-23 team all in action. Because of that, there is added importance on the club games as many players will be using it to improve their standing within the various national teams.

Soccer on TV: Weekend

In addition, the standings remain tight in numerous European leagues and the MLS season is well underway and the changed playoff structure makes the regular season more meaningful for the teams in contention for the playoffs. 

With all the different storylines at play, here are the top 10 games to follow from an American perspective. 

Schalke vs. RB Leipzig

Saturday: 10:30am ET

By far the most intriguing game for American fans this weekend will take place Saturday morning when Schalke hosts RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga. The match should feature two of the most important American midfielders in Schalke’s Weston McKennie and RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams.

Both players are heading in complete opposite directions at the moment. After finishing runner-up last season in the Bundesliga, Schalke is on a terrible run as of lately and has been dragged into an unexpected relegation fight. 

Right now, Schalke sits in 14th place in the 18-team league and is only four points from the relegation playoff zone. In midweek, they were bumped out of the Champions League after a terrible 7-0 loss to Manchester City, resulting in the firing of head coach Domenico Tedesco, who has been replaced by Dutchman Huub Stevens. McKennie had an assist last weekend in a loss to Werder Bremen and is playing regularly for Schalke but is finding success harder to come by compared with last season. 

Adams has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the Bundesliga since joining RB Leipzig from the New York Red Bulls in January. In fact, the team has only been scored on once in the nearly 600 minutes it has played with Adams on the field. 

Following this game, both McKennie and Adams will become teammates on the U.S. team for its upcoming friendlies. 

New York City FC vs. Los Angeles FC 

Sunday: 3:00pm ET

During the first two weekend of the MLS season, LAFC has been both the most entertaining and dominant team to watch. After an exciting 2-1 opening weekend win over Sporting Kansas City, Bob Bradley’s team followed it up with a 4-1 win over Portland last weekend. 

LAFC boasts Carlos Vela, who could very well be the best player in the league at the moment. Along with a very competent attack that features Diego Rossi and U.S. international forward Christian Ramirez. LAFC could soon become even better when Andre Horta returns from injury. 

Now LAFC will take their show on the road for the first time in 2019 and will face a tricky New York City team in the Bronx. NYCFC is different these days without David Villa and is still looking for its first win after opening the season with two draws. 

For American fans, following NYCFC hasn’t typically included many prominent American players but that has changed. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson looks to be part of the U.S. national team plans moving forward, winger Jonathan Lewis is likely to see minutes with both the U.S. U-23 team as well as the full team and defensive midfielder James Sands, 18, has impressed over the first two weeks and might make a late case to be part of the U-20 plans.

Wolfsburg vs. Fortuna Duesseldorf

Saturday: 10:30am ET

Two very close friends John Brooks and Alfredo Morales could meet on Saturday when Wolfsburg hosts Fortuna Dusseldorf on Saturday. 

Wolfsburg has had a significantly improved season and is still in the hunt for a European berth next year after narrowly avoiding relegation last year. The club trails sixth place Bayer Leverkusen by three points but is coming off a terrible 6-0 loss at the hands of Bayern Munich last week. 

For newly promoted Fortuna Duesseldorf, it has been a great season as it is absolutely no danger of suffering relegation back to the 2.Bundesliga and currently sits comfortably in 11th place. Alfredo Morales has started most of the team’s games although he came off the bench last weekend in a 3-0 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt. 

Brooks is a very important player for the U.S. national team and getting consistently strong performances out of the Berlin-born Brooks will be on of the biggest challenges in the early parts of Gregg Berhalter’s tenure as the U.S. head coach. 

Hertha BSC vs. Borussia Dortmund

Saturday: 1:30pm ET

It was a strong day last weekend for Christian Pulisic, who came off the bench for Borussia Dortmund and added an assist and goal in a 3-1 win over Stuttgart to help end a tough string of results for the club. The bad news for Dortmund, however, is that the club lost its hold on the top spot of the Bundesliga standings as Bayern Munich overtook the lead on goal difference. 

Pulisic’s strong outing only increases the chance he will see the field more this weekend and if Bayern slips against Mainz, it is certainly possible that Dortmund could retake the lead. The Olympic Stadium in Berlin will be a tough venue for Dortmund but it should have an edge in talent over 10th-place Hertha. 

Wigan Athletic vs. Bolton Wanderers

Saturday: 11am ET

There was actually a bit of drama between these two clubs at the start of the season and it involved United States international left back Antonee Robinson. Last season, Robinson was at Bolton on loan from Everton and was a key piece of the club’s thrilling run where it dramatically fought off relegation at the last minute. Bolton wanted to keep Robinson this season for another loan but Everton and Robinson elected to move to Wigan Athletic. 

What has transpired for the young American is that he is in yet another relegation battle as Wigan is only outside the drop zone on goal differential. 

Now Robinson will be taking on a disappointed Bolton team that is seven points deep in the relegation zone. Bolton would love to send Robinson a message in this game while Robinson would love to showcase his leadership ability in another tough situation. 

Robinson only recently returned from a long-term injury that he picked up in November and while he is not on the current U.S. roster, he could feature for the U.S. U-23 team as it begins preparing for Olympic qualifying. 

LA Galaxy vs. Minnesota United

Saturday: 10:30pm ET

Minnesota United is off to a very surprising start where it has won its two first games of the season, both on the road, and is playing attractive and attacking soccer. At the front of it is Darwin Quintero as the Colombian has been top-notch at the start of the season. 

This will be the toughest challenge yet for Minnesota, which beat Vancouver and San Jose in the first two weeks. While the Galaxy struggled last weekend without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the club is a much tougher opponent for Minnesota. 

The Galaxy gives people plenty of reasons to tune in. Zlatan remains one of the most entertaining players in league history and even if he isn’t able to play, American fans should still tune in to watch U.S. national team midfielder Sebastian Lletget or exciting prospect Efrain Alvarez, who is on the fence between representing the United States or Mexico. Last weekend, potential U.S. U-23 forward Ethan Zubak made his professional debut while U.S. U-20 defender Julian Araujo could possibly make his debut on Saturday. 

D.C. United vs. Real Salt Lake

Saturday: 8:00pm

Two good teams will meet up in the nation’s capital on Saturday when D.C. United hosts Real Salt Lake in a matchup of teams with four points from two games. 

D.C. United is coming off a hard-fought 0-0 draw vs. New York City in the Bronx where both goalkeepers made outstanding saves. Now back home on a normal field and backed by its supporters, D.C. United should be a much stronger opponent. Top players Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta have continued to live up to expectations. 

Real Salt Lake is coming off a win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, that followed a 1-1 road draw to Houston. 

For American fans, aside from watching two good teams, this will be the opportunity to watch a number of U.S. internationals. D.C. United will start full international Paul Arriola, who has been strong to start the season. D.C. also boasts U.S. U-20 defensive midfielder Chris Durkin

Meanwhile, Real Salt Lake has U.S. U-23 eligible fullbacks Aaron Herrera and Brooks Lennon while Sebastian Saucedo is typically an attacking option off the bench. All three were teammates on the 2017 U.S. U-20 World Cup team. Corey Baird is likely to start for Real Salt Lake and the Stanford product was called up to the full U.S. team earlier this week. Meanwhile, it will likely be the last time D.C. fans have to watch Salt Lake’s legendary keeper Nick Rimando who is retiring after this season. 

Talleres vs. Tigre 

Sunday: 12:15pm ET

Joel Sonora is not in the mix for the U.S. national team just yet but the No. 8 midfielder is very possible he could be if he continues his form in 2019 for Talleres in Argentina’s Superliga. The Dallas-born, Argentina-raised Sonora recently returned home after a failed loan at Stuttgart and minutes at Talleres have generally been increasing throughout the season. 

But Talleres has also been doing very well with Sonora in the mix and the club is in seventh place in the 26-team Superliga. A win over 13th-place Tigre could see Talleres leapfrog Velez Sarsfield and move into sixth place. From there, it could conceivably put pressure on River Plate for a Copa Libertadores spot. 

The United States has not had many players make the national team out of South American channels but Sonora has an extensive U.S. youth national team resume and now has Copa Libertadores experience to go along with it. Locking down a regular starting spot would probably go a long way towards seeing his stock rise in Berhalter’s book. 

FC Copenhagen vs. Hobro

Sunday: Noon ET

Danish club Hobro announced that two of its players will play for the United States in March. Emmanuel Sabbi will be on the U.S. U-23 roster and Christian Cappis will be on the U.S. U-20 team for a pair of camps. Sabbi has been a regular starter for relegation battling Hobro while Cappis has seen occasional minutes after joining the club last fall. 

Now both players will get the biggest stage and spotlight Denmark offers with a trip to take on the biggest team in the country FC, Copenhagen, which currently leads the Superliga. 

Sabbi scored five goals early in the season but has not scored since Sept. 1. Lately, however, he has been transitioning to wing positions and the club has climbed out of last place, and the relegation zone by a single point. It is still nowhere near safe and a win over Copenhagen would not only provide confidence and exposure, but also relief in the relegation battle. 

FC Cincinnati vs. Portland Timbers 

Sunday: 5pm ET

A raucous crowd of more than 30,000 is expected in Ohio on Sunday when FC Cincinnati plays its first-ever MLS home game. Last weekend, the club shocked defending champion Atlanta United when it scored a late equalizer for a 1-1 draw and its first point in the league.

Expectations on the field are low for Cincinnati but the club is trying to build its core. U.S. international Kenny Saief impressed mightily against Atlanta in his league debut when he came off the bench and hit a stellar assist for the equalizer. It was a much sharper performance than the 4-1 loss to Seattle in its opener. 

The Portland Timbers are the defending MLS Western Conference champs but looked a far cry of their former selves last weekend in a 4-1 loss to LAFC. The club has received nice play from likely U.S. U-23 forward Jeremy Ebobisse and Diego Valeri remains one of the best players in the league. But central defense and defensive midfield remain a liability for Giovani Savarese’s team. While Portland is opening up the season on an extended 12-game road trip (as improvements are finished at Providence Park), a win over Cincinnati in a hostile environment could help build momentum for the return home on June 1. 

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