Almost three months before World Cup starts, uncertainty clouds start of new European season for U.S. stars

A new European season is upon us.

The Premier League, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 begin this weekend. LaLiga and Serie A start next weekend.

All have early starts to accommodate the schedule disruption caused by the 2022 World Cup, which will be played right in the middle of the season, starting on Nov. 21.

Americans were scattered in record numbers across Europe's big five leagues in 2021-22. They included players at some of the biggest clubs in Europe.

Sergino Dest, Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and Tim Weah have all won league or cup titles at clubs in a different one of the big five leagues in 2021 or 2022. And all but Reyna, who was injured for most of the 2021-22 season, played important roles for the USA's successful World Cup campaign.

But for various reasons, there's no certainty that any of them will be starting when their new seasons begin. Here's a look at their situations:

Sergino Dest (Barcelona, 21 years old, 3rd season).
• Won 2021 Copa del Rey.
• LaLiga: 51 games, 2 goals; Champions League: 11 games, 1 goal.

Does Barca coach Xavi want to keep Dest or does he want him to leave? Almost weekly a different story emerges about Barcelona's intentions.

The bottom line, though, is that Dest is happy at Barcelona — who wouldn't be? — and is ready to fight for a spot in the Barca lineup. But until the transfer window closes, uncertainty about Dest's future will remain.

It's all tied to Barcelona's on-going financial issues, exacerbated by its wild spending spree. It's begging players to leave — or take pay-cuts — in an effort to meet LaLiga financial targets that will allow it to register its new signings.

One of those signings is French defender Jules Kounde, acquired from Sevilla for $55 million. He joins a cavalcade of stars at center back, suggesting that Xavi might shift to three in the back and move Kounde to the right side of the backline, his preferred position, putting Dest out of the starting lineup.

Weston McKennie (Juventus, 23 years old, 3rd season).
• Won 2020 Supercoppa Italiana, 2021 Coppa Italia.
• Serie A: 55 games, 8 goals; Champions League: 13 games, 1 goal.

McKennie was a bright spot in his first season at Juventus, winning a pair of cups, but a change in coaches brought talk of an early exit from Turin. But almost as soon as rumors surfaced that McKennie did not fit in the plans of Massimiliano Allegri he won over his new coach with his consistent form on an otherwise under-performing team.

That made McKennie's bone fracture suffered in his foot in February so disappointing. Despite more talk of an exit this summer — the destination inevitably being Tottenham — Allegri doubled down with his support of McKennie. He termed the Texan a "very important" Juventus player and "probably the best American player playing in Europe."

That was shortly before McKennie was injured again, dislocating his shoulder at practice on the last weekend of Juve's U.S. tour. The injury will force him to miss the start of the Serie A season.

Christian Pulisic (Chelsea, 23 years old, 4th season).
• Won 2021 UEFA Champions League, 2021 UEFA Super Cup, 2022 Club World Cup.
• Premier League: 74 games, 19 goals; Champions League: 21 games, 5 goals.

Whatever Allegri says, Pulisic is the best American playing in Europe. In 2021, he was Chelsea's best player as it swept past Real Madrid in the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League and he went on to become the first American to win Europe's biggest club title when Chelsea beat Manchester City in the final.

Problem was, Pulisic's play against Real Madrid didn't guarantee he'd start the final, and it's been like that over the last two years under Thomas Tuchel, who coached him at Borussia Dortmund. Pulisic has often expressed his frustrations about his situation. "Not exactly where I want to be and how I want things to be right now," he said in January.

He's also admitted that he knew what he was getting himself in for when he joined one of the biggest clubs in the world though Chelsea has taken its spending to extremes, bringing in major stars to compete with Pulisic for playing time, in each of his last three seasons: Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech in 2020, Romelu Lukaku in 2021 and Raheem Sterling this summer.

Injuries have set Pulisic back. He has started only 19, 18 and 13 games in his three seasons at Chelsea and there is no guarantee about how often he'll start this season. Chelsea wrapped up its preseason with a pair of matches against Italian club Udinese last weekend, and Pulisic started with the second team, putting in a quiet shift.

Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund, 19 years old, 4th season).
• Won 2021 DFB Pokal
• Serie A: 57 games, 6 goals; Champions League: 10 games.

The thing most people forget about Reyna is just how young he is. He arrived at Dortmund three years ago and is still only 19.

Which helps put in perspective how difficult last season was for him and the emotional toll his injuries took.

Reyna broke into the Dortmund first team just before Covid hit in March 2020, played 46 club matches in 2020-21 and was off to a great start in 2021-22 when he was injured in the opening game of the USA's opening game of the World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign at El Salvador. The injury proved to be more complicated that initially thought, and Reyna was sidelined for more than five months.

Reyna returned in February for Dortmund and in March for the USA's final window of qualifying, but he suffered another torn leg tendon in April and was out for the rest of the season. "Gio will be a world-class player," said then-Dortmund coach Marco Rose. "He's a top young man with unbelievable qualities. We'll help him to get properly back on his feet."

Getting him back on his feet means going cautiously. Reyna didn't dress for Dortmund's first competitive match of the 2022-23 season — a German Cup match — under Edin Terzic, the former interim coach who was brought back as head coach after Rose departed. Instead, his first match was warmup match the next day in Turkey.

"Gio was out for a long time," Terzic told the German newspaper Ruhr Nachrichten when Reyna rejoined BVB three weeks ago. "He's a young guy who has had to deal with an extreme amount of setbacks in the last 12 months. We want to ensure that he doesn't suffer a new setback, that he gets confidence in himself and his body again and that he has fun playing soccer again. That's why we prefer to take a more cautious approach. Because it's about him staying with us for a very, very long time."

Tim Weah (Lille, 22 years old, 4th season).
• Won 2021 Ligue 1, 2021 Trophée des Champions.
• Ligue 1: 60 games, 6 goals; Champions League: 5 games.

Weah's season of misery came in 2019-20, his first at Lille.

Like Reyna, Weah suffered repeated muscular injuries in his leg. They forced him to cut short his Ligue 1 season after just three appearances. He needed surgery to repair a torn hamstring. But just as important, it took him months to regain his confidence.

Weah returned and contributed mostly as a sub on a deep Lille squad that edged out Paris St. Germain for the 2021 Ligue 1 title. He was off to a great start last season when he was injured again, suffering a torn muscle on the eve of the USA's start to World Cup qualifying. Fortunately for the USA, Weah returned and it won straight three home qualifiers with goals he created. But his season with the Les Dogues was comme ci, comme ça. He went scoreless until their final two games when he scored three goals.

The offseason, though, has brought more changes at financially troubled Lille — including his third coach in three seasons — and Weah did not start in the final matches of preseason. New Portuguese coach Paulo Fonseca has introduced a new formation, abandoning Lille's patented 4-4-2 system that offered opportunities for Weah up front or on the wing, and brought in new players, notably Guinean Mohamed Bayo at center forward, which has pushed Canadian star Jonathan David to the wing.

Weah won't play on Sunday when Lille opens against promoted Auxerre. He's suspended for yellow-card accumulation after being cautioned on the final day of the 2021-22 season.

2 comments about "Almost three months before World Cup starts, uncertainty clouds start of new European season for U.S. stars".
  1. Ben Myers, August 5, 2022 at 12:40 p.m.

    Dortmund has to look closely at its approach to strength and conditioning of its players.  Reyna was not the only one to miss time due to injury.  Haaland, too, and Haaland will undoubtedly benefit at Mac City from better physios and health management.  Man City is not cheap in any respect, and Haaland is now its most valuable asset.

  2. Sam Bellin, August 5, 2022 at 5:51 p.m.

    Legitimate concerns about the health and / or playing status of 5 of our best players.  It seems like Aaronson (for sure) and Adams (I think) will be starting for Leeds and hopefully Chris Richards, Yunus Musah, and Antonee Robinson will be starters in big 5 leagues this fall as well.  If we have all 10 of these players fit and in-form on November 21 we could be ready for a big performance!

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