The Revierderby on Saturday between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke was billed as a unique showcase that could display the talents of two of the most exciting players in the United States player pool — Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie.
Instead fans were treated to an incredible clash, but one that featured the two teenagers suffering through quite a bit of disappointment on the day.
Pulisic returned to the Dortmund lineup, making a bit of history in the process as the youngest non-German to reach 50 Bundesliga appearances, hoping to provide a spark after missing the last two contests with injury. He did that early on as a key part of the build-up to Dortmund’s opener. His delivery teed up Nuri Sahin, who mis-hit the shot (or flicked it on if you want to give the benefit of the doubt) into the path of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who finished the chance.
As a right wing-back for the contest, Pulisic’s influence was limited going forward. But he likely did not mind as Dortmund was up 4-0 at the half.
Meanwhile, McKennie’s first half saw him pick up a yellow card for Schalke minutes into the contest, putting him on thin ice. He skirted right up to the edge of picking up another yellow, and with his team down four goals, he was pulled off in the 33rd minute in a double substitution. Suffice it to say, after arguably his best game for Schalke, this was probably his worst.
McKennie then was watching from the bench as Schalke produced a furious comeback, taking advantage of an Aubameyang red card to fight back for a 4-4 draw. Pulisic was on for the entirety of the contest, shifting into a makeshift striker role after Aubameyang was sent off.
Pulisic’s evening was a mixed bag. He did well on his side’s opener but did not have as large an impact as he had in recent games. Some of that may have been due to being lined up as a wing-back, and he did work hard when isolated up top with his team down to 10 men. Still, given the result, he will likely have wished for better.
It’s impossible to spin McKennie’s performance as anything but a disappointment. Any time a player exits in the first half without injury is problematic and this was no exception.
When a team is 4-0 down after a half-hour, it’s a team-wide issue that extends from the players on the field to the coach's set-up. So the teenager certainly was not alone in his struggles.
But his early yellow card was always going to make him a candidate for an early substitution and when things went poorly, he was an easy choice to take off.
There will be ups and downs for any player, let alone a guy who is not yet 20 years old. That said, it will be interesting to see if McKennie retains his place in the lineup, given how well Schalke played in the second half.
GREEN OPENS GREUTHER FURTH ACCOUNT
Since a tantalizing 2016-17 preseason with Bayern Munich, there have been very few positives for Julian Green.
After shining during the International Champions Cup with Bayern that summer, then-manager Carlo Ancelotti praised Green but also emphasized he saw him as a central forward — a position that he has rarely received an opportunity at since with Bayern or Stuttgart after his move there last winter.
But Green was handed the chance centrally for Greuther Furth in Sunday’s contest against St. Pauli and turned in one of his best performances in a long time, scoring a goal in a 4-0 victory for the hosts.
Green is not the biggest of players, making questions about whether he can physically handle the center forward role valid. But given his struggles as a wide forward, and his positive performance Sunday, it will be interesting to see if he is a given more of a look in a central position.
WOOD SHOWS WELL IN NEW ROLE
Last week it looked like Bobby Wood’s playing time was set for a drop after Hamburg struggled to keep a foothold in a match playing with two strikers and a four-man midfield.
However, Wood found himself returned to the starting lineup on Sunday for Hamburg’s home date with Hoffenheim. But in an interesting twist, rather than starting up top, either alone or with Jann-Fiete Arp, Wood ended up sitting underneath the striker as more of an advanced midfielder.
The change saw Wood more involved in the action as he was forced to drop deep to get the ball and link play going forward. With one of the criticisms of Wood being his link-up play at times, it would not seem to be a recipe for success. Yet, that’s exactly what it was on the day.
Wood played his best game in ages in Hamburg’s 3-0 win. He completed 81 percent of his passes (second best on his team on the day), won six aerials and earned multiple free kicks, including one that directly resulted in Hamburg’s second goal. He also nearly scored an incredible goal, hitting the post on a volleyed chance from outside the area.
“We were not successful and the coach had to change something,” Wood said after the game, reflecting on his time on the bench. “That is not a problem for me and I have remained positive. Of course I always want to play, but it always comes down to performance and in the end we are all in the same boat. It's not about me, but about the team and the club.”
His attack partner Arp was pleased with how things went, adding, “Bobby and I complemented each other well today. With him we had a second player who could tie the balls in front.”
It wasn’t a perfect outing — Wood squandered a few really good chances — but overall it was a solid performance in an unfamiliar role for Wood. It suggests that he and Arp may be able to both co-exist in a one-striker setup for Hamburg and should provide Wood with some much-needed confidence after a tough spell.
ROUGH DAY FOR RIGHT BACKS
Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie weren’t the only Americans to have a tough Saturday.
DeAndre Yedlin and Newcastle suffered a heavy 3-0 defeat at home to Watford in Premier League action. Yedlin was responsible for an own goal, Watford’s second, just after halftime.
After the game, Yedlin conceded it was among one of the worst games he’d played for Newcastle, but vowed to help the team fight out of its rough patch.
“I am not going to walk out of here with a smile on my face,” Yedlin told reporters after the game.
“As a player, if you win 10 in a row and you lose one, or you lose 10 in a row, you are still going to be angry when you lose. It’s the nature of the game.
“We are a team so we are going to take losses as a team and we will have to move forward from this as a team.”
Things were not much better for Shaq Moore in Spain. After a promising first start in La Liga last week, Moore started over Pedro Lopez in a 5-0 Levante defeat to Atletico Madrid. As you might expect given the scoreline, Moore did not play well. Atletico is a step up in competition for the youngster, and it proved too much for him on the day.
In the Championship, Cameron Carter-Vickers was subbed off in the 68th minute in Sheffield United’s 1-1 draw with Birmingham. At the time the Blades were trailing 1-0 and Carter-Vickers was replaced by a midfielder.
That said, he did not play well in his previous contest either, so the defender may be going through a bit of a rough patch. For both Carter-Vickers and Moore, as with McKennie, ups and downs are going to be part of the realities for a young player. Part of having a successful development process is learning to push through those rough patches.
GOALS FOR MIAZGA AND BOYD
Julian Green wasn’t the only American to find the back of the net this weekend.
Defender Matt Miazga bounced back from a few not-so-great performances with a much better outing Sunday for Vitesse against ADO Den Haag. Not only did he contribute to a clean sheet, he headed home the winner off a corner in the 86th minute in a 2-0 victory.
Terrence Boyd’s move to Darmstadt has not gone as well as the striker would have hoped. While initially given a chance last season, he struggled and ended up on the bench. He has floated in and out of the team after its drop to 2.Bundesliga, but he made the most out of his opportunity Friday, bagging a pair of goals in a 3-3 draw with Union Berlin.
GONZALEZ ADVANCES, YARBROUGH JUST MISSES OUT
In the Liga MX playoffs, it was joy for one American and the disappointment of a near-miss for the other.
Jonathan Gonzalez again lined up in central midfield for Monterrey in its playoff clash with Atlas, up 2-1 after the first leg. Atlas needed a major turnaround if it wanted to stun the home side in the second leg, but that did not happen. Instead, Monterrey eased to the semifinal round with a 4-1 victory, winning the tie 6-2 on aggregate.
Meanwhile, William Yarbrough and Leon battled Monterrey’s rivals Tigres. The sides drew the first leg 1-1, and after falling behind early, Leon battled back to level the scoreline in the second leg. However, the club could not get the second goal to push ahead in the tie, leaving the scoreline leveled 2-2 on aggregate.
While in other leagues that would have necessitated extra time and potentially penalties, that is not how it works in Mexico. Instead, the tiebreaker came down to regular-season finish, and that meant Leon was bounced from the playoffs.
It is a tough end to the season for the club and Yarbrough. Both struggled through the early portion of the Apertura, with the goalkeeper being dropped to the bench at one point. Yet he and the club were reinvigorated by a coaching change, with Gustavo Diaz returning Yarbrough to the starting lineup.
It certainly is something all parties would have taken a few months ago, but given the circumstances of going out on a tiebreaker, it is still a disappointment.
Up next for Gonzalez, the only American left standing in the playoffs (unless Jose Torres suddenly finds himself back in Tigres plans), is Morelia, which also advanced on a regular-season tiebreaker in controversial fashion.