For 20 of the 22 players called to Philadelphia with the Men’s National Team, the club season came to an end last weekend. Several played an instrumental role in strong finishes for their professional homes, while others started to see the light of first-team football. As they aim to carry that club momentum into play for their country, take a look at how the current MNT crop fared down the stretch abroad.
WESTON McKENNIE, SCHALKE
An injury limited Weston McKennie at times this past spring and kept him from full participation at the MNT’s March camp, but he rallied to play an important role as Schalke clinched second place in the Bundesliga. The runner-up finish, the Miners’ best since 2009-10, secured an automatic spot in the UEFA Champions League. The 19-year-old midfielder played in all but one of Schalke’s league games after the March international break and went the full 90 in three of its last four matches.
“It was a wonderful feeling at such a young age to be able to say that I’m going to play Champions League next year,” McKennie said. “To have the season that we did have, it was very emotional and very lively. To be a part of a group like that, with a lot of people not believing that we probably would finish second in the league, it was an amazing feeling.”
CHRISTIAN PULISIC, BORUSSIA DORTMUND
Borussia Dortmund has endured an up-and-down season, but the club’s fourth-place Bundesliga finish narrowly clinched Champions League qualification for the third-straight season. Just 19 years old, Pulisic started all seven of BVB’s games since March. Though Dortmund finished the season in a three-way tie for third on points with Hoffenheim and Bayer Leverkusen, they ended up in fourth based on goal differential.
MATT MIAZGA, VITESSE
In two seasons on loan in the Dutch Eredivisie, Matt Miazga has helped lead Vitesse to unprecedented success. Last year, the 6-4 center back figured prominently in the club’s run to the KNVB Cup title, the first trophy in its 125-year history. This year, Miazga made almost every appearance he could for Vitesse, scored four goals and led the club to the Europa League playoffs with a sixth-place league finish.
Vitesse entered the four-team European play-offs with a chance to clinch international competition for the second straight season. The club handled ADO Den Haag by a 7-2 aggregate score in the semifinals before a series against fifth-place Utrecht with a Europa League qualifying spot on the line. Vitesse came away with a 5-3 aggregate triumph, and the 22-year-old defender provided the exclamation point in the final’s second leg with a 38th-minute header.
“We were fighting for something important. For me, it was great getting the game-winning goal,” Miazga said. “It was a good end to the season. We qualified for the Europa League; that’s important for the club. It was an important chapter for me at Vitesse where I was an important player for the club.”
JORGE VILLAFAÑA, SANTOS LAGUNA
As his MNT teammates arrived in Philadelphia on Sunday, Jorge Villafaña picked up some hardware. A 1-1 draw with Toluca gave Villafaña’s Santos Laguna a 3-1 aggregate victory in the Liga MX final. With the championship, he becomes just the third American ever to take home both the M.L.S. and Liga MX titles, alongside Herculez Gomez and Omar Gonzalez.
Los Guerreros qualified for the Liguilla with a fourth-place regular season finish. After a strong showing in the MNT’s 1-0 March victory against Paraguay, Villafaña played a key role for Santos down the stretch. He appeared in all three rounds of the club’s Liguilla triumph.
ANDRIJA NOVAKOVICH, TELSTAR
On loan with Telstar from English Championship side Reading, Andrija Novakovich lit up the Dutch second division with 19 goals, good for second in the Eerste Divisie. The 21-year-old’s scoring efforts led the White Lions to their best finish since 1994 and clinched a spot in the second round of the promotion playoffs.
A Novakovich goal helped Telstar take down De Graafschap 3-2 in the first leg of its playoff. Behind on aggregate in the second leg on the road, the MNT forward equalized the series with a critical goal in the 75th minute, but De Graafschap answered in the 80th to edge Telstar 6-5 and win the series.
ETHAN HORVATH, CLUB BRUGGE
After a spell outside the starting lineup, MNT goalkeeper Ethan Horvath went back into action for Club Brugge at a crucial juncture. The Blauw-Zwart finished the Belgian First Division A regular season as the top seed for the six-team championship playoff, and Horvath was drafted back into the starting XI at a crucial stage. The 21-year-old backstopped Brugge to a 3-1 win against Sporting Charleroi on May 10 before another admirable performance in a 1-1 draw at Standard Liege three days later, to clinch the Belgian league title.
⚫️🔵Belgisch Kampioen 2017-2018 🔵⚫️ #KAMP15EN #WeAreBruges pic.twitter.com/Hbr5Ontt3S— Club Brugge KV (@ClubBrugge) May 20, 2018
ANTONEE ROBINSON, BOLTON WANDERERS
Bolton stood in danger of relegation on the final matchday in the English League Championship. The club needed a victory against Nottingham Forest coupled with help from other results to secure another season in the second division.
The 20-year-old Robinson played the full 90 minutes in a thrilling 3-2 victory. Down 2-1, Bolton scored in the 86th minute to equalize and took the lead in the 88th. Favorable results elsewhere ensured another season in the Championship after the club won promotion from League One in 2016-17.
JULIAN GREEN, GREUTHER FÜRTH
Greuther Fürth entered the final matchday of the 2.Bundesliga season with a clear task at hand: escape relegation. Fürth hadn’t fallen below the second division since 1997, and on the road against Heidenheim the club needed a result. In his first full season as a professional starter, MNT midfielder Julian Green ensured that it wouldn’t happen this year. He found the back of the net in the 54th minute with a well-placed rocket of a shot from beyond the top of the box.
Boom 💥 #jg37 pic.twitter.com/9QPrwOuFYr— Julian Green (@J_Green37) May 13, 2018
“It was a tough season for the whole group there, but at the end we made it. I’m happy to score that goal,” Green said. “I could feel that my personal game was getting better and better from game to game, so it was an important season for me. I always want to win, and I give my best for the team. Nobody wants to have a relegation stand behind his name. That’s normal. At the end, I’m glad that it didn’t happen.”
In the final table, Fürth finished one spot above a trip to the promotion/relegation playoff. Tied with Erzgebirge at 40 points, it came down to goal differential. The 21-year-old’s goal secured the side its 22nd straight season in one of Germany’s top two divisions.
ERIC LICHAJ, NOTTINGHAM FOREST
First, Eric Lichaj’s screamer of a goal eliminated Arsenal from the FA Cup. Then, his brace in the match convinced his wife to let the Lichaj family get a dog. Now, the BBC has named the goal as the best of the entire FA Cup, based on fan votes.
This @EricLichaj stunner was voted best goal of the '17-18 @emiratesfacup. It also inspired the 🐐 of all dog names 📰 » https://t.co/1Zmtx8KLedhttps://t.co/nYWgudbL2x— U.S. Soccer MNT (@ussoccer_mnt) May 21, 2018
BILL HAMID, FC MIDTJYLLAND
After a fall move from M.L.S. to the Danish Superliga, Hamid made three April appearances as the Wolves took home the league title for the first time since 2014-15.
Champions of Denmark! Learned so much this half month! Honored to be apart of this great club with such great teammates and staff! pic.twitter.com/PFynB1mau0— Bill Hamid (@BillHamid28) May 21, 2018
KEATON PARKS, BENFICA
While Keaton Parks spent most of the season with Benfica’s B team, the 20-year-old made a cameo appearance in the Aguias’ final game for the first team. The club battled to the finish for second place in the Primeira Liga, Portugal’s final Champions League qualification spot.
TIM WEAH, PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN
Paris Saint-Germain clinched its fifth Ligue 1 title in six years last month with a 7-1 victory against Monaco and completed “the double” with the Coupe de France championship following a 2-0 win over Les Herbiers earlier this month. The 18-year-old Weah made three appearances for Les Parisens this season, and earned his first start last week against Caen.