The Sudden Arrival of Lynden Gooch
The biggest surprise of the new European season is, without a doubt, the emergence of Sunderland's Lynden Gooch. After spending the last two seasons on short-lived and injury-plagued loan stints to 5th-Division Gateshead, then League One's Doncaster Rovers, he hardly appeared to be on a fast track to Premier League starter. But with the late summer arrival of new manager David Moyes on the sideline, Gooch was given a new opportunity to impress.
While the Black Cats have opened the season with two straight losses, Gooch has been a bright spot. On Sunday vs. EPL newcomer Middlesbrough, he was in the Starting XI for the second straight week. Normally a wide player, Gooch was pushed into a central attacking role in the latter stages, and did well enough to earn The Roker Report's Man of the Match honors. As the only American outfield player currently earning EPL minutes, Sunderland matches are once again must-watch for USMNT diehards.
Wait! Is that Brad Guzan's Music?
We knew it'd be an interesting summer for Brad Guzan. Following Aston Villa's relegation, a new destination always appeared to be in the cards. A mostly positive series of performances at Copa America raised hopes that Guzan would find a new home elsewhere in the Premier League. That finally happened in late July when he signed with newly promoted Middlesbrough, but not before 'Boro had already brought in Spanish legend Victor Valdes. When Guzan wasn't even in the gameday squad for the opener vs. Stoke City, it felt ominous.
Then seemingly out of nowhere, Guzan was in the XI on Sunday at Sunderland. Valdes had picked up an injury in training, and once again Guzan was starting in the EPL. The incumbent U.S. starter will want to quickly forget the rebound he spilled that led to Sunderland's goal, but he made enough stops (4) to ensure three points on the road in a 2-1 win. What happens next week and beyond remains anyone's guess.
Gringo Rides Again
Remember Jose Torres? Sure, it's been a good while since we've seen him in a USMNT kit. And yes, he's still in the same place you likely last saw him, at Tigres UANL in Liga MX. Over the last two seasons, Gringo has been primarily a squad player, with injuries and depth challenges reducing his minutes substantially. So what's changed and why are we talking about him? Well, he's suddenly starting again, this time as a right midfielder. In fact, he's started the last four league matches after starting only five in all of 2015-16. On Saturday night vs. Pachuca, he went the full 90 minutes in a key 4-2 win vs. the defending champions. It'll take quite a bit more to get back on Jurgen Klinsmann's radar, but earning regular starting minutes for one of the biggest clubs in Mexico surely can't hurt.
Jonathan Bornstein GOLAZO (Wait, What?)
In the never-ending search for a reliable USMNT starting left back, eventually you get to Jonathan Bornstein's name. He's often dismissed, yet there he is, starting week after week, performing well for a quality Liga MX club. While it remains unlikely that Johnny B makes a triumphant return to the Stars & Stripes, he's carved out a successful career in Mexico at Querétaro. On Saturday night he got on the scoresheet for the first time in 15 months, scoring a highlight reel goal in a 2-1 loss at William Yarbrough's León. In the 39th minute, Bornstein got on the end of a set piece attempt, contorting himself in midair to nod in a header inside the near post. Certainly the Goal of the Week from Americans Abroad:
Two of Hearts
A club that bears special watching on your USMNT radar is Scotland's Heart of Midlothian.
Captain Perry Kitchen returned to his usual starting role in defensive midfield on Saturday after missing the season's first two matches due to injury. Hearts had suffered without his presence, managing only a single point thus far. His presence was felt with immediate results over the weekend with a resounding 5-1 home win vs Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
The more noteworthy story, however, was the club debut of dual national Bjørn Johnsen. After a successful stint at Bulgaria's Litex Lovech, scoring 15 goals across all competitions over the last calendar year, Johnsen has now stepped up to a higher level. After subbing on in the 74th minute, Johnsen made an immediate impact with a sweet backheel through-ball to teammate Sam Nicholson:
The 6'5" striker, who grew up in North Carolina, is normally viewed as a target forward. But here he's clearly demonstrating his comfort with the ball at his feet and away from goal. Hearts are reportedly very high on Johnsen, so expect to see a lot more of him in the coming weeks and months.