The last several weeks have been a sobering reminder of the struggles that our young players are likely to face when they try to make it at the highest levels. While there have been some great moments here and there, but largely the players have struggled to find time on the field and have struggled when they’ve received those chances. Here’s what’s going on this week:
Haji Wright - Striker, FC Schalke
Wright was back in the first team this weekend following last week’s injury to Guido Burgstaller (who will be out for the rest of 2018). The 20-year-old started on the bench but was brought on at halftime with Schalke trailing 1-0 after a poor first half. Wright looked much more comfortable than he did two weeks ago, contributing with a couple nice moments of holdup play. In one of those instances, Wright helped create one of the best chances of the second half with a nice layoff pass that played a teammate into space and forced a good save from the Augsburg keeper. In the 82nd minute, Wright scored what should have been the game winner, but it was correctly ruled offside as he mistimed his run slightly. The game would end with a 1-1 draw which has Schalke in 13th place, just three points ahead of the relegation playoff spot. Altogether, it was an encouraging performance from the young man. We may see more of him in the two games before the winter break and he needs to continue to show improvement to remain in Schalke’s plans. Keep an eye out for midweek football this week as Schalke will take on Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday.
Josh Sargent - Striker, Werder Bremen
Sargent also got another opportunity this weekend. The 18-year-old subbed on in the 83rd minute with Bremen trailing Borussia Dortmund 2-1 and looking for a tying goal. It was not meant to be as Sargent wasn’t able to get involved in his short stint off the bench. This week, his coach Florian Kohfeldt encouraged fans to hit the brakes on their expectations of Sargent:
It’s important to keep in mind how young he is and how much room he still has to grow. Still, it’s very encouraging to see him getting some first team chances at this age. Let’s hope he can keep forcing Kohfeldt’s hand.
Isaiah Young - Winger, Werder Bremen
With all the talk about Josh Sargent, Young has flown under the radar this season. Two years ago, Young had a very bright season for Bremen’s U-19’s, posting 3 goals and 6 assists in just 11 league games. Last year he moved up to the U-23 team and struggled a bit to adapt to the higher level of play (they played in the German third division last season before being relegated). This year, Young has seen a resurgence of form with 6 assists in 15 games. The attacker has been dangerous consistently and that has led to more opportunities. Young is now a fixture in the U-23 starting lineup. Hopefully he can continue to improve and put himself in the first team conversation sometime soon.
Luca Lewis - Goalkeeper, Torino FC
Lewis is a 17-year-old who moved from IMG Academy and has been in Italy for two years. Currently playing for their U-17’s, Lewis has 7 clean sheets in 12 starts this year. Lewis is yet another American trying to make it in Italy, where so few have been successful before. Let’s hope he can continue to push through the ranks at Torino.
Andrija Novakovich - Striker, Reading FC (On Loan at Fortuna Sittard)
The 22-year-old earned his first start in nearly two months when Fortuna Sittard travelled to Feyenoord on Sunday. Novakovich struggled in the first half. He had a golden opportunity when the ball was played over the top and he got behind the defense, but his first touch let him down as the ball deflected away from him allowing the defender to poke it away. He also had a great chance for an assist when he neglected to play a pass to a wide open teammate who was racing in on goal. In the second half though, Novakovich would make an impact. In the 51st minute, Sittard raced away on the counter and Novakovich made a great run from midfield. The ball was played in front of him and he cut it back and laid it off for the opening goal.
Here's Andrija Novakovich's assist. Great composure.— USMNT Videos (@USMNTvideos) December 16, 2018
Courtesy of u/Meladroit40 on Reddit.pic.twitter.com/nRMttcmcG5
This was Novakovich’s first assist this season. Feyenoord pressured in the second half but were unable to find a goal and Sittard would slam the door shut with a second goal in second half stoppage time. Novakovich went the distance and helped his team get a huge victory. The win pulls Fortuna Sittard into 10th place in the Eredivisie. We’ll see if he can start to regain his form prior to his injury.
It’s been an inconsistent season for Hyndman so far this year, but perhaps that’s turning around. Last week, the 22-year-old subbed on at halftime to make his return from injury. With Hibernian hosting Scottish giants Celtic, Hyndman earned his 7th start of the season since being loaned from Bournemouth. It was a dream start for Hibernian as they struck less than a minute into the match after Hyndman led the attack. Hyndman would go on to have a strong match and Hibernian would find a second goal and win 2-0. For Hibernian, the win has them in 8th place, 8 points behind league-leading Kilmarnock in the crowded Scottish Premiership. Hyndman is scheduled to end his loan in January, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Hibernian looked to extend through the rest of the season. We’ll find out in the coming weeks.
Keaton Parks - Central Midfielder, SL Benfica
Parks has had a much quieter season this year after being in the spotlight much of last season. The 21-year-old has spent the entire season with Benfica’s B team, while adjusting to playing as a deep-lying playmaker. Parks was struggling a bit early in the season, but he’s starting to turn it around in recent weeks. Benfica B has won three matches in a row and hasn’t surrendered a goal during that stretch. Parks hasn’t featured or even made the bench for the first team this year, so it will be interesting to see if they look to loan him out in January to get some first team experience. If he stays, Parks will need to take advantage of Benfica having a busy schedule in the Spring. On top of league play, Benfica is still alive in the League Cup, the Portuguese Cup, and they qualified for the Europa League knockout round by finishing third in their Champions League group. Parks is a player who has quality on the ball that is rare in our player pool. I’d like to see him back in the first team picture soon.
CJ Dos Santos - Goalkeeper, SL Benfica
Dos Santos earned his first UEFA Youth League start last Wednesday against AEK Athens. The 18-year-old had been the backup option in the 5 previous UYL matches until he made the appearance last week. Dos Santos took advantage by keeping a clean sheet in a 3-0 win. Benfica ended up equal on points with both Bayern Munich (who featured Chris Richards and Justin Butler) and Ajax (who featured Sergiño Dest), but they were unable to advance due to goal differential. For Dos Santos, it’s good to see him continuing to improve. Look for him to play a part at the U-20 World Cup next May.
As always, hit the comment section to let me know if there’s anything major I overlooked or if there’s anyone you’d like to hear about. Thank you for reading.