Getty Images

Americans Overseas: Dreams Made Reality

Freed from the shackles of expectation that once bound him, Jorge Villafana has worked his way back into USMNT contention.

beIN SPORTS

by Phil Schoen

 

His nickname is Sueno. It’s short for Sueno MLS, the combination talent / reality show that Jorge Villafana won several years ago. And while it launched his professional career, the moniker also seemed to be a burden. He showed promise at the start of his professional career with Chivas USA, but that experiment also had its share of pitfalls. A move to Portland gave Villafana some momentum as he nailed down the Timbers left back spot and helped them to the 2015 MLS Cup title. And while that led to a move to Mexico’s Santos Laguna, the Anaheim, Calif. native had to prove himself all over again. And again, when former Mexican boss Jose Manuel de la Torre took over the Guerreros coaching reins. However, over the last two months, it seems as if Villafana is beginning to reap some rewards from his dreams and hard work. After being kept out of first team action for nearly six months, Villafana was given another chance, and has locked down a starting spot for Santos. And that led to his callup from new U.S. manager Bruce Arena and his debut appearance for the national team.

Since last month’s return to the starting lineup, Santos Laguna has been flying high. The Warriors victory over Omar Gonzalez and Pachuca is their second straight win, and Santos has gone 3-1-1 since Villafana’s return. The victory sees Santos climb to fifth in the table, while Pachuca slides to eighth, with a tenuous one-point grip on a playoff spot. The Anaheim, Calif. native has also been busy for Santos off the field, helping raise attention and donations for an area children’s hospital. Helping his club to the post-season and what appears to be a good grip on a starting spot for the national team, Villafana’s dreams are becoming reality.

 

Elsewhere, while he still awaits the paperwork that will allow him to make his Las Palmas debut, Emmanuel Sabbi scored the only goal of the game as the United States under-20 team beat Fulham 1-0 last week. Jonathan Klinsmann, the son of the former U.S. manager, got the start in goal. The scrimmage is part of Tab Ramos’s preparation for this summer’s u20 World Cup in South Korea.

 

Meanwhile, U.S. youth coach Omid Namazi has called in 20 players for this month’s u16 Montaigu tournament in France as the U.S. looks to defend its title against 11 challengers. The U.S. opens up against Belgium on Tuesday and faces Japan on Thursday in group play. Four of the 20 players on the squad are already playing internationally, including Miami native Konrad de la Fuente, who has scored seven goals this season for Barcelona’s Cadete A team en route to the league title. Two other South Floridian internationals were also called in: goalkeeper Nicolas Defreitas-Hansen of Southwest Ranches (Everton FC, England) and Miami-born midfielder Matko Miljevic (Argentinos Jrs., Argentina). Wilton, Conn. native and former NY Red Bull academy defender Ian Hoffman (Karlsruhe SC, Germany) also made the team.

And now a look at some more of what was happening on the field, including a neat little story from the lower divisions in Sweden. Check it out:

 

ARMENIA

Nigerian-American striker Kyrian Nwabueze is off to a quick start with his new club, scoring the only goal of the match for Shirak FC in their 1-0 home win over the team he started his professional career with four years ago, FC Banants. It was the first start for the former El Camino CC star, but he waiting until late to net the 89th minute game-winner. Shirak stands third, just two points off the Premier League lead with eight games left to play.

 

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

German-born, Bosnian-American Izzy Tandir scored the only goal of the match in the opening minute as Sloboda Tuzla earned the 1-0 road win at FK Radnik Bijeljina. The 6-foot-5, 21-year-old forward came up through the NY Red Bulls academy and spent time with the Sacramento Republic before heading back to Europe. Since joining the club last month, it’s Tandir’s third goal for Sloboda, who are ten points out of the Europa League berths with eight games left to play.

 

ENGLAND

Eric Lichaj opened the scoring as Nottingham Forest slowed down Huddersfield Town’s charge with a 2-0 home win. His “screaming” tap-in was the second goal of the season for the 28-year-old fullback out of Downers Grove, Ill who was denied another goal later in the game by a great save from the Terriers keeper. With just one defeat from their last four matches, Forest have climbed to 19th in the table, five points clear of relegation. Meanwhile Huddersfield, managed by former U.S. international David Wagner, hold at number three, with a game in hand, all but assured of a spot in the promotion playoffs with five games remaining.

 


 

 

In Premier League 2 action, Antonee Robinson and Everton’s u23 side pounded Tottenham 4-1 to move within two points of clinching the title. The 19-year-old Milton Keynes born Anglo-American left back was reportedly a target of US u20 coach Tab Ramos for the Yanks recent training camp in London, but Everton turned down the request. In addition to his dangerous runs down the flank, Robinson made a nice block on a Spurs shot in the first half to preserve the victory.

 

Elsewhere, 20-year-old Wisconsin native Andrija Novakovich scored just nine minutes in for Reading, but the Royals couldn’t hold on as Arsenal stormed back in the second half for a 5-2 win.

 

GERMANY

Timmy Chandler helped Eintracht Frankfurt bounce back from a two goal deficit for a 2-2 home draw against Werder Bremen. The draw leaves Eintracht in ninth place, but still just three points out of the European zone with six games remaining to play. Chandler has been shining at Eintracht Frankfurt, and this week the Bundesliga put the spotlight on the U.S. right back, with a light-hearted look at what makes him tick, on and off the field.

 

Bobby Wood set up the game-winning goal in a 2-1 upset over third-placed Hoffenheim at home. The Honolulu-born striker has scored nine goals in all competitions. Since returning from injury, Wood has helped HSV go on a 4-1-1 roll that lifted them from the Bundesliga basement up to 13th place, four points clear of the drop zone with six matches remaining.

John Brooks scored his second goal of the season and helped Hertha Berlin earn its ninth clean sheet of the Bundesliga campaign in a 2-0 home win over FC Augsburg. The win snaps a string of three straight defeats for Hertha and keeps them fifth in the table and on track for a Europa League berth.

 

In the 3.Liga, Two California-born German-Americans trading goals as Hallascher defender Royal Dominique Fennell opened the scoring just before the hour. Minutes later, striker Marc Heider scored for Joe Enoch’s Osnabrueck, but Hallascher added a second for the 2-1 road win. It was the fifth goal of the season for both players. The defeat sees Osnabrueck stumble to sixth in the table, still just three points out of second place and promotion, with Hallascher three points back in ninth place. Fennell’s performance earned him Team of the Week honors.

 

Midweek, it was Joe Gyau who did the damage, scoring his first goal for Sonnenhof Grossaspach just two minutes into the game against Osnabrueck, snapping the Lilywhites run of three straight victories. It was the first goal in more than two-and-a-half years for the injury-plagued 24-year-old Tampa native and helped him earn 3.Liga Team of the Week honors. (You can see it at the 5:17 mark in the match highlights.)

 

In Regionaliga play, former Boston College star Charlie Rugg hit the net for Pirmasens in their 3-0 win over his old side, Eintracht Trier. It’s the third goal of the season for the 26-year-old LA Galaxy product. The win lifts Pirmasens out of the relegation zone.

 

In u19 action, a North American derby of sorts as American striker Isaiah Young and Canadian right back Gabriel Boakye traded goals in Werder Bremen’s 3-2 home win over Energie Cottbus. It’s the second goal of the season for the U.S. u20 winger. It’s the fourth goal for Boakye, a 19-year-old graduate of Toronto FC’s academy, who just made his first team debut two weeks ago and just signed a new deal with the Cottbus side last week. The win lifts Werder three points clear of the relegation zone, while Energie are now four points from safety with three games left to play.

 

A mixed bag for Haji Wright as the former Cosmos and Galaxy phenom scored his 11th goal of the season for Schalke in a 3-2 home loss to Cologne. FC Dallas academy product Weston McKennie played the full 90 in defeat. The loss sees Schalke fall to second in the table, a point behind Dortmund with three games remaining.

 

FINLAND

Brian “Cobi” Spann and IFK Mariehamn began defense of their first-ever Veikkausliiga crown in style with a 5-2 thrashing of last year’s second division champions, Jyvaskylan JK. The 25-year-old New York native was involved in four of the five goals, scoring one and setting up three more.

 

ICELAND

Former Will Daniels scored the fourth and final goal for Grindavik in a 4-1 road win over Akranes in quarterfinal action of Iceland’s League Cup. The 26-year-old Clackamas, Ore. native scored six goals last season and is off to a quick start in the new campaign with five goals and counting in this year’s cup. Grindavik travels to KA Akureyri on Thursday for their semifinal showdown.

 

ISRAEL

While he’s still waiting for his first league goal, former Columbus Crew attacker Aaron Schoenfeld opened his cup account with the opening goal in a 2-1 midweek road win at Beitar Jerusalem in semifinal play. The win lifts Maccabi to next month’s State Cup final against Bnei Yehuda.

 

MEXICO

A mixed back for Club Tijuana in their scoreless home draw against Club America. While their beleaguered defense registered just their fourth clean sheet of the season, Xolos were shut out for just the second time in the campaign – and they lost U.S. national team defender Michael Orozco to injury midway through the first half. Paul Arriola got the start, while Joe Corona put in a full 90. Tijuana slips to fourth in the table with five games left to play.

 

William Yarbrough and Club Leon are on a roll, earning their second straight win with just one loss in their last four following a 4-0 home victory over Veracruz. Their recent streak has seen Leon climb from the cellar to 14th in the table, and just five points out of the playoff spots. With four saves on the night, it’s the second straight shutout for Yarbrough, and his third of the season.

 

Another game, another goal for Joaquin Alonso Hernandez and Monterrey Premier. The Rayados reserve side pulled out a 2-0 road win at Mineros de Fresnillo. It’s the 12th goal of the season for the 23-year-old El Paso native and his seventh in the last five games. The shutout goes to another American, 25-year-old Justin Perez from Eagle Pass, Texas. Perez took over the starting spot midway through the season, winning six and losing only two of his nine games. With their third straight win, Rayados climb to fifth in the Segunda Division standings. However, with just one match left in the regular season, they can’t qualify for the playoffs.

 

NETHERLANDS


Matt Miazga helped Vitesse Arnhem keep another clean sheet midweek in a 1-0 win over Heracles, and SBV followed that up with a 4-2 home win over Heerenveen. That’s three straight wins, and six wins in their last eight games for Vitesse who have climbed to fifth in the Eredivisie, on the verge of clinching a spot in the Europa League playoffs.

Meanwhile, fellow American Kai Koreniuk was called up to Vitesse II on the weekend and set up a goal and drew a free kick for another in a 4-2 win over Hardenberg HC. Goal differential is all that is keeping Vitesse II in the relegation zone, though they have played more games than the teams immediately above them.

 

NORWAY

Former Tampa Bay and Fort Lauderdale defender Stefan Antonijevic made his Eliteserien debut with two appearances off the bench for Lillestrom. Unfortunately for the Buffalo Grove, Ill. native, they both came in defeats on the road at Molde and at home against Haugesund. The Canaries stand 11th in the standings after three matches.

 

SCOTLAND

Former DC United midfielder Perry Kitchen helped Hearts of Midlothian end a three-game skid in a 1-0 home win over Dundee. Norwegian-American striker Bjorn Johnsen made late appearance off the bench. It’s only the second win out of their last 10 matches, but Hearts are still assured of a berth in the Championship Rounds which starts later this month, and a shot at a Europa League berth.

In League One play, Mason Robertson stepped in at right back in Stenhousemuir’s 3-1 win over East Fife. While the former Washington Huskie’s headed attempt at goal was denied, his throw-in just before the half-time whistle couldn’t be cleared and was turned in for the Warriors opening goal. (You can see the goal at 3:08 of the match highlights.) While Stenhousemuir still stands bottom, the win draws them to within two points of the play-off spot and a chance at survival.

 

SPAIN

Giuseppe Rossi can’t stop catching breaks, of the wrong kind. The Clifton, N.J. native is facing at least six months on the sidelines after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee while on loan at Celta Vigo. It’s the fourth knee injury for the 30-year-old striker who grew up in North Jersey before heading to Italy and the Azzurri. With his contract with Fiorentina expiring, Rossi is faced with the challenge of proving he is healthy enough for a contract yet again.

 

In Segunda B, Shaq Moore returned to action for the first time in more than a month in Atletico Levante’s 3-1 home win over Hercules. It was the first start for the right back out of Georgia in nearly two months. With the victory, Levante’s B side snaps a five match winless run and climbs out of the automatic relegation berths, but is still five points away of being guaranteed survival.

 

Ben Lederman’s La Masia return continues to pick up steam. After sitting out for more than a year due to FIFA regulations, Lederman is back with Barcelona’s Juvenil B team. Last week, Lederman was part of a Juvenil A and B mixed squad and scored the opener in a 4-0 friendly win over FC Tripleta. And on Sunday, Lederman came off the bench for his second official appearance since his return with the Juvenil B side. Entering just before the hour mark of a 2-0 game, the blaugrana poured in five more goals with Lederman on the field in the final half hour in a 7-0 thrashing of AE Josep Maria Gene. Lederman is expected to be part of the Barcelona team taking part in this week’s Mediterranean International Cup in Barcelona. Florida power-house academy Weston FC is in their group.

 

SWEDEN

NYC FC castaway Mix Diskerud is making himself at home in Sweden, scoring against fellow Yank Josh Wicks in IFK Goteborg’s 2-0 road win over IK Sirius. The win sees Goteborg jump to the top of the standings, while Sirius stands eighth.

 

In the second tier, North Carolina native Ryan Finley netted his first for his new club in IFK Varnamo’s 5-2 win over Gefle IF. The 26-year-old former Chivas USA and Charlotte Independence attacker moved from Denmark to Sweden in the off-season. Varnamo jumps to the top of the Superettan table after the opening two games.

 

A bit of history was made last week, far from the limelight, in Sweden’s fourth tier, Division 2 South.  Not one, but two American players scored the first goals of their professional careers in Linkoping City’s season opening 3-1 home win over Orebro Syrianska. Former NIU Huskie Kyle Knotek scored the first goal of the game. After starting his career in USL, the 29-year-old Illinois native moved to Finland in 2014, and is starting his second season in Linkoping. Former Columbus Crew defender Chad Barson, part of Akron’s 2010 NCAA Championship team, scored the final goal of the match. It was the first goal of his career, after going scoreless through stints with Michigan, Columbus and Pittsburgh. Fellow American, Michael Caldwell was in net, earning the win in his Swedish debut. The former Caldwell University player made the move from Norway’s Kolstad FK in the off-season.

 

MOVES

Luis Gil is back home in MLS. The former Real Salt Lake phenom rejoins his ex-coach Jason Kreis in Orlando on loan from Mexico’s Queretaro FC.

 

These are just a few of the U.S. footballers playing overseas. We will continue to shine the light on many more in the weeks and months to come. American soccer ambassadors continue to make inroads around the globe. Feel free to add your comments below to share your thoughts, shout-outs and suggestions. We’re asking for your help to correct any errors and make sure nothing important gets overlooked. So tweet to us @beINSPORTSUSA, or to me directly @PhilSchoen and use the hashtag #beINOverseas. We’ll pass it on.