The opening two rounds of the Concacaf Nations League are in the rearview mirror, and when action resumes we will see the likes of Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica, and Honduras join the competition. For many of the region’s top players, next up is a healthy serving of UEFA Champions League fixtures beginning Tuesday.
Here are five Concacaf players and storylines to keep tabs on in the opening stages of Europe’s elite competition.
1. Chucky Lozano settling in at Napoli
After completing one of the most intriguing transfers of the summer, Hirving “Chucky” Lozano looks set to take his game to the next level in Serie A. Virtually everyone involved benefits from the record move – Napoli and the Italian league are given a boost from a massive Mexican contingent following their young star, El Tri coach Gerardo Martino got his wish, and PSV are able to reload with the hefty $46 million fee.
After finding the back of the net in their 4-3 loss to Juventus before the international break and becoming the first Mexican to score in Serie A, Lozano was handed his first start for the Partenopei over the weekend in a 2-0 win over Sampdoria. With the Champions League back in full swing this week and an opening date with Liverpool, Napoli are going to need Lozano to settle in and prove his worth immediately.
While they’ve been able to create scoring chances with relative ease over the last few years, their main struggle at the tail end of last year and even through the preseason was a lack of killer instinct in the final third. In addition to his playmaking ability, Lozano can offer a massive boost in that department while offering decisive pace and skill on the counter.
2. Sergiño Dest growing up quickly for Ajax & USMNT
Finding the perfect balance of offensive output and defensive fortitude is a tall order for a fullback, a position that has troubled the U.S. men’s national team for years. While this youngster's development is far from reaching its peak, the U.S. may just have an outside back for the present and future in Ajax’s Sergiño Dest.
The 18-year-old was a standout at this summer’s Under-20 World Cup and used that experience as a launchpad to quickly rise through the ranks for Ajax. In a few short months, the Dutch-born defender has achieved a number of milestones for club and country:
27.07: Debut for AFC Ajax— Scouted Football (@ScoutedFtbl) September 13, 2019
10.08: Debut in the Eredivisie
07.09: Debut for the senior US side
12.09: Promoted to senior Ajax squad
13.09: Signs a contract extension at Ajax
A milestone season for Sergiño Dest. pic.twitter.com/p8b3F5lZko
Dest was handed his first international start under rather difficult conditions: a match against eternal rivals Mexico in which the Yanks were overrun. He was on the receiving end of their onslaught when Jesus “Tecatito” Corona put him in the mixer and completed a pinpoint cross for the game’s opening goal.
Dest quickly rebounded from his side’s lopsided loss with an impressive performance against Uruguay. He will be further boosted by the previous week’s development, as he was officially promoted to the first team after his plight in the youth sector and signed a contract extension to keep him at the club through the 2021-22 season. Dest and Ajax kick off their Champions League group stage against fellow American international Timothy Weah and Lille OSC on Tuesday, with matches against Chelsea and Valencia on the horizon.
3. Pulisic & Chelsea’s youth revolution
The return of the Champions League presents Pulisic with an opportunity to get off the mark for his new club and fully stake his place in Frank Lampard’s youth revolution, which has been the story so far in 2019-20. With academy products Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount leading the way up top, Pulisic has yet to find his scoring touch and didn’t feature for the first time this season in Chelsea’s 5-2 win over Wolverhampton after returning from international duty.
Nevertheless, Pulisic is one of the few youngsters on the roster with Champions League experience to his name. His side begin with a stiff test against Barcelona before his 21st birthday on Wednesday, which marks one year since he celebrated his big day with a game-winning goal in a 1-0 win over Club Brugge. With remaining contests against Inter Milan and Slavia Praha, Lampard needs his young American to start producing in the goals and assists departments in the very near future.
4. Keylor Navas faces off against former club
The greatest keeper to ever emerge from Concacaf simply wasn’t given the full respect he deserved during his time in the Spanish capital, but now he has the opportunity to prove his worth once again after landing at another European giant. Keylor Navas departed Real Madrid at the beginning of the month in favor of French side Paris Saint Germain and has everything needed and more to lead his new club to glory.
Navas was handed his Ligue 1 debut over the weekend against Strasbourg and produced this stunning save en route to a shutout.
Check out Keylor Navas's first big save with PSG: pic.twitter.com/mWCMpLSLc3— The Tico Times (@TheTicoTimes) September 14, 2019
PSG get their campaign off and running on Wednesday, and what better way to do so than with a blockbuster match against Real Madrid?
5. Hector Herrera & Atlético’s rematch with Juve
It appeared to be smooth sailing for Atlético in last year’s two-legged affair — 2-0 to the good, while largely limiting Juventus in the final third.
Then Cristiano Ronaldo happened.
The Spanish capital’s second team had one foot in the quarterfinals in March, but Juventus’ main man single-handedly propelled his side to victory with a hat trick to capture a 3-2 aggregate.
Now, Atlético have undergone a reboot and are looking to build on a solid start following a successful preseason. Héctor Herrera recently returned to the picture with the Mexican national team and will be looking to use a new environment to Porto over the summer.
The problem at the moment is that Herrera has yet to log an appearance this season. Still, head coach Diego Simeone could give Herrera the nod against Juve, Bayer Leverkusen, or Lokomotiv Moscow due to his experience against European competition; he amassed over 40 Champions League appearances during his time in Portugal.