The first full week of soccer in 2021 got U.S. Men's National Team fans excited as some of America's finest exceeded expectations once again in Europe. Get ready to go over last week's top performers and a duo of Philadelphia Union youngsters who are ready to take on European football.
Top three American performers of the week
Matthew Hoppe – FC Schalke 04
FC Schalke 04 players walked out of Veltins-Arena's tunnel and onto the pitch with the weight of a 30-game winless streak weighing down on their shoulders. However, little did they know that they were 90 minutes away from experiencing the relief that they had been craving for months and that 19-year-old Matthew Hoppe from the United States would be a big part of it. The young striker became the first American to score a Bundesliga hat trick with the help of Moroccan wonderkid Amine Harit, who assisted all three of his goals.
In Schalke's hour of need, 19-year-old Matthew Hoppe stepped up with the first ever Bundesliga hat-trick by an American player— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) January 9, 2021
What dreams are made of pic.twitter.com/CfZYuMBVWG
Hoppe, who had only played four Bundesliga matches before to Saturday's game against Hoffenheim and only scored one goal for FC Schalke 04's second team in 16 games, became the center of attention around the globe after playing a big part in Schalke's first league win since January 2020. The young American does not have any experience in US youth teams, but it might be time to give the Californian a call-up to the U20's team soon if he keeps up his good form.
Weston McKennie – Juventus
On Dec. 8, 2020, USMNT's Weston McKennie scored a wonder goal in Camp Nou against Barcelona to help Juventus seal the No. 1 spot in Group G of the Champions League. The 22-year-old struck again last week at another monumental stadium – San Siro – helping Juventus take down a refurbished Milan side that had not lost a league game since June 2020.
Despite winger Federico Chiesa taking the spotlight with a terrific performance against Milan, McKennie's 30 minutes on the pitch further proved why he has remained a first-team player in Andrea Pirlo's squad. The midfielder earned a spot in Sunday's key league match against Sassuolo. Unfortunately, he picked up a muscle injury before the 20-minute forcing him to come off early.
Zack Steffen – Manchester City
Goalkeeper Zack Steffen enjoyed another start for Manchester City on Wednesday for an EFL Cup semifinal game against Manchester United. The 25-year-old earned his second clean sheet of the season, denying Bruno Fernandes with a save in the early stages of the game in the process. The save ultimately changed the course of the match in favor of the Cityzens, who ended up winning the Manchester Derby 3-0.
Steffen has not disappointed in his four starts this season, winning all four games and only conceding two goals. The USMNT No. 1 has proven to be a reliable resource for Manchester City in case of Ederson's absence like he did in his first Premier League start against Chelsea on Sunday, Jan. 3.
Philadelphia Union duo arrive at Europe
Attacking midfielder Brenden Aaronson, 20, and center back Mark McKenzie, 21, took the leap from Major League Soccer to Europe in the early days of 2021. Both Aaronson and McKenzie played a big role in Philadelphia Union's memorable 2020 Major League Soccer season that saw them win their first-ever Supporters' Shield title.
Brenden Aaronson – RB Salzburg
Aaronson, from Medford, New Jersey, acted as Philly's frontal cortex last season, taking care of the team's creativity in the final third of the pitch. The runner-up AT&T MLS Young Player of the Year scored four goals and dished out three assists in 20 league games. Also, he made his U.S. Men's National Team debut in February 2020 against Costa Rica and had two goal contributions – goal and assist – against El Salvador in December 2020.
Austrian Bundesliga champions RB Salzburg agreed to an $11 million with the Union for Aaronson in October and he joined the team on Jan. 1, 2021. His goal, like many of his new teammates, is to impress with Salzburg and earn a move to RB Leipzig in the German Bundesliga.
Mark McKenzie – KRC Genk
On the other hand, McKenzie made his mark by playing the entirety of 19 league matches in Philadelphia's backline last season. The New York City native scored two goals and dished out one assist over the course of the season while helping his team to eight clean sheets. He was the only defender out of the seven AT&T MLS Young Player of the Year last finalists, ending in the fifth spot. Like Aaronson, McKenzie also made his first two appearances for the USMNT in 2020.
McKenzie joined Belgium's Jupiler Pro League's side KRC Genk for a fee of around $4.4 million on Thursday, Jan. 7. Genk currently sits in second place on the table behind Club Brugge by four points. With 15 league games remaining in the schedule, McKenzie will have a shot at a league title in his debut season in Europe.