5 takeaways from the most promising USMNT friendly in years

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The U.S. men’s national team put on a very promising display against Bolivia in Chester, Pa. (Getty)
The U.S. men’s national team put on a very promising display against Bolivia in Chester, Pa. (Getty)

CHESTER, Pa. — It was only Bolivia. It was only a friendly. But the U.S. men’s national team’s first of three May and June matches felt like exactly what it was supposed to feel like: the start of a new era.

The U.S. beat Bolivia 3-0 on goals from Walker Zimmerman, Josh Sargent and Tim Weah at a two-thirds-full Talen Energy Stadium. It made quick work of the visiting South Americans with a lineup featuring four debutants and four teenagers. Two of those teenagers found the back of the net in an overall impressive U.S. performance.

Here are five takeaways from it:

1. Weston McKennie was the best player on the field

If one U.S. player won the opening week of camp, it was Weston McKennie. And he capped it off with an excellent holding midfield performance in interim manager Dave Sarachan’s 4-1-4-1. He is making the position his. And it could well be his for the next decade-plus. At 19, he already looks like a future national team captain. And he was the best player on the field Monday night.

There wasn’t a single easily apparent flaw in his performance. He was strong in duels, winning possession back for the U.S. in both the defensive and attacking halves. He won tackles and sprung attacks charging toward the opposing penalty area. He cut off Bolivia attacks with slide tackles tracking back toward his own area. In possession, he moved well, creating angles for himself to receive passes from the center backs. He went forward when he sensed space and opportunity ahead of him.

In general, he was commanding. He even brought a bit of chippiness to the game in the second half. He seems like a must-start, no matter the importance of the game, in the deepest midfield role moving forward.

“I was more familiar with the role I was playing, because I’ve played it back at Schalke” McKennie said of his position in front of the back four. “Maybe sometimes I was a little too comfortable,” he said, referencing the odd turnover. “But nothing bad happened from it.”

2. Tim Weah showed a lot of promise

Tim Weah is still a bit raw. Just a bit. A few sloppy final-third touches early on let that be known. But there was a lot to like from the PSG forward’s 60 minutes.

“He was all over the shop,” Sarachan said of the 18-year-old. “He looked like a kid that has never played at a higher level. [Then he was] flying a beating guys. He was the prototypical young, nervous guy.”

Weah played on the right, and had some nice variety to his movement. He came inside to combine with midfielders and Sargent. He even interchanged with Sargent when the striker vacated his post. And he was also quick to anticipate opportunities to run in behind.

He got his first U.S. goal knifing into the box, from the right all the way to the near post:

“He’s gonna be a good player,” Sarachan said. “But he’s got some growing to do, and some maturing to do as a player. So what you saw is kinda where he’s at.”

3. Josh Sargent looks like a future fixture at striker

Sargent, like Weah, is not the finished product. He had several opportunities in front of goal and didn’t quite take them with conviction. But the fact that he was getting those opportunities – and helping create a few for others – was great to see. He combined several times with Weah at the top of the box. His hold-up play was strong.

“He has a frame; he understands what he’s about in terms of being a forward,” Sarachan said after the game.

And he, too, got his goal. It was a terrible giveaway from the Bolivian keeper. But it was still an impressive interception and finish:

“We’re very thin at the No. 9 position in American soccer,” Sarachan admitted after the game. Sargent, therefore, has an opportunity to take this position by the scruff of the neck and, like McKennie in midfield, make it his.

“I’m not projecting Josh to be a starter from here on in with the men’s team,” Sarachan said. “But he possesses a certain mentality and frame, why not look at him? We need goalscorers. We need to give them opportunities.”

4. Rubio Rubin’s best U.S. performance

Rubio Rubin didn’t come into the game with the hype of Sargent, Weah, or many of the other youngsters. But he’s only 22, and he may just have put in his best national team performance yet.

He played off the left, and did much of his work cutting inside. He did well to win a few 50-50 balls. On his best play of the night, he came across the field to release Weah with a perfectly weighted ball. He also skinned a defender with a stepover and went down the line to get a decent left-footed cross off. He was the second-best U.S. player in the first half behind McKennie.

5. Christian Pulisic was quiet …

… And that’s … not a bad thing? Throughout World Cup qualifying, the U.S. was overly reliant on the 19-year-old Dortmund winger. Monday night, it was anything but. In fact, a surprisingly high percentage of the USMNT’s promising attacks didn’t go through Pulisic at all.

And in all honestly, Pulisic wasn’t very good. He played centrally next to Joe Corona. He looked like a player ready for the offseason to be here. And it’s tough to blame him. He admitted Sunday that his legs were tired. And that showed.

“Christian looked like he’s ready to take a break,” Sarachan said after the match.

But he isn’t a worry. He’ll be good when the U.S. needs him to be good. That the Yanks were good without him being good was a major positive.

“In the system we play, we have Josh up high, but we wanted guys like Joe Corona, guys like Christian, McKennie to have fluid movement through the game.

“That’s the point of being a team. You can’t rely on one guy. That’s the whole idea of trying to bring some young forwards into the mix. To just rely on Christian to be your sole guy, it’s too much for him, and it’s not fair. So we want to share the wealth, and I thought the guys did that pretty well tonight.”

More takeaways

  • Erik Palmer-Brown didn’t have too much to do, but made one really nice sliding clearance of a cross lunging back toward his own goal. He also did well to shepherd out one or two Bolivia attacks. Sarachan, after the match, praised both center backs’ organization and communication.

  • Walker Zimmerman might not be the best defender in the U.S. center back pool, but he might be the best in the air. And he skied to score the game’s opening goal.

  • Antonee Robinson had an outstanding debut at left back.

  • Dave Sarachan had been criticized for not giving enough minutes to the kids. There will be no such criticism after Monday night. We saw everybody we wanted to see. And most of them showed well.

  • The full U.S. lineup: Alex Bono; Eric Lichaj, Walker Zimmerman, Erik Palmer-Brown, Antonee Robinson; Weston McKennie; Tim Weah, Christian Pulisic, Joe Corona, Rubio Rubin; Josh Sargent.

  • The substitutes were Julian Green, Keaton Parks, Andrija Novakovich, Matt Olosunde, Lynden Gooch and Jorge Villafana.

  • The U.S. now heads to Europe for friendlies against France and Ireland. Expect anywhere between a half-dozen and a dozen roster changes to be announced Tuesday.

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      Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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