LONDON — First-half goals two minutes apart were enough for World Cup semifinalists England to ease past a sloppy and overmatched United States 3-0 in Thursday’s international friendly match at Wembley Stadium.
Jesse Lingard opened the scoring for the Three Lions with a perfect curling shot past Brad Guzan just seconds after U.S. headliner Christian Pulisic squandered a golden chance to put the visitors ahead at the other end against the run of play.
Trent Alexander-Arnold added England’s second moments later, and Callum Wilson took advantage of more poor defending to add the home side’s third late deep into the second half. The Americans are now 0W-2L-1T in their last three matches, with a year-ending game against four-time World Cup champion Italy looming on Tuesday in Belgium.
Here are three quick thoughts on Thursday’s match:
1. The Americans were thoroughly outclassed
Look, playing against the best English team in a generation (at least) in one of the cathedrals of the sport was always going to be a tough test for a young and rebuilding U.S. squad. The hard truth is the Americans were never in this one at all.
It took almost five minutes after the opening kickoff for the visitors to cross into England territory. They were run ragged by a sharper, faster, more athletic, more disciplined side. They were utterly unable to deal with the pace of the game. Perhaps that was to be expected. The disappointing thing from a USMNT perspective was how poor they were in the moments where they should’ve done better.
“We never got close to guys,” U.S. keeper Brad Guzan said. “We allowed them too much time and space on the ball and they’re too good. They showed in the summer they’re a good team. Individually they’re good players and collectively they’re a good team, so when you give them time and space like we did they’re going to pick you apart.
“In the first half we defended for literally 45 minutes,” Guzan continued. “We had one chance and that was it. In a game like this, you have to be ready to go from the start. We were ready, we just never got up to the speed of the game.”
Simple mistakes also continue to hamper this team. Unforced errors continue to happen all over the field. As unstoppable as Lingard’s opener was, the other two goals were preventable,l the result of indecisive defending. By the end, England was toying with the Yanks.
This was always the risk of playing a murderer’s row of all-world foes with such an inexperienced squad. After a June tie against eventual World Cup winner France and respectable losses to Brazil and Colombia, the wheels fell off in this one. And it won’t get easier in the USMNT’s final match of 2018.
Up next for the U.S. is the trip to Belgium to take on Italy. You can be sure the Azzurri, who like the Americans didn’t make it to Russia 2018, will be out for blood. Unless the U.S. is far better, they’ll end what had been a mostly promising the year on a decidedly sour note.
2. A forgettable night for Christian Pulisic …
Appearing in just his second game for his country since the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup 13 months ago, much of the pre-match attention was on the 20-year-old Borussia Dortmund attacker’s return to the fold.
But while Pulisic was involved in most of the Yanks’ more promising moves, not that there were many of those, he was also unable to make any significant impact on the match. Inexplicably deployed out wide by interim U.S. manager Dave Sarachan — on the right side in the first half, the left in the second — Pulisic wasn’t involved nearly enough.
“England’s a good team. We know that,” Pulisic said. “We’re not taking anything away from them because they played well. But if you want to compete with a side like that we need to come our with a lot more energy.”
When Pulisic did get the ball, the support and the end product were lacking. An extra touch took him wide after he split England center backs Lewis Dunk and Michael Keane with a clever pass to himself (intended for an offside Bobby Wood, who smartly let the ball run though), resulting in a relatively routine save for home keeper Jordan Pickford.
Pulisic was then immediately beaten by Lingard on the sequence that led to the Manchester United striker’s third international goal. Once the second one went in moments later, the contest was all but over.
“I had a really good chance in the first half that I need to score,” Pulisic said. “It could’ve changed the game.”
3. … But a memorable one for Wayne Rooney
It’s not normal that biggest cheers of a match are reserved for a substitute, but then this wasn’t a normal night. Playing in his 120th and final game for England, Wayne Rooney was the main attraction from the moment that it was announced that the Three Lions’ all-time top scorer would be honored two years after announcing his retirement from the international game.
The crowd at Wembley went nuts when Rooney’s name was announced before kickoff and again when he finally stepped on the field in place of Lingard with just over a half-hour to play. (One over-excited fan and possibly over-served fan interrupted the contest by running onto the pitch to hug his idol.)
More than 20,000 tickets were sold in the four days after Rooney was added to Gareth Southgate’s squad. And while the 33-year-old D.C. United forward didn’t add to his record 53 England goals — the hosts were more willing to let the U.S. have the ball and look to pad their lead off of quick and direct counterattacks by the time he came on, although he did have a shot saved by Guzan in stoppage time — there was no doubt who the star of the evening was.
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