EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — A day before what could end up being his last game at the helm of the U.S. men’s national team, interim coach Dave Sarachan promised there would be changes to the lineup that lost 4-2 to Colombia last week.
He wasn’t bluffing. Sarachan swapped out no fewer that nine players for Tuesday’s friendly against Peru, and for the most part it worked, as the U.S. rode a second-half goal by 18-year-old forward Josh Sargent until the 86th minute, when the visitors found an equalizer through Edison Flores in a 1-1 tie.
Here are three quick thoughts on the match:
1. Sargent takes his chance, in more ways that one
Sarachan has continued to call up Sargent even though the Missouri native has yet to play a minute for Werder Bremen, his German Bundesliga club. The coach has received some criticism for that decision. He explained it by pointing out the glaring lack of depth the USMNT has up front, especially with veteran forward Jozy Altidore, who is easily still the best striker in the program’s player pool, out injured.
That’s only part of it. The other reason is that Sargent is a legitimate talent. He’s showed it with the U.S. if not with his club, at least not yet. He scored in his debut back in May. He’s impressed off the bench in other games, including last week’s. And he took his goal well on Tuesday, making a smart run to lose his mark and knock home Kellyn Acosta’s cutback free kick on what was obviously a pre-planned play:
49' ¡GOOOOOOOOL DE SAAAAARGEEEENT! 🔥⚽️
Jugada prefabricada que el 'chavo' del #TeamUSA no duda en mandar al fondo de la red.
🇺🇸 1-0 🇵🇪
— Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports) October 17, 2018
“The kid’s moving in a good direction,” Sarachan said of Sargent following the match. “As a lone striker in the first half, he didn’t have a lot of the play but the moments that came to him, I thought he did pretty well. He did some clever movements in terms of keeping possession. He’s a strong kid. I thought on the night he had a good night. Getting the goal was the cherry on the sundae.”
The strike will only give Sargent more confidence. It won’t go unnoticed in Bremen. And it won’t go unnoticed by whoever takes the helm of the U.S. on a permanent basis from Sarachan later this year.
2. U.S. was sloppy both early and late …
Given the starters’ collective dearth of experience — 18-year-old forward Tim Weah, who made his international debut in March, was the Americans’ fourth-most capped participant — some early nerves could be forgiven. But as was the case against the Colombians, misplaced passes were still occurring all over the field late into the first half.
Some of that was surely down to the lineup’s lack of familiarity with each other. On the other hand, Sarachan said in Monday’s pre-match press conference that he didn’t want to see a repeat of the unforced errors the team committed versus Los Cafeteros. That didn’t happen.
“I have to be a little critical,” Sarachan said. “The ability to start to string a few passes together, just to give yourself a breather and to keep possession and build with numbers, I didn’t think the balance of that was great in the first half. It was better in the second; we talked about it during halftime.”
That’s not to say there weren’t some bright moments. Weah and Acosta, the two holdovers from last Thursday, looked up to the challenge from the start. Winger Jonathan Amon, who at 19 became the sixth teenager to debut for the U.S. in 2018, a record for any calendar year, showed flashes of the speed that earned him an invite to this camp, and he set up the free kick that led to Sargent’s goal. And while veteran goalkeeper Brad Guzan was beaten by Andy Polo’s 30-yard thunderbolt with 15 minutes to go, only to be saved by his crossbar, he wasn’t at fault for the goal and stopped the other two on-target shots he faced, commanded his box well and corralled a couple of dangerous crosses.
3. … But still managed a decent result in the end
When the lineups were announced an hour before kickoff, U.S. fans could be forgiven for thinking their green team might be in for a beating. Peru was a 2018 World Cup participant, and a far more experienced foe even if coach Ricardo Garcea didn’t field his best XI, either.
Yet a backline that featured debutants Reggie Cannon and Aaron Long and once-capped Ben Sweat, along with the comparatively grizzled 20-year-old Cameron Carter-Vickers (who had five appearances entering the contest) held up as well as anyone could’ve hoped. In fact, it was 2014 World Cup and English Premier League vet DeAndre Yedlin, a late sub for Cannon, who lost Flores at the back post on Peru’s goal.
“It’s always a question mark when you have some inexperienced players working together for the first time but you hope that when the curtain raises, they get tuned in and don’t get too nervous on the occasion,” Sarachan said. “I thought there were some moments of indecision and some nerves. But I think as the game went on, it got better.”
But considering that the U.S. needed to rebound after last weeks loss and did despite fielding its least-experienced team in recent memory, the result is at least acceptable. With a little more luck, the Yanks might even have pulled off a win.
“Pretty good, but of course you want to win,” midfielder Wil Trapp said. “We’re in the business of trying to win games. It is disappointing, but it’s a learning experience for this group … good teams can hurt you at any moment.”
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