The US Men’s National Team went into their friendly against Paraguay with lots of questions. What kind of lineup would American Manager Dave Sarachan trot out? Would the kids actually play? Is this the game the USMNT finally scores a goal in 2018? Was anything going to happen to give supporters something to feel good about? Is DeAndre Yedlin actually getting his 50th cap? That can’t be right. Over 90 minutes in Cary, North Carolina that and more would be answered, kinda.
To begin, the Blue, Blue, and Blue lined up in a 6-5 formation to begin the match according to the team’s twitter account:
Though it may very well have been a 4-1-4-1 and the USMNT gif was somehow inaccurate:
While the lineup may not have been as full of players deserving of a “Who are ya?” chant, there was a good mix of players with some experience and those getting a chance with the team.
For their part, Paraguay set up in a 4-2-3-1:
Once things got underway, la Albirroja and the Stars and Stripes struggled to find rhythm as their respective passes weren’t finding the feet of teammates and there seemed to be more throw-ins than completed passes to start things off. Luckily in the 16th minute the US threaded a low pass that found the feet of left back Jorge Villafana who fired a cross into the box - Paraguay failed to clear it and Darlington Nagbe re-cycled the ball to Bobby Wood just yards in front of goal. The striker put a shot on frame that was saved off the goal line by a Paraguay defender though and the score remained 0-0.
Paraguay would have a chance in the 26th minute when a free kick was headed towards goal by Federico Santander, but Zack Steffen managed to cradle it in his chest like an ostrich egg being saved from a catastrophic encounter with the ground. Four minutes later la Albirroja had another chance when a cross was hit into the box by Oscar Ramiro and was headed at goal by Néstor Camacho only to be saved again by Steffen.
The defense was sturdy with Paraguay failing to get Romario and Miguel Almiron into dangerous areas while Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers looked to have a solid understanding in central defense. Aside from their defending and there was little to expect that the US would find a goal. There were a few moments of Darlington Nagbe running though the whole Paraguay team with the ball and floating between his nominal position on the right side of the midfield and just about everywhere else while Marky Delgado had a solid half helping the US keep possession and looked like a good fit in central midfield with Tyler Adams. While they worked in an attempt to get something started for the US, it seemed like the team was destined to extend their 2018 scoring drought. Indeed, while the defense looked solid, the attack looked ramshackle as it tried to breakdown Paraguay.
That is until the 43rd minute when Jorge Villafana won a turnover in the US third and played a quick ball to Tyler Adams who sent a short pass to Marky Delgado. Adams then streaked through the entire left side of the Paraguay midfield and Delgado sent a low long ball to his feet and the NY Red Bulls midfielder was clear through on goal. Paraguay keeper Gatito Fernandez wiped out Adams before the American could shoot and a penalty was awarded. Forward Bobby Wood stepped up and slid the ball past Gatito to put the US ahead 1-0. While the goal was deserved, it came in a half when the US only managed one shot in the whole first 45 minutes.
Tyler Adams draws the penalty, Bobby Wood converts it!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 28, 2018
USA leads Paraguay 1-0 at halftime. pic.twitter.com/LtTNv8BNg3
Neither team made any changes to begin the second half and Kenny Saief looked like he was going to make the most of the rest of his time on the field:
So was Darlington Nagbe:
Glorious skill by Darlington Nagbe! Took the ball out of the air with a backheel, then touched it around an onrushing defender. Tremendous. #Tekkers #USMNT #USAvPAR #ATLUTD #MLS pic.twitter.com/h7o7GOKcBE— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) March 28, 2018
But outside of those moments of individual brilliance, the US still struggled to break through the Paraguay defense and the ball was largely stuck in midfield for the opening 15 minutes of the half. In the 67th minute, Sarachan finally use one of his six substitutes bringing in Rubio Rubin for Saief. Almost immediately after, CCV gave up a turnover just outside the 18 yard box as Paraguay pressured the US while the Stars and Stripes tried to play the ball out of the back. The ball was played to Miguel Almiron who fired a left footed shot at goal, but it was a Trapp - who blocked it at the last moment.
As the game reached the 75th minute - no the US did not make a substitution to #PlayTheKids - it looked like things might be opening up. Paraguay started playing a bit more direct and a cross from Junior Alonso was headed by Hernan Perez barely wide of goal. Minutes later, American Manager Dave Sarachan took out Bobby Wood for Andrija Novakovich with his second sub in the 78th minute.
After putting in a solid shift in central midfield, Marky Delgado came off as Timothy Weah took the field in the 85th minute. The move came as Dave Sarachan seemed content to take the opportunity to show that he has what it takes to win a meaningless friendly 1-0 rather than showcase the young talent on his bench or give them significant minutes. In Zidane apology time, Sarachan subbed Nagbe off for Cristian Roladan with a minute left before the game ended. However, in that time the US nearly found a second goal as Novakovich sprang forward on a breakaway and found himself running with the ball at his feet only to push his shot wide of the Paraguay goal.
In the end the game was a bit choppy for the US. The players never found the rhythm that seemed to elude them in the first half. While there were a few moments of individual brilliance, the squad never settled as a team and outside of Adams’ breakaway in the first half, the US had few chances to score. The defense was effective at bottling up one of the best players in MLS with Almiron starved for the ball and Romero having difficulty pulling the strings along side him in midfield. While not exactly a brilliant performance from the US, it at least seems like the young talent who did play can keep up with a talented, though not world beating, South American opponent.