In a few short hours last fall the U.S. Men’s National Team went from building to rebuilding, and Tuesday night’s friendly against Paraguay finally felt like a proper kickoff to that process. International talent melded with MLS hopefuls to form something of a realistic team. The players and coaches promised open play and basically delivered on that promise to came away with a solid 1-0 performance.
Trying to manufacture learning from this game might cause one to question the value of an education altogether, but there a few things that are worth noting from a friendly that was just one small step on a long road back to respectability.
Dave Sarachan has been very pragmatic as interim head coach
Normally calling a soccer coach “pragmatic” is a subtle critique but in this case it’s a compliment. Sarachan isn’t going to be around long but he’s doing right by the players. He’s letting the players play forward and showcase their skills, and at the same time keeping the team well organized. In his three games the U.S. has given up just one goal despite asking inexperienced players to press. The team pressure has worked even if it hasn’t resulted in easy goals.
The game plan has been to press wide and get organized if the opponent is central and reaching the attacking third. Here’s a chart of the U.S. tackle attempts and interceptions. Almost all of the defensive activity is out wide until the final third.
The defensive results can’t be argued but offensively the U.S. has looked like the disjointed lot that they are. While some players like Kenny Saief showed they can be dangerous offensively, the team as a whole hasn’t shown any ability to break down international defenses. Still, Sarachan has pushed to open them up and deserves credit for his results.
Tyler Adams is a diverse talent
To be clear, those that watch Tyler Adams regularly did not learn this. But Adams showcased for others that he can play anywhere in the midfield and be dangerous in the attack. His run on the ball from Marky Delgado put the pressure on Paraguayan keeper Gatito Fernandez and forced him into an awkward slide. That run was the difference in the game.
Check out the passing chart for Adams. His play was so balanced all over the midfield.
No one locked down a future spot, but no one played themselves out of a spot either
There were plenty of solid performances but no one played a game that was critically bad or good. Part of the issue is that Paraguay played passively and allowed the U.S. to dictate for much of the match. But they also were able to snuff out U.S. attacks as soon as they started to become interesting.
Among the better performances beside Adams and Saief were Cameron Carter-Vickers, Matt Miazga, and Jorge Villafana on defense. Villafana was particularly active offensively as well, getting in some solid early crosses. Will Trapp played a tidy game keeping Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron from breaking through in the attacking third. Here’s Almiron’s passing chart. Notice how he was completely shut out from completing dangerous passes near the 18 yard box. Credit to the defensive trio in that area.
It’s a long road back to respectability – patience is a must
For fans who are still healing this game was not much of a salve. The solidity of the play did not hide the lack of quality when compared to the play of teams who are still building toward Russia. There’s no shortage of hope and talent waiting to come together to form a cohesive and dangerous national team, but we will need to endure plenty of these games before that reality begins to take shape.