Going into the final of two June European friendlies, the US Men’s National Team was looking to bounce back after a somewhat disappointing team performance against Ireland. While there were good individual showings in the game, as a team the US failed to secure a draw, much less come away from Dublin with a win. The interplay between Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie didn’t spark the creativity the team needed and an uneven defensive effort gave up a late goal to the home team.
With France, a team considered well capable of winning the World Cup, the Stars and Stripes seemed either poised to bounce back and show the grit and determination that has been lacking in the squad as of late and get an unexpected result, or be completely overrun by a team filled with superstars - what happened was in some ways a vintage American performance.
The USMNT would set up in a five man backline in the hopes of containing France. Within five minutes, the French team would have the US pinned in their own third and Julian Green would lose the ball as the US tried to play out of the back leading to a shot that Paul Pogba slammed off of the post from 25 yards out. With the US forced to respect the pure talent of the French squad, the home team generally was content to probe the US to try and find space behind the visitors’ backline. At one point Pogba nutmegged Antonee Robinson out of the stadium, though the left back would clear the ball, it seemed pretty obvious who would control the match.
The American defenders did well at staying cohesive and making things difficult for France, but the match seemed more like a training session for Les Bleus. The US had difficulty playing the ball out of the back and had to resort to long passes that rarely found Wil Trapp, much less forwards Julian Green or Bobby Wood. With France dominating possession and generating chances, it seemed like a goal would come at any moment for them in the half.
After Antonee Robinson led a counter that saw him send a cross just out of touch of Bobby Wood, the only attacking player anywhere near the goal for the US on the play, France came alive, particularly Antoine Greizmann who began peppering Zack Steffen’s goal with shots. In fact, the match began to look similar to the USA match vs. Belgium in 2014, with France perhaps being a lower effort version of their Flemish neighbors.
It would resemble it another way before halftime when Green would score for the Stars and Stripes. The much maligned former future hope of American soccer greatness took advantage of a badly hit clearance by Djibril Sidibe and one timed a shot through the defender’s legs, that Hugo Lloris should have better handled, to put the US ahead 1-0 at the half.
As the second 45 began, Bobby Wood would give his critics more material as he mis-timed a run and was called offside on what would have been the second goal of the game for the USA. Shortly thereafter, a particularly frightening moment would come in the 55th minute on a corner for France. Olivier Giroud and Matt Miazga would butt heads while trying to reach a ball that was ultimately cleared by Steffen. Each player would be substituted as a precaution with Erik Palmer-Brown replacing Miazga.
For the most part, the second half resembled the first with France possessing the ball, failing to do much in the way of creating chances, and the US trying to keep their opponents at bay. Further substitutions would come with Joe Corona coming on for Green in the 70th minute with Josh Sargent and DeAndre Yedlin replacing Bobby Wood and Shaq Moore in the 74th minute. For their part, France would take out Griezmann, who was by far their most effective player, for the equally effective Nabil Fekir as they searched for an equalizer.
It would come in the 78th minute with Kylian Mbappe calmly one-timing a shot past sprawling Cameron Carter-Vickers, who had a much improved performance from last week, and Steffen.
France finally get their goal from Mbappe to make it 1-1, bad marking in the box pic.twitter.com/VoH2GzFcKs— DMV Soccer (@DMVsoccer96) June 9, 2018
It seemed like another would come in the 80th minute as a French free kick by Fekir was pushed out for a corner by the American netminder. Despite the US being out shot 19-2, the match would end in a 1-1 draw after a 94th minute double save by Steffen on a try by Fekir followed by a close range shot from Ousmane Dembele.
Fantastic double save by Zack Steffen in the final minute to preserve the draw for #USMNT! Pushed away Fekir's long range effort, then quickly reacted to deny Dembele's follow-up. The #CrewSC GK has certainly cemented himsefl as the new #1 for USMNT. #FRAvUSA #FRAUSA #MLS pic.twitter.com/MHoEEtcXwW— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) June 9, 2018
Even though France seemed to be focused more on staying healthy and perhaps conserving their energy in the game, it was still a positive performance for the US. The team showed things that have seemed to be missing from the US in recent months - years even: the US played with toughness, determination, and team spirit in ways that go beyond the cliches that are often thrown around about the team and in a way that should be a performance that the young players featuring for the Stars and Stripes can build on.