It’s the final match of the year for the United States as they face Portugal, the defending European champions and the 3rd-ranked team in the world, tomorrow in Leiria. For the Americans, it’s a chance to end the year on a high note after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and it’s an opportunity to begin evaluating the future of the USMNT through some of the young talent that has been called into camp by interim head coach Dave Sarachan. For Portugal, it’s an opportunity to see which of the fringe players could possibly make the final 23 that go to Russia next summer. There is no Cristiano Ronaldo or some of the other stars that got them through qualifying and won the Euros last year, but some veterans that have limited international experience get the nod to see what they can contribute.
L (1-2) - Trinidad and Tobago - WCQ
W (4-0) - Panama - WCQ
D (1-1) - Honduras - WCQ
L (0-2) - Costa Rica - WCQ
W (2-1) - Jamaica - CONCACAF Gold Cup Final
W (3-0) - Saudi Arabia - Friendly
W (2-0) - Switzerland - UEFA WCQ Group B
W (2-0) - Andorra - UEFA WCQ Group B
W (1-0) - Hungary - UEFA WCQ Group B
W (5-1) - Faroe Islands - UEFA WCQ Group B
What to Watch for
I believe the children are our future: Which of the young players will make the most of their first opportunity on the international stage? It will be good to see players like Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Cameron Carter-Vickers, or Josh Sargent get a chance to play, and this is what fans want to see as well. The road to the 2022 World Cup starts tomorrow and these are some of the players that could feature during that journey. Will Sarachan play the kids?
Finish opportunities: The USMNT may not get many opportunities against mighty Portugal, but the ones they do, they need to finish. Whoever of Dom Dwyer, Juan Agudelo, CJ Sapong and Josh Sargent starts up top will need to be good at punching home shots in the box. Portugal will likely have a fairly experience goalkeeper between the posts, but their defense can be broken with some of their main pieces missing. Capitalize on scoring chances when you get them and this will be an entertaining match.
Seize the moment: For many players on this USMNT roster, this is a chance to show that they belong on the international stage representing the United States. If they are called to play, they have to be ready. It’s a huge task to take on the Portuguese, one of the best teams in the world. But, it’s still a chance to show fans and everyone else that they should be a name to remember and root for going forward.
One of the main things that fans want to see is how the young players are able to perform on the national stage. There’s also some players that have been on the fringe that will relish the opportunity to show that they can be an important part of the next cycle for the USMNT. In the end, I think Sarachan will start some of the regulars and the older fringe players, but that some of the young guys will eventually enter as substitutes.
At goalkeeper, I think Sarachan elects to go with Bill Hamid, who has the most caps of the three goalkeepers and has been trusted recently with an important game (a 3-0 shutout against Nicaragua in the Gold Cup group stage). I wouldn’t be surprised for Jesse Gonzalez or Ethan Horvath to get some time in the 2nd half, but Hamid starts this game.
On defense, the anchors in the middle are John Brooks, back from injury, and Matt Miazga, who has performed well for Vitesse. At left back, I think Sarachan goes with some experience and starts Jorge Villafana, who has appeared in almost every single match in 2017 for the USMNT. On the right, he goes with DeAndre Yedlin, who will provide speed and stability for the back line. It’s possible that Eric Lichaj and Cameron Carter-Vickers also receive some time as substitutes.
In the middle, I think the U.S. will have Kellyn Acosta and Danny Williams as the defensive options. Acosta is one of the young guys who has burst onto the scene in the last year and a half and has a chance to be one of the main defensive midfield options in the next cycle. Danny Williams has been a player that many fans have clamored to be a bigger part of the USMNT for many moons, and I think he gets that chance tomorrow. I do think we will see the debut of 19-year-old Weston McKennie in the 2nd half at defensive midfieldOn the right wing, Alejandro Bedoya is not my personal choice (that would be Kelyn Rowe), but Sarachan clearly brought him on to be a leader for this young team and have some experience in the middle. He will likely wear the armband for the team and start on the right. On the left, I think one of the young kids will get his first shot. Tyler Adams, the 18-year-old New York Red Bulls midfielder, will get an opportunity to work on the left.
Up top, Dom Dwyer will start and get a chance to build on the 2 goals he has scored in his first 3 matches for the team. He will be paired with Juan Agudelo, who can roam free while Dwyer plays more of the holding striker position and works to poach some goals and finish around the net. I’m not sure if Sarachan will give CJ Sapong or 17-year-old Josh Sargent a chance in this match, but I personally am hoping to see Sargent get 10 minutes to see how he can handle the international stage for the senior team.
The USMNT will come out with some fire and play like they have something to prove. In the end, the Portuguese will have too much firepower for the Americans to handle, and they will cruise to a 3-1 victory.
Who do you think starts? Who are you most hoping to see on the field? What are your keys to victory? Hit the comments and let’s hear your predictions!