The United States will take the field tomorrow in Cary, North Carolina to take on Paraguay in their only friendly match during the March international window. A young squad has been training under American manager Dave Sarachan for the opportunity to test themselves against a South American nation who didn’t make the World Cup but still has a strong squad. The last time these two teams squared off was in the 2016 Copa America group stage, when a Clint Dempsey goal was the difference in a 1-0 victory for the USMNT that sent them through to the quarterfinals.
The mission for this match: evaluate the future talent that could be on the international stage for a long time. The average age for the USMNT roster is under 24, with 8 players not having a single international cap. We will get to see how these players compete against a Paraguayan team that has some youth but also some with experience in big matches.
D (0-0) - Bosnia and Herzegovina - Friendly
D (1-1) - Portugal - Friendly
L (1-2) - Trinidad and Tobago - WCQ
W (4-0) - Panama - WCQ
D (1-1) - Honduras - WCQ
L (0-1) - Venezuela - WCQ
W (2-1) - Colombia - WCQ
L (1-2) - Uruguay - WCQ
W (3-0) - Chile - WCQ
L (1-2) - Mexico - Friendly
What to Watch for
Control the midfield. Paraguay’s midfield can get out and run, and it will be important for the USMNT to control possession in the midfield and not get stuck on counter attacks. With the ball at our feet, the midfield should spread out and put pressure on their defense with crisp passes and being creative in space.
Bend, don’t break. The American defense is young and very inexperienced, and this will be a major test for them to corral the speed that Paraguay possesses. There are going to be times when La Albirroja gets behind them, but if they can bend but not break, we could catch them with numbers going the other way.
Can the youth make the most of their opportunity? This is a chance for the young guys who have never featured for the United States to show that they have the moxie to make it on this stage. It will be cool to see what players like Timothy Weah, Antonee Robinson, and Andrija Novakovich can do against top level competition. Will they respond? Can they break through and execute? It will be fun to watch these young Americans compete.
American manager Dave Sarachan has some options for the lineup that walks onto the field tomorrow to start against Paraguay. In the end, I think he combines some of the experienced players with some of the youth:
In goal, Bill Hamid seems to have the edge over Zack Steffen and will earn the start, but I won’t be surprised to see Steffen play in the 2nd half. On the back line, I think Jorge Villafaña and DeAndre Yedlin will start at left and right back, respectively. I could see Antonee Robinson in this lineup as well, but I imagine he and Shaq Moore would be one of the first defenders off the bench. In the middle of the defense, Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers are the two I expect.
The midfield is one where I think the starting options are more stable. Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams in the middle, McKennie operating more as a central defensive mid and Adams moving forward at times, should be Sarachan’s preferred option. Darlington Nagbe will try to create havoc on the right wing, and Kenny Saief will get a chance to show he can help out on the left.
Up front, I think this is the interesting one. While Timothy Weah is on the roster as a midfielder, I could see him up front later in the match. In the end, I think Sarachan starts with the tall Andrija Novakovich as a second striker to Bobby Wood. Can we use his height on set pieces and corners? Absolutely, and I think Sarachan will think it’s worth a trial.
This is an important match for the future of the USMNT. With the several players who have little to no experience on the international stage, the curiosity of what they can do makes this match all the more intriguing. Can the team break through and score their first goal in 2018? Can they hold off La Albirroja’s speed and creativity? It all unfolds tomorrow night in Cary, North Carolina.