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Young USMNT squad benefits from chemistry in Paraguay win

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CARY, NC — Plenty has been made about how young the USMNT squad is of late, with the team planning for the long-term after missing out on the 2018 World Cup. What’s not been talked about as much is the group’s prior experience together, and that shone through as the United States topped Paraguay 1-0 in Cary, NC on Tuesday.

The central defensive partnership between Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers looked polished and unfazed even under pressure, while the midfield trio of Wil Trapp, Marky Delgado, and Tyler Adams linked up well. There was a disconnect between the midfield and attack, but against the high-press of Paraguay, that wasn’t as detrimental as it may have been to a more possession-dominant style of play.

[ RECAP: USMNT tops Paraguay 1-0 in Cary, NC ]

“We really at the end of the day had five really hard training sessions,” head coach Dave Sarachan said after the game. “When you only have five days in bringing guys together, you try to make as much headway into making the group become cohesive and work together. Some of them have the advantage of having played before, but it’s like a crash course in communicating, and I thought the guys did an excellent job.”

In particular, the play of Trapp stood out, keeping the team’s shape and locking down the Paraguay attack led by dangerous Atlanta forward Miguel Almiron.

“He made sure that we were organized, he talked,” Sarachan said. “He communicated, he played out of pressure, he was able to pick his spots in terms of playing long and short, and I just thought overall with and without the ball he was really steady today.”

[ MORE: 3 things we learned in USMNT win over Paraguay ]

The players echoed their coach, admitting they believe things are progressing well. “That’s one of the things I try to bring to the team,” Trapp said. “A guy like Marky it’s his start, his first cap, Tyler who is growing in confidence every game it seems like whether it’s with the Red Bulls or the national team. So for me it’s easy to organize those guys and put them in a good position to win the game.”

“It’s always a process and you have to trust it as much as you can, and just continue every time you’re in camp to build chemistry and show it on the field.”

The back line also linked up well and defended with both force and precision. There were no communication breakdowns, and the only big chance Paraguay had off a defensive turnover was when goalkeeper Zack Steffen looked to play out of the back under pressure.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT win over Paraguay ]

“Outstanding,” coach Sarachan said of the defensive partnership. “Carter-Vickers didn’t put a foot wrong, and neither did Matt in my opinion. Obviously they know one another. I thought they played with confidence, played with physicality…just a pairing that looked like they’d been there before for a young two-some.”

It wasn’t exactly pretty, and it never is with the United States, especially against North and South American opposition. But the spark was there, with players who had some prior experience together.

So what does this mean for the long-term health of the team? There’s plenty of hurdles to clear, but for the young guns who may contribute down the road, the bright lights certainly didn’t phase them. Wil Trapp looks like to have the potential to take over for Michael Bradley in midfield, and he may even fit the holding role better than his predecessor. A lockdown defensive partnership is something that the United States has missed, and more importantly one that plays together on a consistent basis. All of these things are just speculative at this point, but seeing the proof in the pudding is about as much as anyone can ask at this point in the process.

Three things we learned from USMNT 1-0 Paraguay

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CARY, NC — The United States topped Paraguay 1-0 at WakeMed Field in Cary, NC on a goal by Bobby Wood, but that’s not where tonight’s story lies.

[ MORE: Recap | Player ratings ]

On a night of youthful energy, the United States was far from pretty, but the performance sparked plenty of promise. Here are the three most notable talking points we can take from the victory.

1. Tyler Adams can ball

MLS fans (more specifically, Red Bulls fans) knew this already, but tonight the full national fan-base got to experience it. Tyler Adams was a force in the first 20 minutes, and he threatened throughout with freedom in the middle. When Paraguay began to build he lost influence, but the 19-year-old showed plenty of promise. He scythed up the Paraguay midfield in the opening 15 minutes for the best early US chance, and he popped up all over the field.

[ MORE: Tyler Adams shines the brightest as USA defeats Paraguay ]

Then, just before halftime, he absolutely ROASTED the high Paraguay line. We’re talking a burst of speed that forced all 10,000 at WakeMed Park to audibly gasp. Usain Bolt would be proud. It led to the US goal just before the break as he tried to round the keeper and was taken down.

A smart player who utilized space well, Adams isn’t your true #10 but instead more like a #8 with an intelligence on and off the ball. He played very well next to Marky Delgado, who sat deeper (and also had a quality game himself).

2. Wil Trapp could be a long-term answer at holding midfield

The position that has plagued the United States for the longest, the USMNT may have found a holding midfielder. Wil Trapp played his position perfectly, forcing Paraguay’s attack out wide which resulted in gobs of crosses which Carter-Vickers and Miazga were able to guard effectively. He dropped between the center-back pairing consistently as the opponent pushed forward, and he quieted the press with calm distribution. His tackling was of high-quality as well, poking the ball free numerous times and clattering Nestor Camacho legally to stop a late first-half break. Then, on the hour mark, he guarded Oscar Romero in a dangerous position at the top of the box, muscling him off the ball to guide the Paraguay attack wide, where it fizzled.

[ MORE: Young team’s chemistry surprisingly good in Paraguay win ]

Michael Bradley’s international career has been defined by his inability to find a best position, and often was pidgeonholed in the holding midfield role with no freedom to roam or space to provide his trademark through-ball. Could Wil Trapp be the answer the United States needs at that position? He might only have one World Cup cycle in him – two at best – at 25 years old, but he looked the part tonight.

3. It’s still hard to tell if U.S. Soccer has a clear direction

One of the most puzzling things after the final whistle was Dave Sarachan’s use of substitutes. He had six available to make, and used one until there was 13 minutes to go. He used 3 in regulation, and left 2 of them in his pocket altogether. With so many young players to take a look at, it left many wondering what the point of the game was if the maximum amount of players were not tested in a match setting. The U.S. setup has done many puzzling things with player selection and development over the years, giving opponents of the current regime plenty of fodder. This did nothing to quiet those fears.

Tim Weah, a promising 18-year-old attacker who just earned a call-up to the PSG first-team, got five minutes. Bobby Wood playing 77 minutes until relative unknown Andrija Novakovich was brought on. Erik Palmer-Brown was not tested in defense. Zack Steffan played the whole way in goal. This doesn’t make much sense given the ultimate goal of the game meant to evaluate young talent in a true international match setting, especially with only one friendly scheduled in this window instead of the usual two.

For all U.S. Soccer fed fans before these most recent friendlies about getting a good look at players for the future, this match didn’t do that to the fullest extent.

USMNT tops Paraguay, hands debuts to Weah, 2 others

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Over-exuberant? Sure, but the young United States men’s national team who dispatched with Paraguay 1-0 at Sahlen’s Stadium in Cary, North Carolina provided passion in spades for an American fan base begging for life from their USMNT.

Bobby Wood converted a penalty kick for his 11th international goal to give Dave Sarachan his first win in three tries (two draws) as interim boss of the squad.

[ MORE: 3 things | Player ratings ]

Dave Sarachan capped only three of his five uncapped players, handing a start to Marky Delgado and substitute appearances to Andriya Novakovich and Tim Weah.

The USMNT does not have another match scheduled until a May 28 visit from Bolivia in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Jorge Villafana was an unabashed bright spot in the first quarter hour, and Wil Trapp found him with a tremendous through ball to cue up a blocked Kenny Saief chance.

Zack Steffen had to deal with a risky back pass and a fairly routine header off a free kick as the first half hour wasn’t a busy one.

The Yanks won a penalty kick attempt when Marky Delgado sprung Tyler Adams on goal, who hit the floor after trying to dribble around Gatito Fernandez.

Wood’s slow run-up ended with calm low finish and the Yanks led 1-0 heading into the break.

Paraguay improved in the second half, but the Americans remained the more dangerous side and with most of the possession.

The match had its chippy moments, with Matt Miazga coming to the aid of Delgado and Yedlin picking up a yellow card after being jostled on the sideline.

Cameron Carter-Vickers gave away a dangerous free kick for what should’ve been seen as a routine shoulder barge, but the wall blocked Paraguay’s shot.

Substitute Rubio Rubin showed great cutback and vision with his 89th minute set-up of Weah for what became a dangerous free kick. Darlington Nagbe couldn’t get his 23-yard effort to dip under the bar.

Weah did well on debut, winning a dangerous free kick and then stealing another ball to set up Novakovich for what could’ve been a goal on debut.

FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT vs. Paraguay

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Dave Sarachan’s interim run as USMNT boss takes a youthful turn on Tuesday in Cary, North Carolina.

[ FOLLOW: Kyle Bonn on the scene in Cary ]

The Yanks host Miguel Almiron and Paraguay in their third match since Bruce Arena’s unit was dismissed from World Cup consideration in Trinidad and Tobago.

Of eight uncapped players on the roster, only Marky Delgado starts. Expect Sarachan to hand debuts to Shaq Moore, Antonee Robinson, Timothy Weah, and Andriya Novakovich off the bench.

The U.S. has drawn both matches.

It looks like the Yanks will try to dominate the center of the park with Wil Trapp, Darlington Nagbe, Marky Delgado, and Tyler Adams all generally central figures.

USMNT LINEUP: Steffen, Yedlin, Miazga, Carter-Vickers, Villafana; Trapp, Nagbe, Delgado, Adams, Saief, Wood.

Ahead of Paraguay friendly, spring is in the air for US Soccer

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CARY, NC — Spring is the season of starting anew.

It’s fitting that the winter muck is finally giving way to warmer weather in Cary, North Carolina ahead of the upcoming friendly for U.S. Soccer against Paraguay on Tuesday. Just yesterday, there was slushy snow plaguing the skies, but today, the sun was shining over WakeMed Soccer Park to warm the air as the team took to the field to train.

There is a strange aura surrounding the USMNT at the moment. Without the hustle and bustle of an approaching World Cup to occupy the focus, there is the tentative feeling of starting anew, with a long journey ahead but new faces ready to stand to the challenges in front of them.

[ MORE: How will the USMNT line up against Paraguay? ]

“It’s been useful to get to know one another, on the field, off the field, a lot of new faces,” said interim head coach Dave Sarachan at his pre-match press conference. “It’s always exciting to build towards something, and that something is tomorrow night against Paraguay. It’ll be a great test for our young guys, and just another opportunity to get on the field and give the guys a real look against a quality opponent.”

Those new guys are abundant. The U.S. roster is chock full of fresh faces, including eight players without a single cap for the U.S. national team, and another 10 with five or fewer caps. The average age of the roster is just a hair over 23 years old. DeAndre Yedlin and Bobby Wood combine for 85 caps – the rest of the roster combines for a total of 77.

With so many young faces, Sarachan was guarded about singling out individuals who have impressed him over the past few days in training, but was open about how this roster brings a completely new outlook to the group, and without the usual faces like Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, or other veteran players, the feel of the trip has been turned upside down.

“A few things have stood out to me,” Sarachan said. “One is they have a youthful confidence; they come in from their environments where they’re playing. They’re drawing on a little bit of the past that we had against Bosnia and Portugal with this young group, so there’s a little bit of consistency for a few of the guys, but they come in with what I would say a clean slate in their minds, so they’re looking to impress by pushing each day in training.”

“Obviously with youth comes enthusiasm and energy, but I think the soccer has impressed me so far in training. Now, when the curtain goes up and the lights show tomorrow night, we’ll see how it looks when it really counts, but I think the confidence of the young group and playing without a lot of fear has been the two things that have stood out to me.”

With such a young group, Sarachan refused to really go into the play of any particular players – or get into any specifics of his lineup plan for tomorrow’s game – perhaps to keep the heads of the young players on their shoulders, but he did name drop a few youngsters he hadn’t seen before.

“I hate to single out anyone because that means I’m leaving out a lot of players,” Sarachan said as he thought long and hard about who he wanted to talk about, “but there are some new faces here that I didn’t know well…Antonee Robinson, Andrija Novakovich…maybe some of the guys I’ve gotten to know a little bit, certainly Tyler [Adams] and all the rest I’ve known, but a few guys that we brought in that…even [Erik] Palmer-Brown that I have never personally coached, just to get to know them and get to see them…nobody’s here that shouldn’t be here.”

While the head coach watches with intent, the players are eyeing their opportunity with a vigor not reflected by the atmosphere of the venue.

“Even though a lot of us weren’t involved in the qualifying campaign, we still kind of felt the disappointment and the pain of not making the World Cup,” said 20-year-old Cameron Carter-Vickers. “So we definitely feel like we need to work together and work with the coach and work with US Soccer in general to get back on track and get the wheels moving again.”

Without anyone to truly take charge, and with time to develop without the pressure of a meaningful game in the near future, there’s room for the young players to grow into their roles and make an impression, and they are reflecting that.

“We’re all young players, none of us are at the peak of our careers yet, or none of us are playing at the highest level yet,” Carter-Vickers said. “So it’s definitely a stepping stone and just trying to kind of all develop together and grow up as a team and get to a World Cup level.”

So with the U.S. left out this summer and likely another 18 months until qualifying starts for the next cycle, what are the stakes of tomorrow’s match? “Starting over I think, for the whole team” said 18-year-old Tim Weah, “and setting everything straight from the get-go together as a young group.”

“If you look at the rosters at the three friendlies we’ve had,” Sarachan said, “the theme has been giving players the opportunity that we feel are going to be part of the bigger picture. And again, we don’t want to get so far ahead of ourselves. You just can’t predict a year from now, but what you hope is that all these friendlies, and all these matches, and all the programming going through 2018 will pay dividends in terms of the investment we’re making to players that we think when the qualifying begins and the next Gold Cup and all the other competitions, that they will be ready.”

Spring is in the air. The sun is shining. U.S. Soccer is playing a game in North Carolina for the first time in 12 years. There’s a very long way to go, and while the lingering disappointment is still palpable in Cary, a new leaf must be turned, and in the shadows of a college basketball state still focused on the finality of the NCAA Tournament, WakeMed Soccer Field could be the start of a new beginning. Tomorrow will shed more light on just how well the budding talent is growing.