PRESTON — The U.S. U-23 national team lost 1-0 to England’s U-21 side at Deepdale in Preston on Thursday.
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Andi Herzog’s side are currently in England on a training camp and the first of their two friendlies, the second is against Qatar next Tuesday, was a good measuring stick for where they are at ahead of the all-important CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament for Rio 2016 next month.
Here are three things we learned from the young U.S. side at Preston in front of a crowd of 10,187.
“HEY, IS THIS THE SENIOR TEAM…?”
For plenty of moments during this game, you could’ve been forgiven for thinking you were watching the U.S. national team in action, not the U-23 side. Perhaps it was understandable against a very good England side — nine of England’s 11 starters either started or were involved in Premier League action last weekend — but the U.S. kept dropping back and inviting pressure from wide areas, especially the longer the first half wore on. Time and time again we’ve seen the senior team sit back and soak up pressure under Jurgen Klinsmann before hitting teams on the break (see: USA 4-3 Netherlands and to a lesser extend USA 2-1 Germany this summer) and this performance was almost a mirror image of that. The young Yanks are aspiring to fill the boots of those in the full national team and on this showing, they are a spitting image. Emerson Hyndman and Will Trapp used the ball well in the first half, but the U.S. had too many turnovers in the middle as the game wore on and a plethora of second half subs changed the tempo of the game. The U.S. finally succumbed to England late on as James Wilson grabbed the winner when the defense switched off from a quick free kick in the 70th minute and the Three Lions could have easily doubled their lead on numerous occasions. In the end it remained 1-0 but against a strong England side, Herzog’s team look more than capable of handling Canada, Cuba and Panama when the Olympic qualifying tournament comes around in October.
CROPPER vs. STEFFEN
Head coach Andi Herzog gave both of his goalkeepers 45 minutes, with Cody Cropper starting the game and Zack Steffen replacing him at half time. After being released by Premier League club Southampton this summer, 22-year-old goalkeeper Cropper was at a crossroads in his young career. After a move to MK Dons of England’s second-tier and a solid outing at Deepdale, he looks like he’s navigating it just fine. On Thursday Cropper proved why he is currently at the top of the list from the USA’s European contingent of young goalkeepers. In the 25th minute he stood tall and pushed away Cauly Woodrow’s powerful blast at the back post.
Cropper was marshaling his backline loudly, and was a leader as he is obviously reaping the benefits from spending time in several senior squads with Brad Guzan and Tim Howard. As for Steffen, his impressive form at the U-20 World Cup saw the Freiburg youngster elevated to the U-23 side and although he conceded a goal in the second half he didn’t put a foot wrong during his 45 minutes on the pitch with solid distribution and made three decent stops. In the years to come it will be one heck of a battle between Cropper, Steffen and William Yarbrough for the starting spot for the full national team.
RODRIGUEZ, HERNANDEZ LIVELY
Without much service, the forward duo of Mario Rodriguez and Alonso Hernandez caused England’s defense plenty of problems for the first 60 minutes. With Rodriguez leading the line and Hernandez buzzing around just behind him, England’s center backs Eric Dier and Calum Chambers didn’t know whether to step up or cover and in the 40th minute came a perfect example of the nuisance the pacey duo can cause. First Monchengladbach prospect Rodriguez nipped in and intercepted a loose ball out of the back on the edge of England’s box from a goal kick, then a run from Juarez’s Hernandez allowed Jerome Kiesewetter to ghost in-behind Joe Gomez and almost stole the ball off of the foot of England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. With Rubio Rubin and Maki Tall in reserve, Herzog has options ahead of the game vs. Qatar next Tuesday but Rodriguez and Gonzalez are a good partnership up top.