Preview: Youthful USMNT squad faces stronger test at Republic of Ireland

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Coming off an impressive, if still somehow underwhelming win over Bolivia, the U.S. Men’s National Team has jet across the Atlantic Ocean for a pair of much tougher tests.

Up first is a visit to the Emerald Island for a match against the Republic of Ireland (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET). Ireland were just two points from automatic qualification for the World Cup in Russia but ran into the buzzsaw that was Christian Eriksen and Denmark, falling 5-1 in the UEFA qualifying playoffs.

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But even so, and with some starters not called up, this is still a much more experienced and stronger squad that this young USMNT bunch will face. As the USMNT takes incremental steps towards the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the match against Ireland is a measuring stick to see how talented the USMNT’s youngsters really are, and perhaps how far they still have to come in the next four years.

Sargent, Weah look to build on impressive performances

The opposition wasn’t the highest quality, but despite their age and the fact that both players were making their first starts for the USMNT, both Josh Sargent and Tim Weah showed flashes of why they’re playing for major clubs in Europe.

Sargent was a constant thorn in the side of Bolivia’s backline, and his movement and pressing helped lead to the error that resulted in Sargent’s first goal. For Weah, after a nervy first 20 minutes or so, he settled in and finished off a pretty volley himself to put the cherry on top of his second USMNT cap.

Now the pair return to Europe to face a more chisled side, one that will certainly be more physical to deal with and keep possession better. Since it’s a friendly match with no pressure, though, there’s a chance the pair of attackers can play with the same freedom they did in Philadelphia, and hopefully develop good memories and habits with the USMNT that is in need of some positive energy.

Who steps up in Pulisic’s absence? 

Christian Pulisic should have been leading the line for the USMNT in Russia in less than two weeks. Instead, he’s been given the summer off to recover, recooperate from a long European season and get ready for another grueling campaign.

After starting against Bolivia, Pulisic was left off the USMNT squad as it headed to Europe, with ten new players replacing the seven that were released back to their clubs. Of the current 25-man squad, there doesn’t seem to be anyone who is a perfect like-for-like replacement with what Pulisic brings, though Bobby Wood could be used as a support striker that floats around to stay involved in the attack.

Another played called in, Luca De La Torre, could also deputize in the middle while Kenny Saief, usually a winger, could also in theory slide inside. Either way, USMNT coach Dave Sarachan has a big choice to make in terms of not only who replaces Pulisic, but how they replace his productivity.

Time to see Carter-Vickers and Miazga together

One of the big issues during the last five matches in World Cup qualifying is that Bruce Arena couldn’t figure out a consistent and ideal defensive pairing. After the pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler led the U.S. to the 2014 World Cup, Arena – and Klinsmann before him – cycled through Besler, Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, John Anthony Brooks, Tim Ream, and others. Now, outside of Brooks, it’s a whole new crop of defenders that the USMNT will have to rely on. The potential pairing for the long-term, featuring Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga, could – and should – start together on Saturday against Ireland.

Potential lineup

—– Steffen—–

—- Yedlin—- Miazga —- Carter-Vickers—- Robinson—-

—- Trapp—- McKennie —- 

—- Green—- Wood—- Saief—- 

—- Novakovich —-