USMNT Caps Off Forgettable 2017 With Impressive Performance in Portugal

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The final game for the USMNT in 2017, a year which saw the program plumb to lows not seen in decades, elicited hope of an impending dawn after a month of darkness.

The Stars and Stripes played third-ranked Portugal to a 1-1 draw in front of just over 19,000 at Estadio Dr. Magalhães Pessoa on Tuesday. Weston McKennie scored on his debut, becoming the third youngest player in US history to do so. The result gives the USMNT its fifth non-loss to the Portuguese in seven all-time meetings.

USMNT Caps Off Forgettable 2017 With Impressive Performance in Portugal

Interim manager Dave Sarachan went with a mix of youth and experience in his starting XI. It included two promising teenagers in McKennie and Tyler Adams making their senior team debut. Adams helped the New York Red Bulls make it to the conference semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, while McKennie is seeing regular minutes in the Bundesliga for Schalke.

First Half

Things got off to a promising start for the US. Despite conceding a great deal of possession, they did well forcing turnovers and cycling the ball into the final third. C.J. Sapong played the role of false nine in a unique way, floating wide instead of deep in order to draw defenders towards him. It nearly led to a goal in the 20th minute when he found an onrushing Adams on a cross from the left.

But it wasn’t long after that before Sapong’s distributive quality shined through again. Making his fourth appearance for the US, the Philadelphia Union striker registered five assists in addition to 16 goals in MLS play this season. And a minute after nearly assisting on an Adams goal, he found McKennie who then dribbled past Ricardo Ferreira and blasted it past goalkeeper Beto near post to make it 1-0.

Portugal found it difficult to get anything going in the attack over the first half hour of the game. That all changed in the 31st minute when a speculative shot from Vitorino Antunes rifled towards US goalie Ethan Horvath. The 22-year-old netminder attempted to corral the ball but somehow it squirted underneath his legs and trickled past the goal line to tie things up. In total, all five Portuguese shots in the first half occurred after the 30th minute.

Second Half

The Stars and Stripes began the second 45 with immense purpose. It showed in two early chances which could’ve easily resulted in goals. First came another opportunity for Adams to net his first USMNT goal when Beto acrobatically saved his header in the 52nd minute. Then came a chance for McKennie to register a brace via a header of his own, with the ball glancing off the cross bar.

It wasn’t the first time the woodwork came into play. Slightly after the halfway point of the second stanza, Gonçalo Paciencia fired a shot from about ten yards out. But Bill Hamid, who himself came on ahead of the second half in place of Horvath, got a fingertip on the ball which precipitated it hitting the bar. On the ensuing corner, the US dodged another bullet with nobody able to deflect a well-placed Portugal cross towards goal.

The US’ final legit chance to escape with the full three points came in the 72nd minute. It emerged with Cameron Carter-Vickers coming onto a cross from the left. The 19-year-old center back, who came on for John Brooks after halftime, attempted to get a foot on the ball right in front of goal. But Beto once again came up huge, deflecting it with an aerial move reminiscent of something out of martial arts.

Final Assessment

In a somewhat meaningless game with an interim manager in charge, Tuesday’s result certainly gives the US much to build upon. McKennie, Adams and Carter-Vickers all put together impressive performances in their first ever senior team appearances. Not only did McKennie tally the lone goal of the match, he led the US in touches, underscoring his ability as a box-to-box engine in the midfield. It’s unlikely that Sapong will get very many looks down the line, but he made the most of his start on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, there are some concerns moving forward. Horvath’s horrific goalkeeping gaffe prevented the US from ending 2017 on a high note with a win. Suddenly, a position that’s been an unassailable strength for decades with players such as Tony Meola, Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Tim Howard among others is trending downwards. Though Hamid stabilized things in the second half, the situation may behoove the next full-time coach to make the USMNT starting goalkeeper position an open competition over the next few camps.

2017 had its fair share of ups and downs for the USMNT. The high watermark came during the summer when the Yanks took home its sixth Gold Cup and the first since 2013. But the year will forever be defined by failure. That shouldn’t come as a surprise given that next year’s World Cup will be the first not involving the US since 1986. Whether or not there’s some sort of consolation tournament with many of the other prominent teams who missed out remains to be seen. But the fact remains: there’s a lot to be done in order to ensure the next cycle results in a return to world soccer’s quadrennial extravaganza.

Match Summary

GOALS (Assists)
POR
Vitorino Antunes (Bruno Fernandes) 31′

USA
Weston McKennie (C.J. Sapong) 21′

SUBSTITUTIONS
POR
Pepe –> Luis Neto 10′
Bruno Fernandes –> João Marío HT
Gelson Martins –> Gonçalo Paciencia HT
Danilo Pereira –> Rúben Neves 62′
Bruma –> Bernardo Silva 62′
Gonçalo Guedes –> Rony Lopés 81′

USA
Ethan Horvath –> Bill Hamid HT
John Brooks –> Cameron Carter-Vickers HT
Eric Lichaj –> Jorge Flores Villafaña 59′
Juan Agudelo –> Lynden Gooch 59′
C.J. Sapong –> Dominic Dwyer 77′
Weston McKennie –> Alejandro Bedoya 84′

CAUTIONS
POR – None
USA – None

EJECTIONS
POR – None
USA – None

Embed from Getty Images

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