Editorial — After a week of tragedy, reflection and tributes, it’s time for Los Angeles to begin the process of moving forward. Part of that process was playing host to the first match of 2020 for the U.S. men’s national team. For the USMNT, it was only a friendly, but Gregg Berhalter’s squad kicked off what is to be a critical year for US Soccer.
In addition to 2020 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the USMNT also have the Concacaf Nations knockout round, as well as the 2020 Olympics, all slated for this year. With plenty of meaningful matches ahead, Saturday was a chance for Berhalter to put the youth on display — and they did not disappoint.
Youngsters Shine in First USMNT Friendly of 2020
The match was one that will likely have been forgotten by the posting of this article. Debutant performances aside, there wasn’t much action in this friendly. However, with the USMNT going for a youth-heavy team, that was probably for the best. The lone goal came from a Ulysses Llanez on penalty shot in the 50th minute.
Costa Rica appeared content with playing for the draw, taking whatever counter-attack chances came their way. They finished with just two shots on goal and only mustered 40 percent possession. For the American side, Saturday was all about getting a look at the young players on the rise within the national team. With an average age 23 years and 77days, this was the youngest squad the United States has put out after a January camp.
A total of seven players made their international debuts Saturday. However, most eyes were on the four young debutants in the starting XI. While the match wasn’t one to be remembered, the play of 18-year-old Llanez, and 19-year-old Jesús Ferreira, won’t be forgotten.
Lynwood native Llanez, put on a show in his debut, with plenty of family and friends watching from the stands. In addition to scoring the only goal in the match, Llanez put together the best performance of the day, earning him the match ball. The most impressive thing about him is his confidence, which was on display when he stepped up to take the penalty.
“I’m home, I have family and friends here, so I was hoping Paul (Arriola) would give me the PK,” Llanez said after the match.
His enthusiasm didn’t go unnoticed by manager Gregg Berhalter either, who in part, said, “Uly has the confidence. Give credit to Paul because he supported Uly in this moment. Uly was very enthusiastic about taking it, and we’ve seen Uly in training be very calm taking penalties as well.”
Another player fans should be excited about is Ferreira. While he did not get his name on the scoresheet, it wasn’t for lack of trying. The young forward flashed his ability to find space in the box, create space one-on-one and his knack for goal-scoring chances. He looks like a player that will find scoring easy. And, if given the chances, he could be the next threat up top for the Americans.
Friendliest of Friendlies
Ironically, this match was nothing to write home about. Aside from a dangerous goalkeeper knee to Llanez’s head, during a 50/50 ball challenge, there was not much by way of physicality. Costa Rica seemed happy to stack defenders in a box at the back, and try for the counter-attack. The Costa Ricans were also implementing new, younger players.
A few times Costa Rica found themselves with space and opportunity, but were unable to penetrate the American defense. The match finished with a combined seven shots on goal, while the United States enjoyed 60 percent of the possession. While the impressive debuts from the youngsters was a bright spot for USMNT, the match as a whole was honestly one that will be forgotten in a few weeks time.
In the end, Saturday was about getting a look at the players on the rise within the national ranks. And, for a few of them, they’ve proven worthy of more.
When your #USMNT debut comes in your hometown AND you score the game-winner, the celebration with Mom is ?.@uly_soccer7 talks us through the emotions of a memorable afternoon. pic.twitter.com/7oEGZs8Nuj
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) February 2, 2020
Outlook and Last Words
Saturday was about giving the youth a chance, and they seized their opportunity. With a stacked year ahead, the USMNT will need as many healthy, talented bodies as they can get. While the team called-up in March will look significantly different, don’t be too surprised to see a couple of players from Saturday on the roster. Depth is never a bad thing, as Berhalter pointed out.
“It’s nice to have options as a group,” he said.