KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The United States men’s national soccer team said they wanted a tough test as they lined up two World Cup-bound opponents for this international window. The United States did just that in a 0-0 draw with Uruguay on Sunday.
It was an outcome that the US, in a sense, happily got away with. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson made an excellent reflex save against Mathias Olivera’s close shot in the 63rd minute, and then the normally deadly Edinson Cavani missed a clear chance in second-half added time.
The USA had a few chances, with Jesus Ferreira missing two chances in the first half. But overall, while a tie was deserved given the balance of play, it could easily have ended in defeat, ending a 25-game unbeaten run at home.
Ferreira’s failure to find the back of the net will do little to answer the question of who will be the team’s forward. But this was a game where Uruguay seemed to wear the home side down and the US attack fizzled out as the game progressed.
Some of the US team’s difficulties in attack came from Uruguay’s quality. Later that year La Celest will be participating in a World Cup for the sixth year in a row and on that day Uruguay lived up to their reputation as a defensively solid team.
The plethora of changes in the second half didn’t do much to help the flow of the game either. The fact that Ferreira’s replacement, Haji Wright, touched the ball four times in 29 minutes of work is a testament to how struggling the US attack was in the last third.
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So while US manager Gregg Berhalter described the performance as “the group’s A-Plus performance in tough conditions, warm conditions,” the Americans lacked the bottom line as well as the quality of the team’s set pieces.
“We put the ball in really good positions and then just didn’t use it,” said Berhalter. “They blocked some crosses. We got some corners. The last pass was a bit off.”
It also wasn’t a good day for some players hoping to make their case for more first-team minutes. Joe Scally struggled a lot with his defensive lineup in the first half and almost seemed overwhelmed. He appeared to be a bit more comfortable after switching to his more usual position at right-back midway through the second half and while he deserves credit for persevering there, the search for a replacement for suspected left-back Antonee Robinson continues .
Erik Palmer-Brown is another player fans are asking for more playing time. But he finished second a couple of times, including once late when Diego Rossi charged past him and defender Walker Zimmerman was left to smother the attack with a critical block of the former LAFC forward’s shot.
Berhalter seemed to speak for all of his recent call-ups when he said of his forwards: “There were moments where we fell a bit short but we will continue to work with these guys.” He added: “It’s just something to build on. That was the whole idea with team effort, individual accomplishments. We wanted the guys to set a baseline to keep improving now.”
On the positive side, Weston McKennie survived his 45-minute stint unscathed as he worked his way back from a broken foot he sustained in February.
Another plus was Yunus Musah’s game. The Valencia midfielder has long brought something unique to the US midfield with his ability to dribble the ball into the field. But he made more use of his passing range that day, especially when he joined forces with Timothy Weah and DeAndre Yedlin on the right.
“Yunus is a guy who at his age just blows me away with what he can do, crazy talent,” said Berhalter. “We have to work with Yunus on that final, the end product, the last pass, the finishing because he has a huge ceiling.”
On defense, USA gave but didn’t cave in, and it seemed that whenever a mistake was made, a teammate was there to provide cover.
“I thought we held up their runs well,” Zimmerman said. “They have clever movement in the penalty area. We had a couple of games where we had to slip and get into good positions to prevent them from having good chances to score. So in the end we kept another zero against the strong opponent, so we can take that.” positive.”
And on those occasions when the defensive line couldn’t get through, Johnson was in goal to come to the rescue. It’s almost bewildering to think that Johnson has been involved in the national team program for 11 years. The fact that he has now only 10 caps shows how difficult it was for him to break the US line-up.
To be clear, Johnson is still struggling to become the team’s third goaltender at the World Cup later this year, but he hasn’t hurt his chances; and as the year progresses, he could be the only US goaltender to receive consistent playing time. Time will tell to what extent that makes a difference.
“As a professional player, who’s been in the national team for a while, who’s been in this group for a while, opportunity meant everything,” Johnson said. He later added: “Keeping a good level, form and rhythm when you get into those camps definitely helps, so there’s a smooth transition to the game today.”
The current international window is now entering a new phase, with two CONCACAF Nations League games against Grenada and El Salvador. The competition certainly won’t be as intense, but El Salvador proved tough opponents in World Cup qualifiers and should offer a decent test for those players who are still keen to show a more consistent presence in the team.