The US Men’s National Team faced off against a star-studded Brazil on Friday night. Despite the loss, there were some positive takeaways coming out of this friendly.
After missing out on the World Cup, the US Men’s National Team had this date circled on the calendar as a chance to measure up against the world’s best.
The result was not surprising given the disparity in talent, but this US team showed some very promising signs.
Here are three things that stood out following the game against Brazil.
This group (plus Cristian Pulisic) is the best the US has to offer
One of the talking points going into the matchup against Brazil was whether this young group of players would wilt in the face of world-class megastars such as Neymar, Coutinho, Robert Firmino, Casemiro etc. Caretaker manager Dave Sarachan might have made a conscious effort to let youth be served, but in the process he may have stumbled on the best selection available regardless of age, especially when you include injured young phenom Cristian Pulisic. Scoreline aside, there was no sense that the young USMNT players were intimidated. They showed enough confidence to attempt to keep possession of the ball and challenge Brazil in one on one battles and showed enough self-assuredness to try and build from the back — as opposed to the more traditional US approach of committing to a safety-first style and going up with long balls.
After going through a disastrous qualifying campaign with a veteran bunch who seemed to lack confidence and any identifiable playing style even when up against the CONCACAF minnows, it was refreshing to see the young US players look comfortable and embracing a positive style, as opposed to the play-not-to-lose approach we have come to expect from the US men of late . Yes, this was a friendly game and the temptation to overreact must be kept in check, but it looked fairly obvious that these were not just the best young US players, they were the best American players available regardless of age. The fact that a lot of these guys happen to be just barely of legal drinking age is a huge boost for the future of the USMNT program. Any marginal gains to be had by bringing back aging veterans like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore may be offset by a loss of team chemistry this bunch of late teens and early 20s group seemed to have developed.
The US are yet to groom a proper left back
One of the players who entirely failed to impress was left back Anthonee Robinson. Both of Brazil’s goals in the first half came from the US’s left side where Robinson had a rough go. Going up against the world’s best may be a harsh way to judge young Robinson’s ability and potential, yet there was a glaring lack of certainty and a higher number of giveaways when compared to the other national team members.
One of the things you look for when trying to understand how far some of these players can come is to look for where they are plying their trade. While most of the other players are either playing or heading to one of Europe’s top divisions, Robinson features for lowly Wigan, fresh off promotion from England’s third tier. Color me skeptical, but the bottom half of English second division may not be the best breeding ground for young talent. This is one of the rare instances where the status quo option — Jorge Villafana — may have more job security than any other player from that tainted 2017 US Men’s team.
The spine of this US Men’s National Team is in great shape
The tradition of churning out strong center backs continues. Matt Miazga was one of the most impressive performers on Friday night, with perfectly timed tackles, great placement and a goal-saving clearance off the goal line. His center back partner John Brooks is as solid as they come and one of the veterans of this team at 25 years old, a short four years removed from a game-winning goal against Ghana at the 2014 World Cup. That partnership appears to ready to anchor the US backline for many years to come. Add Cameron Carter Vickers in the mix and we are approaching embarrassment of riches territory for the center back position.
Further up the field, players like Tyler Adams, Weston McKinnie and Will Trapp have all the makings of future stars. All three looked impressive against Brazil’s stars on Friday night. McKinnie features regularly in the Bundesliga and Adams is on his way to Red Bull Leipzig. Both players possess all the multi-dimensional tools of a modern box-to-box midfielder: ability to cover a ton of ground, comfortable and crafty with the ball at their feet, ability to pressure and superior ball-winning ability when defending. The US has had strong defensive midfielders in the past, but not as multi-dimensional a number 6 as McKinnie or Adams, both capable of playing in front of the back line.
The lessons learned from a friendly game may be limited by nature, but there a a lot of positive signs this US team has shown, especially given the absence of its best player.