The starting lineup Dave Sarachan picked last night was no surprise (I had it nailed except for two players, and one of my choices didn’t dress due to injury although he’d expected to the day before the game), right down to the formation. For the most part, I didn’t have many problems with it: it got Tyler Adams into a key role, put some other young guys on the field, and tried to let Bobby Wood work his way out of a slump in form.
In a friendly that’s even more meaningless than the average one, the goal doesn’t have to be to win (though that’s always nice, of course), but it should serve a purpose. I think the starting lineup did that. It’s the substitution patterns – or lack thereof – that I found problematic.
There has been lip service paid to “disrupting the flow of the game” in justifying the lack of substitutions until the 657th minute. First of all, who cares? Again, it’s a meaningless friendly. You don’t need to win, you don’t particularly need flow. Secondly, in case anyone wasn’t watching, the game had pretty poor flow anyway. Disrupt that to get some substitutions in there. I thought Sarachan should have made a couple substitutions at halftime:
- Get Bobby Wood off the field. He got his goal (hopefully helping build confidence and sparking a return to good form with his club) right before the half, but wasn’t performing particularly well – nor put in position to do so – in the run of play. Let his lasting moment be the goal as he returns to Germany. Andrija Novakovich proved to be plenty capable in his 16 minutes of playing an entire half.
- Get Darlington Nagbe out, as well. We know what Nagbe is, has been and is going to be. This game gave us a look at how he integrated with some younger talent. Now let another young guy (Christian Roldan would be his 92nd minute replacement) have the same opportunity.
- Replace Marky Delgado with Tim Weah. This switch was eventually executed in the 86th minute. Weah deserved more time, though.
- Get Antonee Robinson on the field. Like Nagbe, Jorge Villafaña is a known commodity (for both club and country). He’s probably going to be the starting left back over the next couple years, pending Timothy Chandler performing for the USMNT like he’s been able to with Frankfurt. Villafaña is also turning 29 in September, and it’s time to work on that LB depth chart. Additionally, Robinson is also eligible to compete for England – though to date he’s primarily expressed interest in the USA – so giving him his first cap is a nice carrot to keep him in the fold.
Those four subs would have given time to youth, taken some of the older guys off the pitch (including a couple who are key performers for their clubs and one who is trying to return to that status), and still left two substitutions for tactical purposes in the second half if Sarachan so decided.
I forgot to DVR, and Fox Sports is awwwwwwful in terms of replay product (I can watch the England-Italy friendly several dozen times in the next couple days on repeat, but literally never again are they airing the USMNT game on FS1 at least). Also in terms of general programming product, unless you’re a huge fan of MMA fights from the mid-2000s over and over again or god-awful debate shows that get some of the worst ratings of any television show on cable(!).
All that is to say these are pretty basic impressions based on one live viewing:
- Tyler Adams was awesome. Duh, this is not a hot take. Indeed, it’s what basically everyone is saying after last night. He was all over the field, but not in a frantic way. He used his speed to earn the Bobby Wood penalty kick, was comfortable defensively, and did everything in between. The player pool seems filled with 6/8-types, but he’s going to be hard to leave off squads going forward.
- Kenny Saief was uncomfortable with his teammates, but showed potential. Too many misplaced passes, miscommunications when a pass was intended for him, and crowding the ball out of Saief. However, the physical talent was there, and he definitely settled into the game a bit. If he hadn’t gotten injured prior to the Gold Cup, he could have made an impact there.
- I like Matt Miazga. Still needs to get more experience, but I’d really like to see him alongside John Brooks next time Brooks is healthy enough to join the USMNT (which, given his history, is going to be… never?).
- Wil Trapp was solid. A relatively young guy (in age – 25 – and caps – his fourth) captaining the team says something about the skill and leadership he possesses. A very nice player at the central defensive midfield, no doubt.
- As mentioned above, Bobby Wood seems to just totally lack confidence. He overdribbled once or twice instead of trying to rip a shot, didn’t seem to be comfortable taking players on, and didn’t really have much opportunity to perform one of his strengths, hold-up play. Hopefully, the penalty kick gets him feeling it a little more and he can return to club form.
- I was happy to see Zack Steffen on the field. And I think Sarachan may have found the goalkeeper of the future. I was expecting the easy choice of Bill Hamid in the lineup, but Steffen was my personal preference, and he performed pretty well. Still room for improvement, but a clean sheet and 90 minutes (after I thought he was the better of the two in his second-half showing against Bosnia) was a good step.
Up next, USMNT has a double-dip against Bolivia and Ireland (neither of which is headed to the World Cup) in Philly and Dublin, respectively, on Memorial Day and the following Saturday. This is just a couple weeks after the major Euro leagues wrap up, so will we see a hybrid squad with late-season form from players based across the pond (with no WC to avoid fatigue for)? Or no MLS players at all with that league hitting its stride?