The phase of the cycle hasn’t really changed – the United States still won’t play in this Summer’s World Cup, and we’re firmly in the “exploration” phase still – but last night’s game against Bolivia felt different nonetheless.
While Dave Sarachan didn’t change much tactically, with his standard 4-1-4-1 the formation of choice, the youth movement seemed to inject quite a bit of energy, and at the very least made this a more interesting exercise than previous friendlies under the caretaker manager. Yes, a 29- and a 27-year-old player were in the starting lineup (Eric Lichaj and Joe Corona, respectively), but the rest of the group topped out at a dude who just turned 25 last week (happy belated, Walker Zimmerman), and the two youngest guys named to the squad not only started, but each of the 18-year-olds Josh Sargent and Ti Weah scored his first goal.
Whereas previous Sarachan rosters mixed in some youth while still feeling like a frustrating nod to the past, this gave the vibe of a true look forward.
The most-capped player on the field was a tie between Corona and 19-year-old Christian Pulisic – in his first match of the Sarachan era. The expectations for Pulisic are sky high: at least three World Cups in the next 12-plus years, potential to be the greatest American International ever. He had sort of a bad game (by his standards), and this was still one of the most exciting USMNT outings since Panama back in October. Sources indicate that may have actually been the most recent USMNT game to be played, with literally nothing happening in between, and certainly not just a couple days later.
Weston McKennie is also considered one of the future stars for this team, and Pulisic’s Bundesliga counterpart had a solid game at the holding midfield position, though I wasn’t nearly as high on him as many others: he got away with a couple fairly obvious fouls in my eyes (including on the play that earned the corner that resulted in Walker ZImmerman’s opening goal), and while he is reliable in his passing, he didn’t look as athletic as I’ve thought him in previous performances. Again, like Pulisic, “something of a letdown” still qualifying as “pretty good game” is fine with me.
The star in my eyes was left back(!) Antonee Robinson, whose exclusion from the last friendly was a major disappointment for most USMNT fans. He was in the squad for Paraguay back in March, but Sarachan opted not to sub him (or, like anyone, pretty much) into the game to get his first cap and settle in with the United States – he’s also England-eligible. He, uh, would almost definitely have been better than Jorge Villafaña in that game. That’s not because Villafaña isn’t good, but rather because Robinson looked really good against Bolivia (with the caveat that they’re a much worse team than Paraguay).
The formation allowed a lot of players to get forward, but I’d say that the wide midfielders were so high that it played more like a 4-3-3 with a compact central midfield (McKennie behind Pulisic and Corona) and Weah and Rubio Rubin playing like true wing forwards. There were tons of players in the offensive box seemingly at all times, and Bolivia’s only half-chances came on the counter – where Robinson’s speed and solid-if-unexciting play from the centerbacks snuffed anything out.
I’ve gone this far without talking about Josh Sargent other than to note his existence and age, which is unfair to a guy whose effort and poise in the high press created a goal out of thin air in his first cap. I also haven’t said enough about Robinson’s ability to get forward, including a great cross that Weah slotted home with ease.
It was a good game with a lot of good things, OK?
- 32′ BOL Substitution – On Jose Sagredo, off Oscar Baldomar
- 37′ USA GOAL – Walker Zimmerman (headed), assisted by Joe Corona (corner kick)
- 46′ BOL Substitution – On Carlos Lampe, off Guillermo Vizcarra
- 49′ BOL Yellow card – Fernando Salcedo
- 52′ USA GOAL – Josh Sargent (right foot)
- 57′ USA Yellow card – Joe Corona
- 59′ USA GOAL – Tim Weah (right foot), assisted by Antonee Robinson
- 61′ USA Substitutions – On Julian Green, off Tim Weah. On Andrija Novakovich, off Josh Sargent
- 62′ USA Substitution – On Keaton Parks, off Joe Corona
- 63′ BOL Substitution – On Bruno Miranda, off Rodrigo Vargas
- 65′ USA Yellow card – Weston McKennie
- 66′ BOL Substitution – On Leonardo Vaca, off Ronaldo Sanchez
- 73′ USA Substitution – On Lynden Gooch, off Rubio Rubin
- 74′ USA Substitution – On Matt Olosunde, off Eric Lichaj
- 79′ BOL Substitutions – On Leandro Maygua, off Danny Bejarano. On Rodrigo Rodriguez, off Alexis Ribera
- 89′ USA Substitution – On Jorge Villafaña, off Christian Pulisic