By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Nov 26, 2018) US Soccer Players – The recent defeat to Italy in stoppage time officially drew the curtain on the USMNT’s 2018 schedule. There remain plenty of "what ifs" with this squad, but there is also no doubt that the US has steadily progressed in the right direction over the past 12 months.
That interim coach Dave Sarachan laid the groundwork for the future isn’t just a talking point. It’s the truth and a major reason why there have been growing pains since its failure to qualify for the World Cup. Without a full-time coach and only friendlies on the calendar, the past year has been difficult to assess. The post-World Cup failure was about integrating younger players into the depth chart, setting things up for the future coach. Mission accomplished there.
“To look back on the games that we played and the players we’ve exposed to this level, that we brought forth, I’m certain it’s going to pay dividends down the line,” Sarachan told reporters after last Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat to Italy.
Among the highlights of the Sarachan era was giving debuts to 23 players. That move means the next coach can look at lots of games to review talent in what has been a transitory time for the National Team. Next year’s schedule will provide the answer to plenty of questions. Here is a look back at the year the USMNT had alongside the positives to take into 2019.
Overall record vs. strength of schedule
The USMNT went 3-3-5 in 2018, but the strength of its schedule has a lot to do with it. US Soccer could have scheduled games against lots of weaker teams in an effort to post meaningless wins. Instead, the team played opponents that were, in most cases, ranked higher by FIFA and who had qualified for the 2018 World Cup. The team’s schedule was not an easy one. A visit from Bolivia was the closest to an easy contest, while the USMNT also managed to play at home against Brazil and away games versus France, England, and Italy. The most notable results: a 1-1 draw against France on the eve of the World Cup which Les Bleus went on to win and the 1-0 victory at home against rivals Mexico.
Playing so many strong opponents in a calendar year often means a poorer overall record. Nonetheless, this was about getting experience and testing relatively young players against some of the best opposition in the world. It's the groundwork for this US team to learn from its mistakes as it prepares for the Gold Cup and 2022 World Cup Qualifying.
Goalkeeping depth grows
It's not exactly news that the US has strong goalkeeping. This past year proved it once again. Brad Guzan leads a group that includes emerging international talent like Zack Steffen and Ethan Horvath. Others in the mix are William Yarbrough, Bill Hamid, and Alex Bono
With three goalkeepers on the roster at the upcoming Gold Cup, that tournament can help figure out the depth chart. Guzan and Steffen lead that group based on play for club and country. Steffen, in particular, is showing well. The 23-year-old led all goalkeepers with six games, tying tied him with Kasey Keller in 1990 and Troy Perkins in 2009 for most caps at that position in a debut year. Steffen kept clean sheets in wins against Paraguay and Mexico while making eight saves against France.
Talented center midfield remains key
This is where the US has the bulk of its talent, even as some wait for the possible return of Michael Bradley. While the backline and attack need more tinkering, the center midfield pairing of Kellyn Acosta and Tyler Adams has helped the team both defensively and offensively. These players can do the grunt work as well as make the team technically stronger. Both can link up with the offense to help create more chances and give any formation combination the ability to pressure opponents. If the Americans want to get better at maintaining possession, both Adams and Acosta will need to be a part of that tactical move.
Adams has matured immensely since last year and remains vital to the future of this team. His passing and speed are among the best for an American player. Acosta, at the same time, is also a tireless player. Again, Acosta’s ability to do that grunt work could be key. Adams and Acosta need to remain consistent going forward as the US navigates the rough waters of international play and again try to become a regional power.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- Soccer History: USMNT vs Italy
- Waiting on the MLS Conference finals
- What to expect from the 2018 MLS playoffs
- Is the MLS Homegrown Player system working?
Photo by John Dorton - ISIPhotos.com