Here are three takeaways from the last U.S. game of 2017, which starts a long process of rebuilding the national team
program as well as refreshing the player pool.
1. Encouraging debuts for Adams and McKennie.
U.S. head coach Dave Sarachan didn’t hesitate to go with a few of his uncapped players for this friendly against the European champion. Both Weston McKennie, 19, of German club Schalke and Tyler Adams, 18, of the Red Bulls found starting spots in a line of four midfielders, with McKennie in the middle alongside fellow FC Dallas academy graduate Kellyn Acosta and Adams on the right wing.
McKennie scored a superb goal in the 21st minute with a slick touch, a sharp cut inside and a clinical low finish inside the near post. He looked confident if a bit raw going forward and gave ample reason for his presence in Schalke’s first 16. He has started seven of 11 Bundesliga games this season.
On the defensive side, he gave away two balls in the middle third that weren’t punished, and was stripped of a ball in his own penalty area that Portugal nearly turned into the go-ahead goal. He nearly won the game with a powerful header off the crossbar.
Adams used the ball poorly in the first half, attempting 11 unsuccessful passes as he tried to connect with the other midfielders and Yedlin. But he showed a nose for goal. He got forward to hit a first-time shot that Beto covered, and he reacted quickly in the second half to a deflected cross to force an excellent save with a close-range header.
Both young men brought the energy Sarachan had cited in the days leading up to the game and also showed enough poise to indicate they have the game smarts as well.
2. Williams responds in his return.
Ignored completely during the one-year reign of former head coach Bruce Arena, midfielder Danny Williams played a solid game as the lone link between a back four and a line of four midfielders.
He racked up four interceptions in the first half alone to shore up a squad that had only 39 percent of possession. In the second half, he tracked back to cover for right back DeAndre Yedlin and got in a vital tackle on the touchline, and also swung over a cross from near the left-wing corner flag that bounced off a defender’s foot and popped up for Adams to head on frame.
With about 10 minutes left, a headed clearance bounced to Williams in the penalty area but he badly shanked his right-footed shot. There were also some rough moments as Portugal played balls through the center as it pressed for a winning goal.
Yet overall, at 28, Williams handled the job of backing up a young midfield and fronting a couple of young centerbacks. Regular Premier League time for Huddersfield Town should keep him in the pool for at least a few years.
3. Horvath howler betrays solid centerback play.
Among several positions wide-open on the U.S. squad is that of goalkeeper, with the program taking a hard look at players much younger than the regulars the past few seasons, Tim Howard (38) and Brad Guzan (33).
Ethan Horvath, 22, left Norwegian club Molde for Club Brugge in Belgium last January and is vying with Bill Hamid and Jesse Gonzalez, along with Guzan, to win the No. 1 shirt. Handed just his third cap, Horvath gave Portugal its goal when a speculative ball delivered from the wing by Vitorino Antunes slipped through his arms and under his body as he lunged forward. All he could do was turn and watch the ball trickle over the goal line.
He covered his face in his hands for a long while and when play resumed looked understandably shaken. He momentarily bobbled a cross but recovered in time to avoid a second calamity. Hamid replaced him for the second half and thwarted Portugal a few times.
Though Portugal put together enough promising attacks to probably deserve the tie with a proper goal, it seldom took advantage of starting centerbacks John Brooks and Matt Miazga, and second-half sub Cameron Carter-Vickers, who replaced Brooks. All three won balls in the air, tackled crisply, and covered spaces and passing lanes. Aside from the goal, only two of Portugal’s five shots on goal came from inside the penalty area.
In all regards this was a friendly against a Portugal team missing several of its best players. Yet no question the kids did all right.
Nov. 14 in Leiria
Portugal 1, USA 1. Goals: Antunes 31, McKennie 21.
Portugal -- Pimparel; Semedo, Pepe (Neto, 10), Ferreira, Antunes; Fernandes (Joao Eduardo, 46), Pereira (Neves, 62); Fernandes, Bangna (Bernardo Silva, 62), Martins (Paciência, 46); Guedes (Lopes, 81).
USA -- Horvath (Hamid, 46); Yedlin, Miazga, Brooks (Carter-Vickers, 46), Lichaj (Villafana, 59); Williams; Adams, McKennie (Bedoya, 84), Acosta, Agudelo (Gooch, 59); Sapong (Dwyer, 77).
Referee: Anthony Taylor (England).