It’s a friendly. More than that it was a “B” team friendly featuring few of either squad’s best players. So don’t go reading too much into the USMNT’s 1-1 draw at Portugal on Tuesday.
However, don’t make the mistake of reading nothing into it, either. One of the frustrating things about friendlies for the better part of this decade is that they have often been treated as meaningless, process-deprived mad scientist-style experimentation. They can occasionally be that, but there are better ways to make use of that time.
With that in mind, here are a few takeaways:
Start Weston McKennie
Have you been watching him with Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga this year? He’s been something close to a full starter for the past two months, and he brought that form with him to his full national team debut (volume up for analysis):
McKennie, so far, looks like more of a No. 8 than a No. 6 (and despite the above clip he’s not a No. 10), though the whispers I’ve heard out of Gelsenkirchen are that they think he projects, long-term, as a defensive midfielder.
Whatever, wherever, I don’t care at this point. What matters is that whoever is in charge has to get him as many reps with the full squad as is possible over the next 18 months. If he fits better as a No. 8 than as a No. 6, then so be it. If it’s vice versa, that’s fine as well. I just need to see him in Red, White & Blue every time he’s available.
And for the record: He was hurt during the first two weeks of October, which is why he wasn’t called up for the final qualifiers. That said, I doubt Bruce Arena would’ve given him minutes.
Get Reps for the Center Backs
John Brooks was sold for over $20 million this summer, and Matt Miazga, at age 22, has already 1) been sold to Chelsea, 2) led Vitesse Arnhem to their first significant trophy in the club’s 125-year history, and 3) been linked with a move to Ajax, as well as upper-tier Bundesliga teams.
McKennie is important. Getting Christian Pulisic healthy and in his best spot is important, and getting Jonathan Gonzalez in the mix sooner rather than later is important. So is finding the right role for Tyler Adams and for Kellyn Acosta, and so is identifying the best forward option, and obviously the goalkeeper situation needs to resolve itself (I still think Brad Guzan is the right call, though obviously that can change between now and when games start to matter again).
Fundamentally, though, none of the above is as important as getting a central defensive pairing together, and then giving them reps. Given their ages, performances and pedigree, right now it’s Brooks and Miazga.
Learn the Lessons of Losses
Dave Sarachan will probably never manage another USMNT game, but give him credit here: He did not make the same mistake that Arena did vs. Trinidad & Tobago. The US were out-manned in central midfield a month ago, playing a 4-1-3-2 with chalk-on-their-boots wingers and basically going 1-v-4 in central midfield. It was a high-risk/high-reward proposition that failed spectacularly because of some bad luck, but also because the gambit allowed the Soca Warriors so much time and space on the ball. They got comfortable, pushed numbers forward, and took advantage of a sleep-walking US.
Sarachan trotted this team out in a 4-1-4-1. Some of the pieces were mismatched – neither Juan Agudelo nor Adams is really a winger (though both played well), and Pulisic was missed – but the structure was sound and made it difficult for Portugal to play through the middle. With the exception of about a 10-minute stretch around the hour mark, the hosts weren’t able to exert concerted pressure.
And that’s about it from this one. Again: It’s a friendly, so don’t go off celebrating or anything, but at the same time, don’t write it off entirely. The partnerships and structure that were ripped down over the past six years need to be rebuilt now, and every outing is a chance to do just that.
McKennie, Miazga, Adams, Acosta, Agudelo, Brooks, C.J. Sapong et al just took this program’s first tiny step forward, and it’s time to begin a new cycle. Let’s hope we don’t make the same mistakes that doomed the previous one.