LEIRIA, Portugal — Acting U.S. manager Dave Sarachan said he was proud of the way his young side delivered in securing a 1-1 draw with reigning European champions Portugal after a “difficult” 2017.
Both teams put out under-strength sides, with Portugal missing the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Joao Moutinho. But with the MLS Cup playoffs still going on and with some U.S. players dealing with injuries, it was the Americans that were more shorthanded, as Sarachan handed international debuts to Schalke youngster Weston McKennie and New York Red Bulls 19-year-old Tyler Adams.
The reverberations from the U.S. team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup are also still being felt, and will no doubt hang over any memories of 2017. But the youthful American team acquitted itself well in this match, with McKennie netting the U.S. goal.
“It is a friendly, they had a mixed group and all the rest, but we still had to come here and play on their soil, with a group of players that have only been together for six days,” said Sarachan. “Some knew each other, some didn’t, and obviously we put a lineup out with a plan. But they were the ones that went out and executed.
“And what I told them after the game was 2017 was a difficult year for U.S soccer, and there were a lot of people out there that weren’t sure what this was going to look like tonight. I said to the group that I couldn’t be more proud, and the future is bright, because there were a number of players on this field that have a really, I think, good and long career with the national team.”
It was a night in which the number of positive individual performances far outweighed any bad ones. But Sarachan lauded the play of McKennie, Adams, and Matt Miazga. McKennie even came inches away from delivering the game-winner, only to see his second half header hit the bar.
“I thought all three were very good tonight, I really did,” said Sarachan of the aforementioned trio. “I thought as a starting point they played with a lot of confidence. There was no fear. The moments that came for each player that were difficult moments I thought they handled well.
“Weston obviously getting the goal but not only that, his calmness on the ball and his ability to collect balls and play the next pass was very good tonight. Tyler, his engine is remarkable, and his energy was great throughout. And Matt was very solid in the back. I thought all three guys over the course of 90 minutes had really a solid performance.”
If there was one player who didn’t deliver on the night it was goalkeeper Ethan Horvath. With the U.S. leading 1-0 after McKennie’s goal, Horvath appeared to be in perfect position to collect Vitorino Altunes’ drive from the left wing, and went low to scoop the ball into his chest. Instead, the ball trickled through both arms and legs and into the U.S. goal to make the score 1-1.
Horvath then misplayed a pass right to the opposition, only to have the subsequent shot hit right at him. The U.S. keeper did recover to save well at the feet of Bruma just before half-time, but the damage was done. Still, Sarachan emphasized Horvath’s eventual recovery rather than his blunder.
“Ethan if he had it to do over again I think he would have saved it,” he said. “But these things happen and the thing that I’m very pleased about, and I told him this after the game was the goal goes in, and obviously it’s a big blow for him personally. But the team backed him up, said let’s get on with it. And the plays he had to make after that were excellent.
“That tells you a lot because I think for even a young goalkeeper you could be so rattled that maybe you’re not ready for the next play. These things happen, I thought our team handled it great, and in the career of a goalkeeper you’re going to have moments like that.”
Sarachan also singled out forward C.J. Sapong and midfielder Danny Williams for praise, Both players put in hardworking shifts, with Sapong assisting on McKennie’s goal and Williams helping to clog the middle of the field in a holding midfield role.
“C.J was huge for us tonight,” said Sarachan. “Playing as lone striker is a difficult task, and you do a lot of dirty running, and a lot of grafting. I thought the moments when we needed to have some holdup play, he did well. But being able to do the work, to put some pressure on their center backs over the course of time that he played was just very important for us.
“I thought Danny Williams did a great job too, being a veteran presence, a little bit deeper in the midfield, in [back] of Kellyn Acosta and Weston. He picked his spots to help cover and help defend, even the moments of the calmness out of the back. I can’t find much fault with those guys.”
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.