Top Stories

USMNT 1, Portugal 1: The SBI Breakdown

By and large, the U.S. Men’s National Team’s friendly against Portugal was a success. Granted, it was a minor success in a year filled with a program-debilitating setback, but it was a success nonetheless.

The U.S. picked up a 1-1 draw against the reigning European champions on Tuesday afternoon in the final game of 2017. Was it a less-than full-strength Portugal team? For sure. But it was a team with plenty of European-based talent and it was a team that the U.S. competed with and, at times, outplayed throughout the 90 minutes.

There was plenty to see on Tuesday, including a few debuts and a few more returns. Over the next five years, the U.S. program will give us plenty to digest on and off the field but, with 2017 coming to a close, the U.S. ended the year with a new beginning.

Here are some of Tuesday’s big takeaways:


Weston McKennie is good. We all knew this. You can’t be bad and start in the Bundesliga. Even before Tuesday, we knew McKennie was a legitimate player and we probably knew that he was going to be a key piece for years to come.

What we didn’t know, though, is how he would handle that first test, and he handled it better than many could have predicted.

It was more than the goal, which was certainly icing on the cake. It was more than the ranging runs and the timely tackles. It was the composure, energy and confidence displayed by one of the youngest members of the USMNT roster.

McKennie looked like a player ready to lead, much like Christian Pulisic did in his early USMNT performances. He wasn’t fazed by the step up. Rather, he took on the challenge, elevated his game and made the game easier for those around him.


C.J. Sapong isn’t the USMNT’s next great striker. He won’t captain the U.S. to the 2022 World Cup and he probably won’t even be on the plane when and if the U.S. qualifies.

However, Sapong looked like a player with a part to play throughout his performance on Tuesday.

Sapong brought boatloads of energy to the USMNT attack and consistently challenged the Portugal backline. The Philadelphia Union forward’s work was rewarded with an assist on McKennie’s goal, giving him a highlight moment in a match where he did plenty of dirty work.

After a strong year in MLS, Sapong deserved his chance, and he took it well. With a few years until meaningful games, Sapong showed he should be competing with the likes of Dom Dwyer for that energy forward role, one that’s vital in CONCACAF.

Sapong may never be a world-beater, but he should be looked at as a player that can contribute in the run up to 2022.


All of the mixing, matching and introducing was all well and good, but the centerback pairing was probably the most important piece of Tuesday’s win.

John Brooks and Matt Miazga, in theory, should be the starting defensive duo for years to come. Sure, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Justen Glad and Erik Palmer-Brown may have something to say about that but, right now, it appears Miazga and Brooks are the duo of the future.

They may be the duo of the present, too. Miazga and Brooks were virtually flawless, strangling Portugal down the middle. None of Portugal’s real chances came down the center of the field and, when the ball was inevitably whipped in, Brooks and Miazga rarely looked challenged. It was a commanding performance from a pair of young defenders that now have a reason to be confident.

Before the match, Bruce Arena said he believes this would have been his World Cup pairing. In an ideal world, they would have been his World Cup qualifying pairing, too.


Virtually every person that stepped on the field showed fairly well. That is, except for Ethan Horvath.

The young goalkeeper is just that: young. He’s going to make mistakes and, by any measure, Tuesday’s doesn’t really matter. It was a meaningless goal in a meaningless game. Realistically, who cares?

There shouldn’t be a reason to care, but there is due to Horvath’s recent habit of being error-prone. It’s led to his benching at Club Brugge and it led to a bad impression in his first chance to seize a consistent starting gig with the USMNT.

Now, let’s not write off a 22-year-old goalkeeper. Horvath is still very good and, even after a few nervy moments, Horvath collected his head and handled business. Tuesday was a learning experience, and a damn good one.


Tuesday’s friendly won’t erase the missteps of 2017. There’s no way it could. The USMNT’s World Cup qualifying setback will be felt for quite some time, no matter how many friendlies the U.S. competes in.

The next five years will be long for the USMNT program and all of those that come in and out of it throughout the World Cup wait, but Tuesday was enough to inspire a little bit of hope for a program still in disarray.

McKennie, Adams, Miazga, Brooks, Yedlin. These are names that should be cornerstones of the USMNT for years to come. Newer faces like Lynden Gooch and Cameron Carter-Vickers stepped up in a big way. Familiar faces like Danny Williams, Bill Hamid and C.J. Sapong showed that maybe, just maybe, they could have had a part to play throughout the roller-coaster 2017.

Over the next five years, plenty will change. Players will fall in and out. Some of the players listed above may never get better and never reach the level required to lead the USMNT. Some players will emerge out of nowhere and become key pieces in the years to come. There’s so much time to figure things out that Tuesday’s friendly will all but certainly be forgotten by many in the very near future.

Tuesday’s friendly, though, did begin a process, and it showed that there is a reason to be a little optimistic about that light at the end of that long tunnel that opens up in Qatar.


  1. I know all caveats – friendly, against Portugal back-ups, etc – but it is still against young high–end if not top-flight professionals trying to make a name for themselves: is it me or did the level of play far exceed what we saw from the US at times during WCQ? Especially that last godforsaken match. I’m sorry – I’m not football expert but like most fans have seen hundreds of matches. And that match was played at much faster pace than what our first team senior team could play at!?


    We need entirely new people across the board running the show. Good God, are we that blind we can’t see the entire lot must be cast out for good?

  2. IMO the winners from yesterdays game were:
    McKennie, Adams, Williams, Lichaj, Miazga & Brooks.
    Those who maintained their position in the depth chart were:
    Yedlin, Acosta, Gooch, CCV
    Those who lost ground:
    Villafana, Horvath, Agudelo, Dwyer

    Once we incorporate the other prospect who weren’t brought in & the 2018 hold-overs….
    Wood, Pulisic, Saief, Arriola, Jonathan Gonzalez, Hyndman, Manneh, & Steffen I think we’ll be approaching the baseline of the player pool. Give these guys a bit of time to gain experience & chemistry together and I think we’ll have an idea of what this team could look like when the cycle starts in 2019.

    We still need to find/develop options/depth at the outside back positions and improve the finishing, but there are things/players to look forward to seeing.

  3. The hustle in the center of the field from the US was wonderful to see. That was one of the things that has been missing this year. The formation has something to do with this, of course, but there were definitely some hints of chemistry and anticipation between Williams, Acosta, and McKennie. The other striking improvement was in central defense, with all three players looking remarkably solid. All this has to be taken with a grain of salt since this was a friendly, and Portugal looked really sloppy for much of the match. But still, you have to think a second/third string Portugal team would beat Trinidad.

    • I think this had a whole lot to do with the setup of the midfield. Previously we had been playing Bradley almost all alone in midfield. Combine that with the constant giveaways by everyone and it was a recipe for disaster. Step up and get passed around allowing direct run at the back line or drop back to prevent a break allowing all day on the ball for opposition mids.
      The pressure applied to the ball was such a simple thing that had been lacking too often. It was nice to see.

  4. The match was a draw and good positive result considering the circumstances. The US came out flying and pressing and causing some very poor passing from Portugal to start the match. After the first 15 minutes that ended and Portugal went onto to out possess the US roughly 60% to 40%. Still not bad but Portugal is a team that usually conceded possession. Portugal had 81% passing accuracy to 72% for US but in the attacking half the US 55% in the attacking half and 60% in the final third. When the US had the ball in midfield it did not connect especially in first half the US had problems keeping the ball on the grass. Which after winning the ball quickly gave it back because the US settled for not being clean on the ball and wanted to chip the ball in the air to each other in close space amongst each other in the midfield? That is sloppy and choppy play and whatever formation or tactics does not work against quality opponents.
    The US should have scored two to three goals in the first 20 minutes after Acosta squandered a turnover in the attacking third. When the US had unmarked players in on goal and Acosta chose to shoot?
    The players that impressed me where Williams, McKennie, Adams, Miazga, Brooks, and Yedlin.
    Williams, where have you been? He is tough, athletic, skilled
    McKennie, I could really see him playing the 6or8 for years to come.
    Adams, needs a position. He competes really well and has the tools to succeed but where? 6,8 or wide midfield? Right wing is Yedlin’s
    Miazga, he is steady with great positioning and ability to play both left and right CB is an asset.
    Brooks, he is such a great athlete and it all comes together when he focuses. One intangible I love about his game is when receiving a pass from a wide position, he anticipates the ball and receives it going forward with a quick controlled touch, his stride completely changes all defensive angles, with his head up ready to make a pass up field.
    Yedlin, he is a CB and GK best friend. He has an amazing knack for cleaning things up in the 6 yard box. He had two really poor cross attempts but got behind the defensive and stretches the field like no back in the player pool.

  5. You all making excuses for Horvath saying cause he is young. Alban Lafont is young and he would have never made a mistake like that. LOL!!

    • Mysterious: I think you made a wrong turn somewhere. Why are you bringing up some obscure U20 French goalkeeper on this website…?

  6. It tells you something when the captain wasn’t even on the roster in most/all of qualifying. This was a “Gold Cup” or January-type game that tells you more who DOESN’T belong than who actually DOES. Who excelled against weakened opposition, and who couldn’t even handle that. It takes another, later game against a fuller strength opponent and with our regulars, to put in context what we’ve seen.

    I felt like McKennie, Brooks, Lichaj, and Dwyer showed themselves worthy of a notch up. Horvath and Yedlin had nightmares, and against B/C teamers. A lot of the rest looked OK, but against a B/C team.

    I think we saw a handful of this bunch who looked decent and should be brought into the regular pool/roster. But at the end of last cycle our problems were defense and keeping and little changed last night.

    • Yedlin had a nightmare? He was up against Portugal’s most dangerous player the entire game (along with having to deal with Antunes overlapping all night long) and I thought he acquitted himself pretty well. I don’t know that much about him but Bruma was no B/C player last night. If he was American he’d be a lock starter.

      • From the standpoint of a former defender, on the goal he gives the shooter tons of room, Horvath should clean it up but it wasn’t great defending, and crosses were routinely coming in from his side…..and not Lichaj’s. The ostensible offset is his attacking ability and he shanked his efforts on the other end. I think he has raw talent and recovers well sometimes, but he’s not a solid defender who does his job, ends the danger from his channel, and so well you basically forget he’s there. To me the spectacular recoveries are actually he was out of position or got beat. I want someone like McKennie who is in position marked and picks off the pass in the flow, not who has to panic and fix it after.

        People can claim this is discrediting all they want but the reason the US is watching is not their strong offense — tops in Hex — but their weak defense, which was bottom half. I want balls cut off or failing that marking close enough the shot or cross is blocked in formation. Instead the ball routinely and dangerously went middle from his side.

        FWIW whether the other guy is good is no excuse but rather a test of whether you are up to it. Pope and Boca didn’t fold like a cheap suit faced with the world’s best.

      • You said Yedlin had a nightmare against B/C teamers. I was simply pointing out that Bruma isn’t a B/C teamer.

        Have you looked at the replay of the Portugal goal? Yedlin was in exactly the position he should’ve been, keeping the back line compact. There was a long switch and he got out there to mark Antunes as fast as he could. Should it even have been his responsibility to mark a LB in that situation? Where was Adams? And imo it wasn’t even supposed to be a shot. It looked like a mishit cross to me. Either way, if you expect Yedlin to do any more than he did on that play, you have unrealistic expectations.

        There seems to be a tendency to blame Yedlin (and the same has happened a lot with Chandler) for being out of position and having to recover. Many of the times that happens it’s because of a bad giveaway in midfield while the RB is upfield. That happened to Yedlin at least once yesterday. How is that his fault?

        And as far as the defense being problematic in the Hex, you’re right. Problem is, Yedlin wasn’t there for most of it and for the last two games exactly zero goals were scored on his side of the field. I think you’re living in the world of last year or two years ago with your analysis of Yedlin. He’s not the same guy.

  7. I remember when Mexico was out of world cup,for or three years ago,they lost whit Costa
    Rica,but a goal wil help them to clasified,and Graham Suzy of USA already in world Cup
    help that country whit a goal over Panama and win,they did not care much in this case,
    they are only them,and them and forget the little help from his neighbar,and lost to
    Honduras…i don´t know if you remember that action,Suzy became a hero in mejico

  8. Yes the light appers in the sad tunel,now is has changed,México tied whit number 5 Belgica
    and won number 6 Polonia,but the young warriors of USA tied the number 3 in the world
    Portugal,is much better,thats the reason they envy this result,the european champion humillated by new team,the mexican comentarors did mention much this game.
    Good for USA,bad for Portugal

  9. Overall a good performance, if they do get this tournament together for next summer for the teams that missed the WC than they should advertise and push this next wave of good young players as the future that gives the usmnt hope and something to get excited about

    • In regards to the rumored tournament for non qualified teams there are a lot of decent nations to choose from: Italy, Netherlands, Greece, Turkey, Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador, USA, Honduros, Iraq, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Czech Rep, Ukraine. Lot of possiblilities to put something actually watchable together here. I think FIFA might also be looking at this its kinda like setting up an analog to the Europa League/Champions League system in UEFA. Two tournaments, more money, more games. FIFA should be on this.


Leave a Comment