The U.S. Men’s National Team played a match on Sunday. It wasn’t a particularly good match and it wasn’t a particularly fun match. Largely, it was boring, disjointed and stagnant, even for a January Camp conclusion.
Still, it was a match that created several talking points and left several impressions from a U.S. team that remains in transition.
The USMNT played to a lackluster 0-0 draw with Bosnia and Herzegovina on Sunday, opening 2018 on a low note. The entire 2018 campaign will be one filled with looks towards the past and future, but, even on that standard, Sunday’s performance was a disappointment.
There were some talking points and some impressive moments, though, giving some sort of intrigue to a match designed to identify and integrate new faces.
Here’s a look at some of the big takeaways from Sunday:
SARACHAN GOES SAFE, PREDICTABLE ROUTE
If there was ever a time to have a bit of fun, it was Sunday night. In what was almost certainly the most low-stakes friendly in quite some time, there was plenty of room to experiment and tinker, especially with a large group of young and exciting players joining the USMNT squad.
It didn’t happen, as Dave Sarachan opted to go with the safe and predictable over the new and exciting.
This isn’t meant to be any sort of knock on the experienced faces, but we know Jordan Morris. We know Gyasi Zardes. We’ve seen them dozens of times and we know what they’re capable of.
Yet, as January camp concludes, we don’t know Christian Ramirez. We don’t know Brooks Lennon or Danny Acosta or Justen Glad. We don’t know Russell Canouse or Ian Harkes or Nick Lima or Marky Delgado. The USMNT offered a taste of some newcomers with the likes of Matt Polster, Zack Steffen and Ike Opara earning their debuts, but it didn’t feel like enough.
Now, that could have been for a number of reasons, and the U.S. still has a whopping five years to cap and integrate new faces. But if you aren’t going to give some of the more promising young players a chance to play in January camp, when will you?
WIL TRAPP HEADLINES MIDFIELD
When it comes to the USMNT’s midfield pool, its easy to overlook Wil Trapp. Age-wise, he’s a bit of a tweener right now at 25 and, over the past few seasons, he hasn’t fully made the leap from January camp invitee to USMNT regular.
If Sunday was any indication, though, Trapp deserves more looks in the future.
The Columbus Crew midfielder was one of several standouts on the day as he put forth a confident, composed shift in the center of the field. His distribution was good and his defensive work was solid in what ended as a praiseworthy performance. He looked comfortable as that connecting piece, and his unique skill set as a deep-lying distributor fit well with the team around him.
Trapp was an ideal captain on Sunday night, and he put forth a performance that seemed inspired by the distinction. Going forward, he’ll battle with young bucks like Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, MLS standouts like Kellyn Acosta, Cristian Roldan, European options like Danny Williams and Alfredo Morales and the incumbent No. 6, Michael Bradley. But it appears Trapp is finally ready for a bit more on the international stage.
GOALKEEPERS SHOW WELL
The goalkeeping position is one that remains an interesting one heading into the new cycle. Tim Howard’s national team career is all but over and, at 33, it remains to be seen if Brad Guzan will still be in the running when the 2022 World Cup rolls around.
That puts the ball in the courts of players like Bill Hamid, Zack Steffen and Ethan Horvath. While the latter is still trying to battle his way back into the Club Brugge lineup, the other two did well enough to stay in the hunt on Sunday.
Hamid started the match, and provided the game’s biggest moment. The goalkeeper’s save just before halftime was an impressive one, even if his distribution let him down in the moments prior. Going forward, Hamid will need to win the job with FC Midtjylland and impress in Europe but, for the time being, he’s doing fine.
Steffen was given the second half and didn’t make any sort of mistake. Widely seen as one of the top goalkeeping prospects in the pool, Steffen is still just 22 years old and has plenty of growing to do in the coming years.
Look for both to remain in the picture going forward as the U.S. looks to nail down a new No. 1.
DESPITE BEING MISCAST, ADAMS DOES FINE
Without a true No. 10 in the match at the start, Tyler Adams was placed in a position that’s not quite in his comfort zone. Still, the New York Red Bulls midfielder did well enough to close a camp where he very much remained a prospect to watch.
Adams is a lot of things, but he isn’t a No. 10. He’s a bulldog in the midfield and he’s a workhorse that provides energy all over the field. He’s a smooth runner and a strong presence. He’s a competent passer and good ball-winner. A creative playmaker, he is not.
Placed in a more advanced role due to the presence of Wil Trapp and Cristian Roldan, Adams showed signs of discomfort as he moved up the field. The U.S. too struggled to create as a whole.
Adams did fine, though. The energy was there and the effort was there, even if the final ball wasn’t. In the end, it was a U.S. team that lacked a true playmaker higher up the field, and it showed. Even Gyasi Zardes and Jordan Morris were slightly out of place as wingers when they should be center forwards, leading to a limited attack that never got off the ground.
Would it have been nice to have seen a pure No. 10? Sure, but aside from Kelyn Rowe, the U.S. didn’t really have one available. They don’t really grow on trees and, by and large, the next pure American No. 10 still hasn’t truly developed.
Rowe ended up changing the game in the second half, but credit to Adams, who will have plenty of other chances to shine in his preferred position going forward.
It’s easy to criticize Sunday’s performance. It’s easy to look at what ended as a drab, lifeless affair and find things to complain about. It’s easy to make overarching statements and fall back on old assessments of a program that still is very much in disarray.
But try not to look at the macro on Sunday night. It wasn’t a night for a big picture. It was a night for the micro and the individual moments that will build towards something picture.
If you expected the U.S. to suddenly put it all together over the course of a January Camp featuring a squad full of non-regulars, you expected far too much. The U.S. wasn’t going to emerge from this camp with any sort of cohesion because that was never the goal. When all was said and done, was it frustrating to have to sit through another disjointed performance from a program that couldn’t be more disjointed? Absolutely, but it was the most likely scenario.
Instead, look at the individual battles. Look at Wil Trapp and Ike Opara. Look at Matt Polster and Tyler Adams. Look at the players themselves, what they offered, and what they can offer going forward.
It’s a message that will remain throughout this year. Until there’s a new president, a new coach and a new direction, the USMNT’s results and style of play, by and large, don’t matter.
What does matter are the little things. Players can still impress and fail and lessons can still be learned. But don’t look at the big picture quite yet, because it’s all still so far away.