Dave Sarachan’s job is a complicated one. As the U.S. Men’s National Team’s caretaker head coach, he’s preparing a team for a future without him. His job is to integrate new faces to a national team that will look very, very different when he is inevitably replaced.
But, while Sarachan’s job is an unusual one, his approach for Tuesday’s friendly is pretty simple: have fun with it.
“Any time you have a platform like Tuesday to showcase new faces, young players, give them opportunity, there are a lot of people that are going to find this group to be a group they’re going to look forward to in 2018 and beyond,” Sarachan said. “The opportunity for everyone to get out there and showcase against a good opponent is evident.
“You’re going to see a team that’s going to play with no fear and, hopefully, be aggressive, be assertive,” he added. “They won’t be over-coached. I’ll tell you that. We’ll allow them to make a lot of decisions on the field and that’s what this is all about.”
Heading into Tuesday’s clash with friendly, one word that came up several times was “freedom”. The young U.S. team, composed of five new faces and just five players with more than 10 caps, is being awarded the ability to express themselves, whatever that may be.
That part is just one part of the learning process. With an average age of under 24, the U.S. has a lot of learning to do. Against a more experienced Paraguay team featuring a number of World Cup qualifying veterans, the U.S. will most certainly get a bit of a lesson, one way or another.
“We talk about that each day: what it’s like to be in the national team camp and what it takes each and every day with the concentration level and the amount of effort required,” Sarachan siad. “That’s a daily process. It’s not something where I can hand them the book and say ‘this is how you do it’. Along with the senior leaders within the team, you hope by the end of camp, they’ve absorbed quite a lot of knowledge.
“Defensively as a group, it’s coming along well. The challenge is to score goals and be creative, and that’s the part where we want them to know that we want their personality to come out and to be unafraid.”
While Weston McKennie remains questionable due to a recent injury, the U.S. should have a full complement of young players involved. Young defenders Cameron Carter-Vickers, Matt Miazga and Erik Palmer-Brown lead the way after all shining at the youth World Cup levels. Players like Tyler Adams and Wil Trapp will look to build off strong January performances while newcomers like Andrija Novakovich, Timothy Weah, Shaq Moore and Antonee Robinson look to make their initial impressions as they join the team for the first time.
Paraguay, meanwhile, is not a team in full rebuild mode quite like the U.S. is. There are a number of experienced faces in camp, including Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron. Midfielder Cristian Riveros enters Tuesday’s match with 100 caps to his name. The U.S. team has just 126 combined.
“They have an experienced squad. They brought along a lot of players from qualifying,” Trapp said. “We know some of them, guys like Miguel Almiron. There’s quality, and that’s something we’ll have to deal with. It will be a difficult game but a fun game.”
Tuesday’s match holds extra meaning for a U.S. team because there aren’t many opportunities like it on the horizon. Sure, there are upcoming friendlies with France, Ireland and Bolivia before the coaching search truly begins but, until the Gold Cup returns in 2019, meaningful matches will be hard to come by.
Tuesday is one of few chances to shine on the international level before the program begins its rebirth, and that opportunity isn’t lost on the players.
“It’s still early on,” Adams said. “In a sense, it stinks not to have too many competitive matches coming in the future. At the same time, we have to take these matches seriously because we know they are important in starting the rejuvenation process by getting these young guys minutes and games.
“It always stinks when you don’t make the World Cup, but that’s behind us now. We take the positives where we can, and we move forward with it.”