Since the U.S. Men’s National Team began rebuilding itself in November, the young core has faced a number of interesting tests. There was a trip to Portugal, home matches against Bosnia & Herzegovina. There was a youth-led demolition of Bolivia and a difficult away loss to Ireland.
But, on Saturday, the U.S. faces something totally different: a loaded France team that will be looking to send a message before heading to the World Cup.
The U.S. takes on Les Bleus in Lyon on Saturday, marking France’s send-off match before the World Cup. Boasting a squad featuring stars like Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and N’Golo Kante, France is widely seen as a contender to not just make a run at this summer’s tournament but potentially win it.
Before that, though, they have one final tune-up against the USMNT. While a young U.S. group knows that they’re nowhere near France’s level at the moment, they’re also not willing to merely step in as fodder against a team with big aspirations.
“It’s obviously not to fear anyone. I think that’s one of the key things,” Rubio Rubin said. “We’re a young group and we’re talented. We know what they’re all about. It’s a team that’s obviously going to a World Cup and to try and win the World Cup. Football is big in France, but we’re a young group and we’re hungry. If we bring that mentality and no fear, we should show up. We just want to continue to build and once you do well, the results come, so you never know.”
“We all know how important it is,” added veteran Joe Corona. “They’re one of the candidates to win the World Cup. We’re all excited for the match and it will be a great experience for all of us.”
The U.S. is very much an underdog on Saturday. France is too talented and, with a World Cup looming, they’ll be too motivated. The U.S. doesn’t have the top-end talent to go toe-to-toe with Les Bleus, giving France a heavy edge.
The other elephant in the room: the USMNT’s inexperience. France is a test not experienced by almost every player on the USMNT roster. With an average age of just 23, many will face important individual tests throughout Saturday’s match.
Zack Steffen, likely to start in goal, will be asked to step into one of the biggest games of his career. Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers will face off with a French forward line among the best in the world. Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, likely to start in the midfield, will be asked to go toe-to-toe with midfielders that play at an elite level.
After a somewhat humbling loss in Ireland, the U.S. will look to take some of those lessons and apply them towards France. The key one: to learn what it takes to weather the storm.
“I just think experience plays a big role,” Rubin said. “We played alright, but at the end of the day we want to get the result, and sometimes even holding onto a tie or just not giving up that late goal, it’s experience. Experience played a big role. It happens. It’s a young group. You’d rather lose now than down the road.”
The USMNT could very well lose on Saturday. Griezmann or Mbappe or Olivier Giroud or any number of French players could standout. A French defense looking to prove itself before Russia could stifle the U.S. attack. A young USMNT core may be rattled and could make mistakes that lead to chances or goals.
But Saturday is about much more than Saturday for all involved. For France, it’s a match that’s about building to something bigger: a legitimate push in Russia.
For the U.S., it’s also about something overarching, but, even so, there is a belief that the USMNT can offer a surprise or two by the time it’s all over.
“We just go in and go in with our gameplan,” Steffen said. “We want to show everybody who is watching what we got. We’re going to go in, play as a team, work for each other, have fun and enjoy the experience.
“(Ireland) was a big test,” Rubin added, “And what’s a bigger test now than to play France? It will be a good one.”