Over the last two weeks, the U.S. Men’s National Team’s young midfield faced three vastly different tests. The Bolivia match presented freedom against an overmatched opponent. Ireland saw the U.S. enter a back-and-forth affair, one with plenty of energy and bustle in the middle of the field. And then there was France, a World Cup contender and a team that put the USMNT on the back foot and into a defensive posture.
Through those three matches, there were missteps and mistakes. There were rocky moments caused by inexperience. But there was also a lot of good for a unit that is continuing to evolve by the game.
The trio of Wil Trapp, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams emerged as the USMNT’s go-to midfield unit throughout the three-game camp, and all three showed well enough to leave an impression going forward.
Facing off with a France midfield loaded with stars in Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi, the U.S. midfield looked overmatched early on. France piled on the pressure, with Pogba in particular proving to be the driving force. Playing three at the back in an effort to defend at all costs, the midfield three were under a lot of pressure to contribute defensively while connecting an often isolated duo of Bobby Wood and Julian Green.
As the match wore on, that happened a bit more. It wasn’t a 50-50 game, not by a long shot. There were certainly teachable moments for each, but the three also passed certain tests designed to challenge them.
In many ways, Adams was the standout, putting in a Man of the Match-worthy performance in the heart of the midfield. As per usual, Adams was all over the field, largely patrolling the right side while generally popping up everywhere else as well. Adams did a magnificent job of stifling the France midfield, making two tackles, three interceptions and a number of key clearances deep in his own half.
With rumors of a move to Europe continuing, Adams more than helped his case. The New York Red Bulls midfielder showed he doesn’t just have the potential to play at this level someday; he has the ability to do it right now.
That’s not to say the other two didn’t have their moments. Trapp, awarded the captaincy once again, was the most defensive of the three. At times, the Columbus Crew midfielder was a bit too relaxed on the ball, but, by and large, his distribution was solid. Trapp finished the match with only four misplaced passes, even if some of those were rather unforced. Trapp only completed three passes in the attacking half, but that was by design as the 25-year-old midfielder played the No. 6 role throughout.
McKennie was one of the standouts of the Bolivia and Ireland matches and, of the three, was probably the weakest against France. Despite misplacing only two passes, McKennie wasn’t quite his energetic self when it came to defending. On Saturday, he didn’t register a tackle against a France midfield that was certainly on another level. He was better after the halftime break, but McKennie learned some lessons on how to play out of pressure and how to manage a match where the other team continue to pile it on.
In some ways, it’s easy to forget just how inexperienced the three are. Adams and McKennie are still teenagers. Trapp has just six caps to his name, with none of the previous five coming against an opponent anything like France. There’s still a lot of learning to do and experience to earn for all three.
Still, you saw flashes and you saw a unit that got better as the match wore on. Heading into whatever comes next, the next USMNT manager has a building block in place with a young midfield that passed a number of big tests in the trio of summer friendlies.