Ulysses Llanez enjoyed a national team debut to remember, and the U.S. Men’s National Team saw its very busy 2020 start in winning fashion with a promising victory for its young squad.
Llanez converted a 50th-minute penalty kick to cap an energetic first USMNT cap and help the Americans post a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica at Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday.
Fielding the youngest starting lineup every deployed for a January camp friendly, the USMNT outplayed a more experienced Costa Rica lineup in the first match of the year for both squads.
The Americans created the bulk of the opportunities on the day, but Costa Rican goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado made several impressive saves to frustrate the USMNT and cover for his teammates, who were thoroughly outplayed by their younger counterparts.
Jesus Ferreira was another of the Americans to make his national team debut, and he nearly set up an opening goal in the 14th minute when he sprang Paul Arriola with a perfect pass, but Alvarado denied Arriola’s chance to keep the match goal-less.
Costa Rica had the best chance of the first half, but wasted it when LA Galaxy defender Giancarlo Gonzalez blasted a free header off the crossbar in the 24th minute.
That was the only real chance the Ticos were able to generate, while the Americans continued to test Alvarado in the first half. Sebastian Lletget came close to his own goal just before halftime, but had his deflected shot saved by Alvarado.
The second half saw the Americans continue to control the match, with Arriola leading the charge with his work on the right wing. Arriola helped spring Reggie Cannon with a well-placed layoff pass on the right wing that helped draw a penalty foul by Costa Rica’s David Guzman.
Llanez, the youngest player in the USMNT lineup, stepped up to the penalty spot and converted the penalty attempt with a hard shot that gave Alvarado no chance.
The USMNT returns to action in March, with a pair of friendlies in Europe, facing Netherlands in Eindhoven before taking on Wales in Cardiff.