The night is always darkest before the dawn, at least that is what people who wake up before dawn tell me, I wouldn’t know. So you could say that last month when the US flamed out of World Cup qualifying that despite the darkness things would get better.
Much has been said since that time, and many people have stepped forward with hopes of replacing Sunil Gulati as the president of USSF and ending pay to play, but at the end of the day, all that really matters is what happens on the pitch. Having the US team play today was not only entertaining, but strangely cathartic as well. We’re breaking down the game, and what it means for the US moving forward.
The youth movement Is officially on and that is good:
When the likes of Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey limped off the field last month, we all knew that it meant that we may not see them in a US kit again. In my opinion, hot take coming in, they all should have already announced their retirements from US soccer. The likes of Chiellini and Bufon did so immediately after Italy was bounced on November 13th from the World Cup by Sweden. It didn’t even take them 24 hours. While the older US players who don’t have a realistic chance of ever seeing a World Cup may not have officially retired yet, it is safe to say that US soccer is all youth from now on.
As a clear sign of the youth movement, interim head coach Dave Sarachan started two teenagers, the first time the US has done so since 1988. Both Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams received their first caps with the senior team and they both showed extremely well for themselves. Tyler Adams is actually the first US player capped that was born in 1999, and the second youngest player capped in 2017 behind Christian Pulisic. Do you feel old yet?
Weston McKennie, although still a teen, has started regularly for his German club FC Shalke 04 and proved on the day to be a very bright prospect for the US. Watching today’s game you couldn’t help but imagine what the potential partnership of him and long time friend Christian Pulisic will look like for years to come at the international level.
McKennie became the 3rd youngest player to ever score a national team goal on their debut, behind Landon Donovan and Juan Agudelo. McKennie did very well for himself on a simple pass from CJ Sapong that he used to cut through the center of the Portuguese defense, getting his defender spun around, and slotting home a shot at the near post. The jubilation of that goal washed over national team supporters and reassured us all that soccer lives on, and the US, although embarrassed, will rise again.
The youth movement is officially on and that is bad:
Over the next 4 years we will watch the youth of the national system be tried and battle tested. They will have plenty of opportunities to compete for positions and to grow along the way. For all that was good about the youth movement today, there was also plenty of bad. Watching these kids grow up will be, well, like puberty. It will be awkward and gangly and sometimes embarrassing. But beneath the acne and awkward smile, we can all see the potential.
No one exhibited that more than Ethan Horvath. You couldn’t help but feel for the 22 year old who plays for Club Brugge KV in the Belgian First Division. I can’t imagine how exhilarating it must have been for him as he received his second ever cap with the national team and how quickly it must have become something from his nightmares.
Despite a wonder-start by the US leading 1-0, Horvath made a colossal error that resulted in Portugal drawing level and ultimately costing the US what would have been a monumental victory. You could see it in his countenance, he screwed up and he knew it, and it was brutal.
As a fan base, we need to be prepared for this. There will be moments when the young Nats make our hearts soar with the idea of what their potential can be. There will also be moments where we are left shaking our heads thinking, what the hell did I just witness? Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it will take time for the US to rebuild from the ashes. At least for one night, the youngsters went toe to toe with the Euro-Cup Champs Portugal, and looked every bit their equals in effort and desire. For now, that is enough, hustle, desire, and hunger are what we need to see. The lessons will be learned, experience will be gained, and the team will qualify for World Cup Qatar 2022.