The US got its first win of the 2018 calendar year by beating Paraguay tonight to the tune of 1-0 . While it is hard for some to get up for meaningless friendlies like these, the US and Paraguay did not disappoint. Let’s break down tonights two halves, and our player of the game.
First Half - The US got off to a very solid start and you could tell they were mentally up for it tonight. The team was pressuring the ball quickly and did not shy away from challenges. There were multiple times where the US would quickly change tactics from trying to play the ball on the ground to quickly switching to an open long ball for Kenny Saief or Bobby Wood to run onto. It kept Paraguay off balance as they tried to figure out what the US was doing. Had it not been for the lack of fitness and speed of Bobby Wood, the US could have had a couple of easy 1 v 1 breakaways with the goalie. He looked exactly like a striker who has 2 goals in 21 games for the worst team in the Bundesliga.
Nagbe plays it over the top to Wood, who only had 1 defender to beat but instead he waited for 2 more #Paraguay defenders to catch him up, and then he lost the ball. Should've driven toward goal or played Saief on the overlap. #USMNT #USAvPAR pic.twitter.com/AWHXIGJsFF— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) March 27, 2018
Despite Wood’s lack of speed and decisiveness, there were a handful of others who stood out during the first half of the match. As I watched Matt Miazga keep order on the backline I couldn’t help but wonder why the likes of Omar Gonzalez started over him in this last World Cup qualifying cycle. Miazga shows good pace, reads the game well, and has some nifty footwork in a pinch. He played well despite being challenged by a number of cutting runs by Miguel Almiron and Federico Santander.
The decisive moment of the first half, and the game for that matter, came off a majestically long through-ball from Marky Delgado. Up until the 43rd minute of play he hadn’t done much but in an instant he played a beautifully weighted pass to a very fast, and very good Tyler Adams. Adams streaked past the Paraguayan back line, took a couple of touches before attempting to round the keeper, and was brought down in the box by Gatito Fernandez. There was no hesitation from field ref Kimbell Ward who immediately pointed to the spot and delivered a yellow card to Fernandez for good measure.
Despite Wood’s lack of a killer instinct throughout the game, he made no mistake when he caught the keeper leaning the wrong way and buried the PK for what would eventually be the game winning goal. As Jason Foster pointed out, it was Wood’s first goal for either club or country since October. Hopefully this lights a fire under him and we see his productivity pick up going forward.
Bobby Wood converts the penalty to give #USMNT the 1-0 lead vs #Paraguay, shortly before half-time. He's been the worst player on the pitch by far, but gets his first goal for club or country since October. #USAvPAR pic.twitter.com/QvncSERYvT— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) March 28, 2018
Paraguay’s best chance of the first half came in the last seconds before the whistle sounded. Earning a free kick in a dangerous area, they played the ball to the back post of Zack Steffen’s goal. The onrushing player slipped it right across the mouth of the goal but there was no one there to tap it into the wide open net.
The US’s defensive effort in the first half, coupled with some great interplay between Darlington Nagbe, Wil Trapp, and Tyler Adams made for a very bright first half that the US Soccer Federation can be proud of. What impressed me the most as I watched that first half was the amount of desire and passion the US players had. It was a stark contrast to the laissez faire attitude that has been displayed at times by the elder statesmen of the national team pool. You could tell these players are appreciative of the opportunity to play for their country, and have a hunger to be called up again.
My only negative coming out of the first half as the lack of a true #10. If the US is ever to be elite we need to start breeding some play makers that can unlock defense and can create things for the team in transition. This game lacked just that for the US, especially in the first half when multiple attacks moving forward were stalled by a lack of that one killer pass.
Second Half - The US continued to do well for themselves in the second half, combining individual skill with team cohesion. Keep in mind this team only had about 2 weeks to prepare for this match, and most of them haven’t played together or with the men’s national team. So it was great to see them combining with each other and understanding positionally where they needed to be.
One of my favorite moments from the second half came in the 49th minute after Kenny Saief had apparently dribbled his way into 3 defenders. Rather than lose the ball he calmly rounded one and used some fancy footwork to evade the other two.
While that little touch of skill from Saief was toward the top of my list of second half moments the winning moment goes to a country that wasn’t even playing in this game. Who was it you might ask? None other than Morocco.
The African nation of Morocco is currently competing against a group bid from the US, Mexico and Canada to host the 2026 World Cup. So what did Morocco do? They purchased sideline advertising announcing their bid to host the largest tournament in soccer, and did so right in front of our own national team. If there is one thing we know about the United States, we will never turn down a dollar, even if would mean keeping us from an embarrassing moment such as this.
The last few minutes of the game I think Paraguay lost the plot a bit and seemed more content on fouling their US counterparts more than anything else. There was a rash of yellow cards delivered to Paraguayan players in the final few minutes and it was at times not very pretty. But the US held on and earned the victory. It may not mean much to the world, but it means a lot to the further development of our young national team.
My biggest knock on the events of this evening however are directed at Dave Sarachan, the interim head coach for the US. In a game that is meaningless and a bench full of hungry youngsters, how on earth do you wait till the 76th minute to make your first sub? It makes no sense. I can understand that you want to win, and you are trying to make a case that you should be the future head coach, but get them some minutes! Finding out what you have in the tool shed is far more important than a 1-0 victory on a March night in Cary, North Carolina.
Player of the game: My player of the game goes to a midfielder who has had an excellent start to 2018, and a player who will be bound for Europe soon enough. Tyler Adams of the New York Red Bulls has continued to impress me throughout the early MLS season and Champions League. He carried that form into tonight’s game as well. He is so quick and covers so much ground. He can get stuck in on a challenge and if he misses or loses the ball, he has such recovery speed that the opposing player will soon be overrun by Adams again. On the PK that he earned tonight, if you watch the replay you almost feel sad for the poor center back that is doing everything he can to try and catch up but to no avail.
Where does Tyler Adams play in the midfield, you ask? pic.twitter.com/2SgcKg26lC— The American Outlaws (@AmericanOutlaws) March 27, 2018
There you have it folks, there were some questionable decisions around substitution patterns, I was dead on about Miguel Almiron as my player to watch, and dead wrong about Tim Weah. Poor guy finally got subbed on in the 86th minute which was not enough time in my opinion. He did very well with the few opportunities that he had and going into this game I though we’d see him a lot more. Despite his lack of minutes, Tim Weah set a new milestone for the US Soccer Federation. He was the first person born in the 2000’s to get capped by the senior team, man I am old.