It is weird to even say it, but there is so much to be excited for after the World Cup. Not that the World Cup won’t be a spectacle all its own. But while regional foes Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama are ramping up for the big show, the US is quietly putting together a young, dynamic team. These youngsters combine grit and technical ability that the US has lacked for some time now. To put the reboot of the national team in perspective, the average age of tonight’s starting lineup was only 22 years old, with their average number of caps a paltry six per person. Add on top of that a total of six players receiving their first international cap and this could be perhaps the youngest squad the US has ever fielded.
We are breaking down the highlights of tonight’s resounding 3-0 victory of Bolivia and how that bodes extremely well for the future.
First Half: For most of the first 45 minutes it was one way traffic in favor of the Yanks. The US continually applied pressure high up the field and possessed the ball for large swaths of time while Bolivia struggled to connect more than a couple of passes together. There was a level of creativity and free flowing soccer that I have missed from the United States for years.
Despite their youth the US played loose and showed a flair for creative passes and cross-field switches. This was a welcome respite from the more rigid game plans and predictable ball movement that we suffered through for the last two years. Maybe I am suffering a bit from recency bias but I feel like these guys would have given the team that took the field against Trinidad & Tobago in the final qualifier a serious run for their money.
The scoring got started in the 37th minute when Walker Zimmerman rose up to beat Bolivian defender Ronald Raldes to a well struck inswinger from Joe Corona. Zimmerman surged forward, stopped, recalibrated to the trajectory of the corner kick and leapt up to strike the ball with force off of his beautiful dome. His goal later proved to be the game winner.
Get in, @thewalkerzim! 25-year-old rises up for his first #USMNT goal! pic.twitter.com/pvmdIk5AdG— U.S. Soccer MNT (@ussoccer_mnt) May 28, 2018
Second Half: The US continued to gel as the game wore on. Although I predicted yesterday a 2-0 win for the US, a big part of me was worried about the cohesion of the backline. You throw a bunch of really young defenders together for the first time and chances are there will be lapses in judgement or mistakes to exploit, but the US showed no signs of vulnerability against a Bolivian side that was at less than full strength.
I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but a handful of the South American nations best players are still tied up in their domestic league playoffs, including the national team’s coach. No seriously, the team had to call in a substitute coach. It was originally reported by Paul Kennedy that Mexican technical director Eduardo Fentanes would be coaching the side, but apparently he couldn’t make it last minute and Venezuelan Cesar Farias ended up coaching La Verde, seriously.
Like #USMNT, Bolivia is under-strength due to conflicts with domestic league. Players from top four teams in league semifinals absent. Coach is also missing. Mexican Eduardo Fentanes is literally filling in. #USAvBOL https://t.co/rYwSagkOVC— Paul Kennedy (@pkedit) May 28, 2018
With a depleted and coachless squad, Bolivia never really figured it out. They were outshot 23 to 5, and registered no shots on goal. The US however had a coming out party in the second half starting with the second youngest player in US history to score in their debut, Josh Sargent. At 18 years, 102 days old, Josh Sargent received his first international cap, start, and goal on a night he will never forget. It was extremely opportunistic and showed Sargent’s ability to turn nothing into something.
Carlos Lampe must have been taking notes from Liverpool keeper Loris Karius. In the 52nd minute he attempted to chip the ball up over Sargent to his right back but Sargent had other plans. He calmly trapped the ball, turned to face the onrushing Lampe and slotted it home.
Something out of nothing! Allow @joshsargent to introduce himself! pic.twitter.com/tR9jO6gYgq— U.S. Soccer MNT (@ussoccer_mnt) May 29, 2018
Only 7 minutes later Tim Weah, son of 1995 World Player of the Year George Weah, scored his first international goal in only his second cap. Fast fact, Weah was the first player born in the 2000’s to play for the US, Josh Sargent was the second. Did I mention we are going young! The reality is the quality of the opponent tonight was lacking, but even with that consideration Weah scored a goal that I couldn’t score if I tried 10 times with no defense in front of me. Antonee Robinson, the Bolton Wanderers product, danced down the left flank with his defender in tow. He created enough separation to thread a cross to the top of the 6 yard box to an onrushing Weah who expertly split the center backs and half volleyed the ball home.
Turn the 0-2 to the 0-3.@TimWeah becomes the fourth youngest #USMNT goal scorer all-time! pic.twitter.com/k6Q2ch8FaL— U.S. Soccer MNT (@ussoccer_mnt) May 29, 2018
All three goals that were scored were firsts for Zimmerman, Sargent and Weah. Sargent’s first goal came in his first cap, Weah’s first goal came in his second cap, and Zimmerman’s first goal came in his third cap, mind blown. Along those same lines, both Corona and Robinson tallied their first ever assists. Alex Bono also recorded his first ever shutout in his first cap. There were a lot of firsts tonight!
While there is a long road ahead for the national team as they prepare for Qatar 2022 it was so fun to see the youth movement shine tonight. Similar to RSL, we are seeing the youngsters blossom right before our eyes. It’s like discovering a band before they became famous. You should be watching this team now, don’t wait till they are lifting the Gold Cup and torching teams in World Cup qualification. The future looks extremely bright.