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USMNT 1-1 France: What we learned

The US youngsters stand tall against powerhouse France

Bolivia v United States Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

That did not suck. It certainly wasn’t the most beautiful 90 minutes of soccer ever played by the US, but the result speaks for itself. Against a France team ranked in the top 10 of the World’s best footballing nations, the US youngsters pulled out a result that no one thought possible. I even tweeted prior to the match that I was changing my score prediction from a 3-0 win for France, to a 5-0 win for France. Everything on paper suggested that Les Bleus should have pummeled the US, but they didn’t.

There are two things that have been the US’s calling card for decades, and something that I think we got away from over the last qualifying cycle. First, historically US teams have played greater than the sum of their parts. The US did that today. While the young national teamers are talented in their own right, they shouldn’t have pulled out the result they did today. We saw the grit and togetherness that has been a hallmark of US sides that have punched above their weight for years. Second, the US has historically been able to grind out ugly results. We all want to see beautiful soccer, and that should be the aim of anyone who is at the helm of the US national team. At the end of the day though, winning is literally everything in sports. When you know what you are up against, and the odds look steep, you have to have the belief and gumption to dig deep and get a result, aesthetics be damned. The US did that today.

Despite conceding 69.3% possession to France, making only 292 passes to France’s 654, and attempting only 2 shots to France’s 19, the US still managed to get a result. That is the diehard attitude that has gone missing at times for the US as they struggled to earn points against CONCACAF foes who were far less talented then the US during World Cup qualification. We are left wondering “what if” as we consider what may have been had Jurgen Klinsmann or Bruce Arena been more willing to incorporate these younger players sooner into the player pool. These youngsters have a naive fearlessness that is reminiscent of the head strong national team that went to the quarterfinals of the World Cup 2002. When then 20 year olds Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley fearlessly stood toe to toe with the likes of Portugal, Poland, Mexico and Germany.

While friendlies don’t ultimately matter, I can’t help but be extremely optimistic about the next generation of US built footballers. These are the kind of kids that can walk into el Estadio Azteca in Mexico City and walk out with 3 points.

Key Moments of the Match

The first half, like much of the game, France was on the front foot while the US sat deep and absorbed the pressure. Despite Les Bleus continually looking threatening, it was actually the US who struck first, shocking the home fans as Julian Green took what seemed like an impossible shot from an impossible angle and beat Hugo Lloris to the near post. The look on central back Samuel Umtiti’s face at the end of this clip says it all.

That goal was historical, as it is the first time ever that the US has scored against France. Take a bow Julian Green! The US headed into halftime with the unthinkable, a halftime lead. What I would’ve given to be a fly on the wall in the French locker room. They are pegged as World Cup favorites and this was to be their glorious send off. Antoine Griezmann’s face summed up the collective feeling of the French contingent as the game wore on and they struggled to get on level terms.

In the match preview, I pointed out that one of the two main objectives of tonight’s match for France was to come out unscathed and injury free. There was a scary moment in the second half for Olivier Giroud and Matt Miazga as both went up to contest the ball off a France corner kick. Their heads came together with force, leaving both bloodied and battered. Miazga would later need 15 stitches to close up a scalp laceration and is currently under concussion protocol. We wish them both a speedy recovery from a very scary moment.

With the game entering its dying moments, the urgency from France hit a feverish pitch as they threw numbers forward into the attack. Tim Parker and Zack Steffen stood out as they kept the backline organized and in it. Despite heroic efforts from both of them, the US did end up conceding in the 78th minute when France served up a low cross into the box and Kylian Mbappe touched it home. It was really unfortunate for the US as it appeared that Cameron Carter-Vickers would have had it covered if not for losing his footing at the crucial moment.

Man of the match

There were a number of heroic performances from the Yanks that it almost seems rude to pick one particular player. Tim Parker stood tall, Tyler Adams once again proved that he should be playing in Europe amongst the elite (seriously, he stood toe to toe with Paul Pogba all night) and of course Julian Green with his wonderful finish. But despite all of their key moments, Zack Steffen takes home our man of the match. The US has relied for far too long on an aging keeper rotation of Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and Nick Rimando. Partly because they have all been great, and also in large part due to the fact that the US has failed to produce an elite goal keeper in quiet some time. Zack Steffen looks absolutely ready to take the top keeper spot in the US player pool for many years to come. If not for his athletic prowess and fearlessness in the face of a constant French barrage, the US would have finished this game with a loss. Steffen ended the night with 7 saves, with a handful of those coming in the final minutes of the match. Behold, the future US net minder.

The US’s consolation World Cup has now come to an end and the real World Cup is set to begin. The US in their group stage finished with a total of 4 points, besting Bolivia, drawing with France, and losing to Ireland. Not bad for a bunch of 22 year olds with 10 caps or less each!

While Dave Sarachan should not be the long term head coach for the US national team, I think he deserves a massive pat on the back too. He had to take the team over on an interim basis, after our darkest moment as a soccer federation, when fans have never been more disenfranchised. He has made us believe again.