In its first match since missing out on the World Cup, the U.S. Men’s National Team faced off for the seventh time (2-2-2 previously) against third-ranked and reigning European champion Portugal. In a game that featured plenty of youth on both sides, it wasn't exactly a full-stength Portuguese side as the hosts featured an even younger team than the U.S. in
The U.S. roster saw plenty of youth with eight starters under 24, giving names like Weston McKennie (Schalke FC) and Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls) their first ever senior team appearances and Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge) earning the start in net. Danny Williams (Huddersfield Town A.F.C.) saw his first action since October of 2016 and earning the captain’s armband.
The defense was the most experienced of the group as it saw the return of John Anthony Brooks (VFL Wolfsburg), who missed the end of World Cup qualifying, to shore up the center back role that was often terrorized with errors. Additionally, Matt Miazga (club Vitesse) slotted back into the CB role in his fourth cap. Mainstay DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United FC) was at right back with Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest) at left back.
Playing on the front foot and pressing high, the U.S. caused a few giveaways early by Portugal. This led to an early shot from C.J. Sapong that unfortunately didn't have enough power and saw an easy save by Beto in the first minute.
Portugal’s experience took an early blow when captain, Pepe (92 caps), went out with a foot injury after a challenge in the ninth minute, with Danilo taking over the captain’s armband and Luis Neto (17) subbing in.
That U.S. back line experience was often showcased as a Yedlin tackle in the 24th minute on the wing saved a very dangerous opportunity. And Brooks made a saving tackle in the 19th in wide open space in the middle of the field which would have led to a 1-v-1 with Horvath.
The first 15 minutes took a bit to figure out shape with Williams and Kellyn Acosta on top of each other. As both traditionally play the deep-lying midfield role, it took some time to get their spacing along with the other players.
After withstanding the high pressure, Portugal came to life with Bruma missing a potential sitter on a half volley eight yards away as the cross found him perfectly alone in the 18.
In one of the few times from the run of play, Acosta missed Juan Agudelo on the left wing and in turn tried a difficult curling shot after some good ball movement between him, Mckennie, and Adams 19 minutes in. The U.S. continued on the gas in the 20th with a streaking Adams getting right in front of goal but he couldn’t get all of the ball and made for an easy save for Beto off the Sapong cross.
That pressure finally paid off in the 21st, as Acosta made a great interception and found Sapong on the wing. The Union striker fed McKennie at the top of the box and the 19-year-old comfortably received the the ball, cut inside Ricardo Ferreira, and cleanly finished to the near post. Portuguese keeper Beto was stuck in no man’s land, leaning towards the back post.
The U.S. suffered a scare in the 27th minute, as Williams and Acosta were involved in a nasty collision that had both down for quite a bit as they slammed faces. Acosta ended up needing some slight evaluation for what appeared to be a small cut on his nose but both continued.
As great as many of the youngsters played, Horvath was not one of them. Looking nervy in warm-ups, and uncomfortable with his feet, he had an absolute howler on a Vitorio Antunes half volley from 25 yards out off the left wing. The ball slipped right through his front smother and popped through for a Portugal equalizer. He was just benched at Club Brugge two weeks ago and the nerves unfortunately showed on that first-time shot off the bounce.
Horvath probably wants this one back. https://t.co/kITOGZ9qhD— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 14, 2017
He did come back with a 35th-minute save off a giveaway from Yedlin on a powerful dipping strike from Fernandes. Horvath handled it cleanly on the basket catch.
Portugal then took the advantage in the run of play after the goal with consistent combination play breaking down the middle of the field to an over-committing young midfield. The U.S. struggled to find its bearings over the next 10 minutes to close the half.
Horvath’s distribution led to another mistake in the 39th when he sent an ill-advised pass up the middle which was picked by Danilo. Luckily, the shot was very poor and right back at Horvath for an easy save. He continued to show shakiness as he claimed a cross in the 40th with no one around, double-clutching the ball.
In the 43rd, a fantastic corner from Acosta — his best facet of play all day — found Brooks for a wide-open header from just outside the six-yard box. The USMNT had what was thought to be the leading goal but a foul by Miazga in the scrum behind him caused the goal to be called back.
Horvath did have a strong 1-v-1 in space in the 45th, as he came out on a free ball just off to the right. But, in fashion to his game to that point, he couldn't claim the ball despite the good reaction and initial save.
Portugal’s Gelson finished the half off by earning a foul from Acosta in the 45 +2 but the ending free kick hit the wall that led to a corner and the end of the half.
The second half started off with a couple of substitutes as Bill Hamid — recently transferred to Danish side FC Midtjylland — was the first of the six potential subs for Horvath at halftime in move that was told as previously determined regardless of play. The center back pairing also changed as Cameron Carter-Vickers (Sheffield United) came on for Brooks at the half.
The U.S started off again on the gas, as pressure and a no fear mentality led to a 52nd-minute Williams cross that found Adams — who had won four aerial duels to that point, as many as anyone — but he was denied from six yards away by an amazing outstretched arm from Beto to keep the leading goal away.
The Americans continued pressing when a 54th-minute Lichaj shot on goal was kept out, leading to a corner, on which Acosta provided yet another fantastic ball. It found McKennie, only to be saved by the crossbar.
For much of the second half it was a back-and-forth run of play as neither side took absolute control. Portugal gave Hamid his first action in the 57th with an easy controlled catch for from a shot from 16 away.
Then subs three and four found their way in the 59th as Jose Villafana (Santos Laguna) came on for Lichaj and Lynden Gooch (Sunderland) entered for Agudelo, inserting some fresh legs. Gooch’s speed was felt right from the start as a 65th-minute outlet by McKennie found a sprinting Gooch, who caused a save by Beto.
It was Portugal that than found some openings in the U.S. penalty area after that. In the 68th, off a cross that was misplayed by McKennie, Paciencia had a close-range shot that had a bit of a deflection off Yedlin and luckily found the cross bar. That led to an immediate cross played back in but it did not find a streaking Portugal player for what was certain to be an easy goal.
The next eight minutes the U.S. found its stride again, as at 72’ a perfectly played cross from Gooch found Carter-Vickers two yards from goal. The big center back had to deal with a high bounce and couldn’t play it cleanly, but took a shot that was saved by Beto. However, Beto got away with what certainly should have been a foul as he leapt up with a studs-up challenge, over waist high, that wasn't deemed a dangerous play.
As well as he played on the offensive end, nearly netting a brace, it was McKennie’s defensive effort that often stood out. At 74’ he made a great tackle that almost put the U.S. in a great situation but ultimately ended up in an easy save.
Portugal then continually found its way back into the final third. In the 76th minute, Yedlin was turned around and a strong shot came in that Hamid unsettlingly popped into the air before finally corralling it.
For the fifth sub of the match, Dom Dwyer (Orlando City SC) came on for Sapong.
In a rare mistake for what was a great game for Williams, he muffed an 80th-minute opportunity when he had an open look off a cross. His first-time strike missed wide of goal from only a few yards away.
The match finished off with continued back and forth with no real great opportunities on either side in the final six minutes. While each side pressured, both groups of defense played well to not allow any major scares. Unfortunately the U.S. did have a late free kick opportunity that could have been played for a last-ditch effort but the referee whistled before that could take place.
Overall for the last game of the year — and one that saw a lot of youth -- I would say it was very good match despite playing against a short-handed, and young, Portugal side. There were a lot of positives from the play of McKennie and Adams, and in finally seeing the center back pairing work in tandem for the first time since the Gold Cup.
If this high pressure, no-fear type of play is what we’re going to be getting out of these players finally getting their call, then it gives a very small sliver of hope in a time where our emotions couldn't be more down.