The United States Men’s National Team struggled to generate scoring chances but largely controlled Paraguay and ultimately earned a 1-0 win at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC. The USMNT went with a young team for a friendly against a young Paraguayan squad and fine performances throughout the midfield helped the United States force turnovers, keep the ball, and generally frustrate the visitors.
Bobby Wood fired home a first-half penalty to provide all the scoring and strong games from Wil Trapp, Tyler Adams, Marky Delgado, and Darlington Nagbe helped the U.S. control the game throughout, despite a dearth of clear-cut goal opportunities.
Interim Head Coach Dave Sarachan went with this lineup in a 4-1-4-1 formation:
Goalkeeper Zack Steffen made his first start, looking out at a center back pairing of Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers between fullbacks Jorge Villafana and DeAndre Yedlin. Trapp captained the team as the back line’s shield, with a midfield of Kenny Saief, Adams, Delgado, and Nagbe. Wood held down the spot up top. Paraguay countered with a 4-2-3-1.
The U.S. started the game by pressing high and pinning the Paraguayans in their own end. The Yanks held large periods of possession but created only a few chances, while La Albirroja looked for opportunities to hit back on the break. Trapp’s play in the middle of the pitch and strong play by the defenders kept Paraguay smothered throughout the opening period.
The USMNT fashioned the first good chance, with Trapp sending a great ball forward to Villafana, who had his cross only partially cleared. The U.S. reset and Nagbe got deep and found Saief in front of goal. Saief’s shot took a deflection off the defender — or maybe Wood — and then was cleared from in front of goal by a Paraguay defender.
Inching closer! A great chance as Nagbe squares it to the stop of the six where Wood and Saief await, but neither is able to make solid contact and Paraguay parries the ball away. pic.twitter.com/ySpyMxdCLE— The American Outlaws (@AmericanOutlaws) March 28, 2018
Paraguay’s first opportunity came off a set piece from distance at the 27-minute mark. Federico Santander got onto a free kick cross and flicked it on but right at Steffen. Moments later, Cristian Rivero got his head to a cross that was helped on by Santander, but the effort from a tough angle was comfortable for Steffen.
The United States looked just inches away from threading the right pass through the defense a number of times but finally got it right in the 43rd minute. Delgado, earning his first ever cap, sent a precise long ball that found Adams streaking in behind the defense on a perfectly timed run. Adams took a touch to round goalkeeper Roberto Fernandez and was upended in the box for an obvious penalty.
The referee charitably only booked the Paraguayan ‘keeper although he was the last man between Adams and the goal.
Wood, who had a miserable first half with a number of turnovers that snuffed out promising attacks, stepped up to take the spot kick. He approached the ball, waited for Fernandez to commit to his right, then calmly slotted the ball just right of center and into the net to make it 1-0 to the hosts. It was Wood’s 11th international goal and came in the last minute of normal time in the opening period.
WOOD YOU BELIEVE IT?!— The American Outlaws (@AmericanOutlaws) March 28, 2018
Bobby sends the keeper the wrong way and makes it 1-0 after Adams wins the penalty! The Yanks head into halftime with a 1-0 lead. pic.twitter.com/hu23Dm9xuR
Paraguay quickly won a free kick in a decent spot off the restart and looked to equalize with the last play of the half. A dangerous delivery ping-ponged dangerously in the U.S. penalty area before being cleared out wide and the halftime whistle blew.
The USMNT held 57% of the possession, and led in passing accuracy, 84%-81%. Paraguay had more shot attempts (5-2, 1-2 on target).
Saief’s nifty footwork helped win an early corner in the second half for the U.S., the the hosts were poor on set piece execution nearly all night. The first 10 minutes after the break resulted in a series of free kicks and corners for the U.S. and Paraguay started to show some frustration with heavier challenges and a slew of bookings — at least one of which should have probably been a straight red. Saief sent a free kick directly on goal in the 66th minute but Fernandez was there in plenty of time to stop it. It was about this point in the game that Paraguay started pushing more bodies forward and got a bit more of the game.
Miguel Almiron tried to take advantage of a Miazga turnover in his own end but Trapp tracked back to block the shot in the 67th minute. Eight minutes later, Hernan Perez elevated over Villafana at the back post and thumped a header just inches wide of the back post in Paraguay’s most threatening attack of the night.
Paraguay kept coming. In the 81st minute, Carter-Vickers had good position on Santander on a 50/50 ball over the top but for some reason he was not only called for a foul but also booked, though it was difficult to see anything wrong with the play on television. The ensuing free kick deflected off the wall and Steffen was interfered with while trying to track down the aerial ball. No whistle came but Steffen’s teammates cleared the danger.
Nagbe sent a free kick about a foot and a half over the bar in the 91st minute as time wound down. The set piece was set up by second-half subs Rubio Rubin and Tim Weah — the latter earning his first senior cap and making some history.
A couple of Paraguay bookings later, second-half sub Andrija Novakovich — also earning his first cap — got in behind the defense and smashed a shot that Fernandez saved. The ball came back to Novakovich but it was too hot to handle and his second effort went wide in the 93rd minute.
As the game moved past the three minutes of announced stoppage, Yedlin was whistled for a foul just to the left of the penalty area, giving Paraguay one last free kick. The ensuing set piece was smashed on frame and Steffen fought it off. Seconds later, the whistle blew on a deserved 1-0 win for the U.S.
The USMNT will return to action on May 28 in Chester, PA, when Bolivia comes calling. That match will be followed by a European swing through Ireland and France on June 2 and 9.