U.S. youngsters impress in 1-1 draw in Portugal, end 2017 on positive note

U.S. youngsters impress in 1-1 draw in Portugal, end 2017 on positive note
From ESPN - November 14, 2017

LEIRIA, Portugal -- The U.S. men's national team closed the book on a thoroughly disappointing 2017 with a credible 1-1 draw against reigning European champions Portugal.

U.S. midfielder Weston McKennie, making his international debut, put the visitors on top in the 21st minute, but a terrible error from goalkeeper Ethan Horvath allowed Portugal defender Antunes to equalize 11 minutes later.

Here are three thoughts from the Americans' final game of the year.

1. A glimmer of hope after disastrous 2017

Heading into Tuesday's friendly, there were questions as to why the U.S. even opted to play this game given the bitterness at failing to qualify for the World Cup. But not only was it a chance to get a glimpse of some up-and-coming players, but the proceeds from the match will be donated to victims of wildfires in north and central Portugal earlier this year.

As it turned out, the match was worth the Americans' while. Caretaker manager Dave Sarachan had spoken all week about the group's "youthful energy" and his lineup certainly trended in a youthful direction, with both McKennie and Tyler Adams being handed debuts while Matt Miazga earned just his fourth cap. That said, there was experience as well in the form of defender John Brooks and midfielder Danny Williams, both of whom performed well on the night.

It's worth noting that Portugal was fielding an under-strength side as well. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Joao Moutinho were both left off the roster, though a smattering of regulars like Nelson Semedo and Pepe (the latter of whom was forced off early through injury) were included.

The U.S. was on the front foot to start the match. A combination of aggressive pressing and sloppy Portuguese passing created a pair of chances inside two minutes, only for C.J. Sapong to fire straight at Portugal keeper Beto and Kellyn Acosta to then fire wide. The match soon settled a bit, but it was the U.S. that was creating the better opportunities.

Sapong was causing all kinds of problems by drifting into wide positions and running at defenders. He put one pass on a platter for Adams in the 20th minute only for the New York Red Bull to fire straight at Beto. It proved to be a brief respite as Sapong soon found McKennie on the run, and the Texas native darted around one defender before firing home to put the visitors on top.

The U.S. looked solid in the back with Miazga and Brooks, but Portugal equalized due to a horrible error from Horvath. Antunes' volley from wide on the left had some venom in it, but Horvath looked perfectly positioned to gather it in. Instead, as he moved low to collect the shot, the ball squirted through both hands and legs to trickle into the U.S. goal.

The U.S. rebounded to start the second half as Beto denied Adams' close-range header, Lichaj forced another smart save and McKennie saw his header hit the crossbar.

The parade of substitutions that is typical of friendlies seemed to benefit Portugal as the home side began to carry more of the game. Goncalo Paciencia struck the bar with an effort of his own in the 66th minute, and Bill Hamid later collected a shot that Paciencia shot straight into the air.


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