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Draw against Portugal first step for U.S. away from Trinidad debacle

Draw against Portugal first step for U.S. away from Trinidad debacle
From ESPN - November 14, 2017

LEIRIA, Portugal -- As the U.S. players filed through the mixed zone following Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Portugal, one could sense a collective exhale taking place.

To be clear, this was not an exhale that accompanies a good feeling or some state of contentment. Rather, it was the kind of sensation in which a searing pain is hurting just a little bit less, with the hope that the trend will continue.

Yes, there were smiles, and why not? If you ca not break into a grin after scoring on your international debut, like Weston McKennie did, then you are not human. But there was also a recognition that Tuesday's match was a mere step, a way of putting some distance between the team and the disaster that was the end of World Cup qualifying in Trinidad one month ago.

On a night of hardworking shifts, C.J. Sapong put in one of the toughest, celebrating his first cap in five years by setting up McKennie's 21st-minute opener. He summed the evening up when he said, "I am not sure what the future holds right now. I am just going to let this moment marinate, and hopefully I do get called in for the next situation that involves U.S. Soccer."

McKennie absorbed the entirety of the evening as well. His postgame routine usually involves a call from his mother, Tina, who takes it upon herself to make sure her son is not getting a big head. Given the tone that her son struck on this night, she will quickly be able to move the conversation onto other topics.

"She probably will end up giving me a call," McKennie said. "But I know it from myself that I need to stay grounded. It's the first game, and you can only judge so much off of one game, but [there] has to be consistency. My next game, I go back to Schalke and continue my games there, and hopefully I keep getting call-ups to the national team."

Heading into the match, the request of the U.S. seemed simple, but was more complicated than it looked: Kindly do not rub salt onto a still-gaping wound that was sliced open last month in Couva, Trinidad. The Americans would have to do so with a squad containing five uncapped players and seven more with five or fewer. Sure, Portugal was missing a few starters of their own, including Cristiano Ronaldo, but the home side seemed to have more than enough firepower to take care of the U.S.

Yet the American players did not add to the team's collective pain; they eased it. Perhaps the younger elements of the side, such as McKennie and Tyler Adams, did not know any better than to be confident and aggressive. Yet that's exactly what the U.S. were, harrying Portugal into some early turnovers, and generally setting the tempo for much of the first half.

It no doubt helped that some of the older -- and until this camp, largely forgotten -- performers like Sapong and Danny Williams had something to prove as well. The backline, Matt Miazga in particular, was impressive. What resulted was a team performance that was solid on nearly every front.

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