U.S. not slowed by lack of experience in friendly win over Paraguay
CARY, N.C. -- The U.S. men's national team defeated Paraguay 1-0 in an international friendly on Tuesday. Bobby Wood's penalty late in the first half provided the winning margin, while the U.S. defense held firm, despite a few late scrambles.
Here are three thoughts on the Americans' first win since last October.
1. Lack of experience doesn't slow U.S.
The storyline heading into the match was how few caps could be found on the U.S. roster. There were eight uncapped players and another 10 with five caps or fewer. But interim coach Dave Sarachan's lineup wasn't completely devoid of experience with DeAndre Yedlin, Darlington Nagbe, Jorge Villafana and Wood all securing starts.
The U.S. started out in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Wood as the lone striker. Wil Trapp started deep in midfield, with Tyler Adams and Marky Delgado positioned centrally ahead of him. The U.S. did well to establish a rhythm in the early stages, though it was undone by a lack of precision in the final third.
The U.S. compensated by getting Villafana into the attack more. One foray in the 16th minute saw his cross half-cleared, allowing Nagbe to find Kenny Saief eight yards from goal, only for his deflected effort to be cleared off the line by a Paraguay defender.
The Americans took the lead just before halftime when Delgado's through ball found Adams in the clear. He attempted to round Paraguay keeper Roberto Fernandez, only to be upended in the box. Referee Kimbell Ward pointed to the spot, and Wood confidently slotted home the penalty with Fernandez diving the wrong way.
The U.S. largely controlled matters in the second half, though Trapp had to come to the rescue at one point, providing a key block after Matt Miazga was caught in possession in his own defensive third.
About the most notable development late in the match was the introduction of Tim Weah for Delgado. The appearance won't cap tie him to the U.S. -- he's still eligible to represent Jamaica, Liberia and France -- but at the least it helps cement his bonds to the U.S. program. Andrija Novakovich made his debut as well and nearly marked it with a goal, but his late breakaway was saved.
If there was one disappointment on the night, it was Sarachan's odd refusal to use all of his substitutes. In fact, he made use of just four on the night, and Cristian Roldan logged just a couple of minutes. Granted, the win generates some good vibes, but it seemed a missed opportunity to blood some other players.
2. U.S. central trio looks sharp
The first thing that jumped out about the U.S. midfield was the lack of a true playmaker. Sure, Saief had his moments on the left wing, and nearly bagged a goal, but he didn't really unlock the Paraguayan defense. Nagbe continued to be a bit of an enigma, looking incisive one moment, passive the next -- he's still the connector at heart.
It was left to the Americans' central trio to do the attacking damage, though at first glance, Adams, Delgado and Trapp look utilitarian in their approach. Trapp's ability to play incisive passes into the middle third helped spark some promising U.S. attacks, while Adams and Delgado did their bit as well. Delgado provided some valuable link play, while Adams provided a ton of energy on both sides of the ball.
Of course, it was Delgado's vision and Adams' off-the-ball running that led to the goal. With Paraguay's defense playing a high line, Delgado's inch-perfect through ball caught Adams on the run, allowing him to win the aforementioned penalty.
The performances of Adams, Delgado and Trapp will certainly stand them in good stead. Adams looks like a cornerstone going forward, and he has looked more comfortable with each subsequent U.S. performance. Delgado acquitted himself well in his first cap and did his future prospects no harm. Trapp, earning just his fourth cap, was the veteran head in the group.
What will happen when the full team gets back together remains to be seen, but each of the three players passed their latest -- or in the case of Delgado, his first -- test.
3. Miazga, Carter-Vickers lead solid defense
The evening had some nervy moments for the U.S. defense. Miazga's blunder was erased by Trapp's second-half block, though there is some question as to whether Zack Steffen should have played him the ball in the first place. There were also a few dicey situations on set pieces, including a few scrambles late.
But the U.S. defense was largely composed on the night, showing an impressive level of cohesion. Whenever Miguel Almiron or Oscar Romero got isolated one-on-one with a U.S. defender, help in the form of a covering defender was soon to arrive. Villafana also had some bright moments going forward, especially in the first half.
Overall, Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers continued to develop their partnership, one that extends back to their days with the U.S. U20 team. At this point, there's every reason to see it continue.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.