The United States men’s national team continued trudging through the non-World Cup wilderness on Tuesday with its interim head coach and its rotating cast of young, unproven players managing a 1-0 victory in an exhibition against Paraguay. In the Americans’ third game since the October loss to Trinidad and Tobago that prevented them from qualifying for the World Cup, they deployed a starting lineup that included nine players age 25 or younger, one of which was making his first appearance with the national team — 22-year-old Marky Delgado of Toronto F.C.
Delgado helped provide the highlight of the night for the U.S. in the game’s 43rd minute. He lofted a ball from 20 yards inside the Americans’ half over the Paraguayan defense and into the path of 19-year-old Tyler Adams, who sprinted alone toward the goal before being brought down by Paraguay’s goalkeeper, Gatito Fernández, to draw a penalty kick. Bobby Wood, who has been struggling through the German league season with Hamburg, scoring just one goal in 20 league appearances, converted the penalty kick for the Americans. It was the team’s first goal of 2018 and the lone scoring in the eventual victory.
“The kids have got to start somewhere and this was a good game to get their feet wet,” Dave Sarachan, the interim United States coach, said of his young roster.
Wood’s goal punctuated an energetic performance from the young squad, which was facing a Paraguay team in a similar situation (having missed out on the World Cup and being led by an interim coach, Gustavo Morínigo). It was the United States’ first win since a 4-0 World Cup qualifying victory against Panama in October, a game that felt a world away from Tuesday night’s matchup at Sahlen’s Stadium in Cary, N.C.
Among the brighter points for the U.S. was Adams, who came up through the Red Bulls’ youth academy and started 22 games for the club as an 18-year-old last season, scoring twice and recording four assists from defensive midfield. Adams is the only player to have started all three games for the United States since the loss to Trinidad and Tobago. A speedy central midfielder, Adams is quickly establishing himself as one of the top options — along with 19-year-old Weston McKennie, who was scratched from Tuesday’s roster with a groin injury — for a program that is searching high and low for fresh blood to add to its ageing pool of players.
“The combination of a good passer and a guy that can run can be deadly,” Sarachan said. “We talked about breaking Paraguay’s line, and Tyler’s timing on the run to draw the penalty was excellent.”
Central defenders Matt Miazga, 22, and Cameron Carter-Vicker, 20, combined for a shutout in front of goalkeeper Zack Steffen, 22, despite some shaky moments. Miazga, another product of the Red Bulls’ academy who is now playing with the Dutch club Vitesse on loan from Chelsea, nearly cost the Americans a goal when he coughed up the ball just outside their own penalty area in the 67th minute. But midfielder Wil Trapp, who captained the team for the second straight game, got a leg in front of a subsequent shot from Paraguay’s Miguel Almiron (who plays professionally in the U.S. with Atlanta United.)
Sarachan provided another highlight for many national-team observers simply by making a substitution in the 86th minute. He brought on Tim Weah, the 18-year-old forward from the French juggernaut Paris Saint-Germain. It was the national-team debut for Weah, who easily owns the strongest pedigree on the team as the son of the former FIFA world player of the year George Weah, who is now the president of Liberia.
Weah had few opportunities in the dying minutes, but did manage to draw a foul a few yards outside the penalty area. Darlington Nagbe — whose father played alongside George Weah on the Liberian national team — sent the ensuing free kick over the crossbar.