Instant analysis: USMNT draw Portugal; Sapong shined, youth breakthrough


The USMNT were ready to put their recent World Cup blunder behind them this past Tuesday against Portugal. The game featured countries heading in different directions. Portugal are the current European Champions, and have qualified for the World Cup. They used this friendly to fine tune their role players to see who could feature for them at the upcoming World Cup. USA are not going to the World Cup. They are looking for a new coach, are in the midst of candidates announcing themselves as running for the federation presidency, and are trying to get their youth national team standouts involved with the first team. With that USA brought in Philadelphia Union standouts CJ Sapong and Alejandro Bedoya. These Veteran presence coupled with the youthful squad produced interesting results. The USMNT drew Portugal 1-1; Sapong shined, and the youth broke through!

The Future of the USMNT?:

The US rolled out a very youthful squad. The 4-1-4-1 formation featured an in-experienced and howler-prone goalkeeper; Ethan Horvath. The back line was a mix of youngsters and veterans; Lichaj, Brooks, Miazga, Yedlin. Veteran Danny Williams played a stopper role just ahead of the back line and captained the side. The four midfielders were young players, two of whom getting their first starts; Agudelo, McKennie, Acosta, Adams. A lone striker rounded out the starting squad, which was none other than the Union’s CJ Sapong.

This formation created is what should be the format for the future of the USMNT. A mixture of veterans, and young hungry players, playing in the 4-1-4-1. The versatility of the formation could really benefit this side. The four flat midfielders help this team control the middle of the field. In defending situations the outside midfielders are able to get back to help the outside backs; whereas, the two in the middle are able to help out the stopper and the center backs. Stopping attacks to create counters seems to be good for this formation.

There were many times the US were able to turn over Portugal and get the ball forward. The midfield was able to spread out. They played balls to the striker, either directly or into wide areas, and moved into open spaces to create chances. This play/formation could be the cornerstone of the USMNT if it is used going forward. Let’s look how this worked in the actual game.

A lively first half; a dull second half:

The game itself was a tale of two halves. A first half was electric, and a second half was more dull. The first 20 minutes of the game was the US show. The youthful players were off and running, players with a chip on their shoulders were pushing the team. The USMNT were able to get good pressure on Portugal. This caused many turnovers and chances for the US, including their lone goal.

CJ Sapong was a menace at the number nine spot, and in the 20th minute he drifted wide got on the ball and found a streaking Weston McKennie. The youngster wrong-footed a Portugal defender and slotted a near post shot past the keeper to give the US a 1-0 lead! Not a few minutes later, Portugal equalized.

Portugal did well to find way past the swarming US midfield to get chances on goal. One of those chances came soon after the US went up. A ball was played into the box and Evan Horvath came to claim it. At the last-minute the ball swerved and it slipped through Horvath’s hands and ended up in the net. Horvath regained some confidence in the half making some saves. The rest of the half both teams went back and forth, but nothing came of their efforts.

The  second half was not as lively as the first. Aside from another chance by McKennie, which hit the crossbar, this game was a back and forth contest with nothing of quality to show of it. USA did use five substitutes in the second half.

Hamid came on for Horvath in-goal; Carter-Vickers came in for Brooks at center back; Villafania went in for Lichaj; Agudelo made way for Gooch; ex-teammates at Sporting KC switched as Sapong went off for Dwyer; Bedoya came on as the last sub for Weston McKennie. All the subs did well enough to not allow a goal, but didn’t add much more in the attack to breakdown Portugal. The game ended 1-1. One of the major takeaways for Union fans was the play of CJ Sapong.

Sapong Shined:

Weston McKennie obviously was the standout of the game; however, many were raving about the work of the Union’s own CJ Sapong. Sapong was up for this game; his third ever cap for the National team. After almost a six-year absence from the national team, Sapong balled out. He was a menace from the target forward spot; pressing the defense, holding the ball to start attacks and making wide runs to get other players in behind. He created the space for McKennie to get his goal. His versatility and “dirty running” impressed.

If you’ve seen him play for the Union this past season you’re accustomed to seeing Sapong play this way. His style of play could play a huge role for USMNT down the road.Sapong’s play in this match should be enough to get him another call up in the USMNT’s January camp. If he impresses there, and in the next friendly against Bosnia & Herzegovina, then he will become the starting striker for the USMNT moving forward. He impressed, but the other Union player who featured in this one barely saw the field.

Bedoya’s Role:

Alejandro Bedoya came into this friendly as the most capped player on the roster. His veteran presence, and leadership style, is a perfect fit for these young players to emulate. It was a bit of a surprise to see him not start this match as the captain of this inexperience side. Bedoya came on for the last six minutes of the match; he came on for USA’s man of the match McKennie and showed his style of tenacity in the midfield. So why didn’t he the start and the captain’s armband?

According to Fox’s analyst Stu Holden, Bedoya would’ve been the captain for the squad, but he picked up a knock in training, and was not able to start. So it looks like he is the leader of this youth movement. He’s the Dempsey/Bradley for this next generation. Come January, look for Bedoya to be with this team mentoring the youth, and captaining the side against Bosnia & Herzegovina.

What’s Next?:

USA will look ahead to the January camp, and a friendly against Bosnia & Herzegovina. In the meantime the race for the USSF presidency will heat up. Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino are looking to push Sunil Gulati’s spot. The US will likely also look to find their next head coach. Caleb Porter, now the ex-head coach of the Portland Timbers, should be considered as a candidate. Longtime Premier League coach Sam Allardyce has expressed interest in the job. It’s a time where a lot of key components are up in the air. With rumors of a possible “NIT” style of tournament being proposed for World Cup rejects being held in the US thing coming spring, who knows what’s in store for this federation and Men’s National team!

We will all have to sit back and watch to see what happens! Until then, peace out Union/US Fans!


Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports