Here is the immediate context: The US men's national team will not go to the World Cup this summer. A series of failures – some of which date back decades, others seven years back, others very immediate and contained – mean that there will be no trip to Russia.
Here's the longer-term context: The US U-20's three straight cycles of pretty dodgy football, made the Youth World Cup quarterfinals in 2015 and 2017. It's the first time in the history of the program that the US has the QFs or This is the historical context: success at the U-20 level almost always produces future successes at the national team level. Of course, there is no guarantee ̵
Here's the context of the day: A bunch of US kids defeated a bad Bolivia team 3-0 in Chester on Monday night. LAFC's Walker Zimmerman, an aged veteran of 25, opened the corner with a towering header in the first half. Then a pair of 18-year-olds, Josh Sargent of Werder Bremen and Tim Weah of PSG, sank their blades deeply.
It was fun. It was not just fun, but it was primary and, above all, fun. It felt like a fresh breath in many ways, and I'm not the only one who sensed that:
This is the first time in 7 years that I actually made a #USMNT game. I do not feel well in this feeling.
– Jason Poon (@jasonhpoon) May 29, 2018
Does victory over Bolivia mean so much? Not really. What matters is that Sargent carries on and wins an important role with Werder (I hear good things from people I trust ) that Weah continues with PSG, that Christian Pulisic rest and that Weston McKennie is still Weston McKennie.
It is important for Erik Palmer-Brown to find a place where he plays 90 every week, and that Keaton Parks does the same. It's important that Antonee Robinson gets a coach who can help him defeat some of his naïve off-the-ball tendencies.
It is important that we develop two or three more attackers. This coming generation is overflowing with centerbacks, centermids and even fullback. There are many more questions to ask in advance, and while this was a pivotal year for young domestic midfielders and defenders in the MLS, can you name a winger or striker or playmaker who prevails? I can not do that either.
All this, in the long run, is infinitely more than just a single friendly at this stage in a non-World Cup cycle.
But it was nice to have fun watching the US. Its been a long time.
A Few Thoughts:
• Parks is one of the weakest players I've ever seen from the US. His ability to receive the ball in traffic and passing visions pops out, even if he does not do much, and his self-confidence comes through the screen at you.
But I worry about his lack of speed. He was beaten several times in tight quarters, which could limit his ceiling.
• I am convinced that McKennie has almost no blanket . He has played 25 games this season in central midfield, central defense and defensive midfield of the second best team in the Bundesliga and will start more next year. I still see him as # 8 rather than # 6, at least at this point, because he feels much more comfortable working to avoid the ball than simply defending the defense and dictating the game regista.
• Zimmerman's distribution impressed me. Bob Bradley has asked a lot from him for LAFC and he has developed in a short time. This is not a reading he makes, or a passport he hits last year:
– Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports) May 28, 2018
• Weah is so smart about the ball. He's smart at finding space and understanding where the lanes are before they actually appear, and his movement is largely selfless.
He made the Telegraph shot above, but he can work on it if he gets more repetitions.
What? He's not a 1 v 1 assistant, and that's fine. It's a great way to achieve a variety of tap-ins by getting into good spots and using the creativity of others.
– American Football MNT (@ussoccer_mnt) May 29, 2018
• Robinson impressed almost all with his athleticism and crossing Ability, and fair enough for that. However, his first two crosses were naïve and hopeless, as one should not cross the ball from the sidelines against a wrapped defense. This is a good way to fight it (every time I see a young player beating such a cross, I think, "this kid was not coached")
What impressed me most was that he learned from his first half, and did not settle in the second. When he came to the ball, he headed for the box, put the defense on the back foot, let them go on their own net and then put it on a tee for Weah.
I loved the cross. What I loved more was the aspect of "learning and improving during the game". Give me a young player who can think.
• Pulisic was bad and earned a break.
• Sargent was great. I did not like the fact that he was called because I do not like it when a player is called into the full national team before he plays a single professional team. It's not a big deal, per se – not at all, really – but for me it sends the wrong message. Players can be anointed instead of making the place.
That said, Sargent made it easy to understand why he was actually anointed at some level. He's the best pure striker we've had since Jozy Altidore, and unlike Jozy who is 18, he has no illusions that he should play elsewhere (Jozy thought he was a winger). His raiding game was very good, his runs were smart, and the only big chance he got was he buried:
– U.S. Pat. Soccer MNT (@ussoccer_mnt) May 29, 2018
And that's it really. I am looking forward to the next two games of this friendship series and then I look forward to a month in which I can watch the World Cup.
And I'm also convinced that the next cycle will be very much better than the last one. A victory over Bolivia did not do that, but watching this team without fear and having a lot of pride did not hurt.