What to watch for as young Yanks face Wayne Rooney and the Three Lions
November 14, 2018
England, of course, has called up Wayne Rooney for his 120th and final national team cap after a storied career with the Lions. Rooney moved to DC United over the summer from Everton and helped lift the club to an unexpected playoff run where it was eliminated by Columbus on penalties.
This game, as well as the Italy friendly next Tuesday, will likely be the final time the U.S. team is led by Dave Sarachan who took over on an interim basis last November following the team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup.
Under his tenure, Sarachan has introduced a wave of young players into the mix. While the team has looked good at times and overmatched at other times, he has succeeded in at least providing valuable experience to players who will make up the core group for years to come.
Here are some of the things for USMNT fans to watch for in the game against England.
Adams, McKennie, and Pulisic
This game will be the first time ever that Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, and Tyler Adams are on the national team roster together. The trio are the most highly touted young players in the U.S. Soccer system. While they have experience with each other at the youth level, injuries have prevented them from playing together at the senior level.
Expect Sarachan to take advantage of the opportunity to see how the three work with each other. In recent months Pulisic and McKennie have played important Champions League games while Adams has been the midfield star on a Red Bulls team that is the best in MLS. Adams is expected to join McKennie and Pulisic in Germany at RB Leipzig starting in January.
It will be particularly interesting to see the formation Sarachan uses and how he elects to play the trio – who are all versatile and capable of different positions.
Central Defense questions
There is no question that central defense is far from ideal right now.
Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers are in tough positions at their respective clubs, Nantes and Swansea City, and have not played much recently. Wolfsburg is in a nosedive in the Bundesliga and John Brooks has not played particularly well. Aaron Long is playing well for the Red Bulls but is on short rest after playing on Sunday. Walker Zimmerman and LAFC have been eliminated from the playoffs but Zimmerman hasn’t been with the national team since May.
Miazga and Brooks are the favorites to start together again but no option Sarachan has is ideal.
To be competitive against England, central defense must step up despite tough circumstances at their respective clubs.
Can Wood continue form?
The United States forward situation is very thin and Sarachan only brought two forwards on the roster: Bobby Wood and Josh Sargent. On Wednesday, Sarachan said Sargent was questionable with an ankle injury. Tim Weah can play central forward but has been playing most on the wing for the U.S team and has not been playing for an uber-talented Paris St. Germain.
That leaves Bobby Wood. In his most recent game for Hannover 96, Wood had perhaps his strongest performance of the season. While he did not score, his hold-up play and passing was superb in a 2-1 win.
If Wood is in-form, it is a tremendous boost to the U.S. team. Much of the forward play this year has involved players who have struggled at the international level or who are simply brand new to the professional ranks. When Wood is playing well, he is the team’s best option.
Last year was rough for Wood at a Hamburg team that had serious and systemic problems. Wood did not play well but the club’s problems were much deeper than him. Hannover acquired Wood because they recognized that he was a good player in a bad situation.
If Wood is back to playing up to his capabilities, the U.S. team can be effective in scoring goals. Combined with Pulisic and an in-form midfield contingent, it does offer a first glimpse at the potential future of the U.S. team.