A U.S. national team with an average age just over 22 shocked World Cup contender France by earning a 1-1 tie in Lyon in Les Bleus’ final tune-up before their Russia 2018 opener versus Australia next week.
The Americans were outshot 19-2, but forward Julian Green took advantage of mistakes by France defender Djibril Sidibe and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to give the visitors a lead just before halftime. And while 19-year-old Kylian Mbappé equalized in the 78th minute, the home team couldn’t find the winner.
Here are five quick takeaways from the match.
1. France didn’t look like a World Cup contender
Look, the last match before the main event is always weird. As much as it’s a dress rehearsal, players are just trying to get through it without picking up a dream-killing injury. Still, this was Didier Deschamps first choice starting lineup, and while Les Bleus had almost 70-percent of possession and forced Zack Steffen to make seven saves, there was an obvious lack of sharpness. That’s not to say this isn’t still one of the few teams on the planet talented enough to lift the World Cup next month. Their group, which also features Denmark and Peru, looks like a cakewalk. But France has a history of being either amazing or of completely self-destructing every four years. After a respectable showing in Brazil in 2014, Saturday’s performance won’t overly reassure France fans that that cycle will be broken this summer.
2. Steffen more than lived up to the billing
The Columbus Crew backstop saw his first U.S. action since March and showed why he was just voted MLS player of the month of May. Steffen, who has made all three of his international appearances this calendar year, was welcomed to the highest level just four minutes in by Paul Pogba’s ferocious blast off the post. But replays showed that Steffen had it covered, and perhaps got a piece of it. After nervously playing a pass out of bounds moments later, Steffen settled in, displaying the presence that has many tipping the 23-year-old as the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 in net during the 2022 World Cup qualifying cycle.
3. Outside backs Moore, Robinson impressed …
It’s no secret that the United States has had a devil of a time producing fullbacks through the years. Had the Americans made the World Cup, the USMNT might have had just one natural outside defender, DeAndre Yedlin, in Russia. So it was interesting that interim U.S. coach Dave Sarachan decided to sit veteran righties Yedlin and Eric Lichaj and their left-footed counterpart Jorge Villafana against Les Bleus and instead look at youngsters Shaq Moore and Antonee Robinson as wingbacks in a 5-3-2 formation. Robinson, 20, is the most promising left back prospect to come along for the U.S. in recent years, and he held his own against the host’s all-world attack. Right back Moore kept French left-siders Blaise Matuidi and Benjamin Mendy in check, and he contributed the cross that lead to Green’s goal.
4. … And so did Tim Parker in the middle
A week after the New York Red Bulls man made his U.S. debut, the 25-year old Parker – the oldest player for the U.S. along with Bobby Wood – got his first start and looked up to challenge. Parker was the best U.S. defender on a long night for the backline, and it wasn’t close. Deployed along with fellow center backs Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga, Parker was everywhere, putting out fires throughout and helping a tiring U.S. team close out the match at the end. He also wasn’t to blame on the goal, which came when Mbappe sneaked behind Carter-Vickers to stab home. Look, Parker might not have the raw talent or the ceiling of highly touted former U-20 World Cup stars Miazga, Carter-Vickers and Erik Palmer-Brown. But with his no nonsense, defend-first style, Parker did nothing but help his chances of being involved with the U.S. when the national team reconvenes in September.
5. Injuries to Giroud, Miazga sully the match
While this was a confidence-building result for the USMNT’s next generation, France’s worst fear was realized when Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud, one of Dechamps most experienced players, left the match along with Miazga after the two clashed heads in the 55th minute. It was an ugly scene; blood poured down the right side of Miazga’s face as he sat waiting for help to arrive, while Giroud, hands on head, lay woozily nearby before being helped off the field. Neither player returned to the match. It’s too early to say how hurt either player is, but the violent nature of the collision was worrying for both men. Miazga, who required 15 stitches to close his wound, will have all summer to recover. But the clock is already ticking for Giroud, with Les Bleus scheduled to open their World Cup campaign in just seven days. Here’s hoping he’s not too badly hurt, and that he doesn’t rush back to action too soon.
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