CHESTER, Pa. – For United States fans eager to usher in a new generation of players they hope will take them back to the World Cup after the misery of missing out on Russia 2018, Monday’s 3-0 win here against Bolivia couldn’t have gone much better.
Six Americans made their international debuts. Two of them, 18-year-olds Josh Sargent and Tim Weah – the first players born after 2000 to start for the men’s program – scored. They became the first set of teenagers to find the net in the same game since DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan did it 16 years ago, according to stats guru Paul Carr of True Media Sports. Of course, Beasley and Donovan would go on to play in a combined seven World Cups for the USMNT, helping the U.S. reach the quarterfinals in 2002.
Add in central defender Walker Zimmerman’s first international strike on a header that opened the hosts’ account on Monday, yes, it was a banner night for the newcomers and the better future they represent.
“It’s a really big day for the young guys,” Weah gushed afterward.
“I don’t think anyone expected Tim and Josh to combine like they did up top,” added midfielder Weston McKennie, also 18. “I think they surprised a lot of people.”
That’s true. But with all due respect, the Bolivians really didn’t put up much resistance in this friendly match, which was played in front of a sleepy Memorial Day crowd of just under 12,000 in suburban Philadelphia. In other words, interim coach Dave Sarachan wasn’t exactly throwing the kids into a cauldron here.
“You have to take a lot of variables into account. Certainly the opponent is one,” Sarachan said about fielding such a green starting lineup.
“The way it played out allowed for the opportunity [for the youngsters] to settle in and not be overwhelmed and sort of have a little bit of a comfort level … I thought it would be a good opportunity for them.”
Bigger games await, though, and soon. On Tuesday, this fresh-faced U.S. squad will head to overseas for a far stiffer test on Saturday against Ireland. After that comes another match at mighty France, one of the favorites to win the World Cup this July, which rounds out the three-match exhibition slate.
As many as 10 changes to the roster are expected. But veterans like Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya and Tim Ream won’t be among them. So Sarachan will still be forced to field a highly inexperienced team, one that has tons of work still to do despite their obvious talent and the good vibes floating around after Monday’s contest.
“They’re going to feel good about tonight, but when we go through the tape and I have meetings with guys and we talk, there’s a lot of room to get better,” Sarachan said.
“I thought in the first half we had a number of opportunities to put away some chances and I thought we looked young in terms of patience and quality. And that’s exactly what these games are about. You hope that the next time these players are in those situations … it becomes an experience they can draw on.”
That doesn’t just go for the debutants.
Sargent and Weah have barely featured for European clubs Werder Bremen and Paris Saint-Germain, respectively — Sargent wasn’t eligible to play for Bremen’s first team last season because of his age, and Weah made just two appearances (one start) for PSG — so mistakes and nervous moments were expected. But even more established youngsters like Schalke regular McKennie and Borussia Dortmund standout Christian Pulisic will grow also into better, more complete players if everything goes to plan.
“What you see in many of them is a good starting point, but there’s still a lot of room for each and every player,” Sarachan said. “That goes for Christian all the way through Weston all the way through Josh.”
To their credit, the young guns themselves seem to know that. They’re also aware that the next set of games won’t be nearly as easy.
“Obviously they’re going to be a lot tougher,” said McKennie of the next two tilts. “You can’t compare Bolivia with France.”
Weah’s early nerves were plain to see on Monday. He squandered a good chance in the first half before settling down and finishing Antonee Robinson’s inch-perfect cross in the second.
“Once you get the feel of [playing for the national team], you’re just more comfortable,” Weah said.
“I’m super happy but I don’t want to get too ahead of myself,” he added. “I know there are other games we have to play.
“Tomorrow’s a new day.”
More soccer from Yahoo Sports:
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• McIntyre: Stewart finalizing deal to become USMNT GM
• Pulisic returns to USMNT with spotlight inescapable
• Julian Green: Enigma? Or ‘just a normal guy’?