When is a friendly more than just a friendly? Does USA 1- France 1 qualify? Does it help that the match was the final game for Les Bleus before the World Cup, a tournament that many are picking the French to win?
Does it help that interim manager Dave Sarachan sent out a starting 11 that averaged 7.6 caps, including the France match, and that the group had an average age of 22 years, 183 days? Should we care that this was the second-youngest USMNT starting lineup in the modern era (1990-present), coming in behind the team that began the 3-0 win against Bolivia on May 28 in Philadelphia (22 years, 160 days)?*
Throw in the fact that this callow squad ruined France’s expected feel-good sendoff by refusing to play the role of sacrificial lambs in front of front of a boisterous crowd of 58,241 at Groupama Stadium in Lyon, France and yes, it feels like we must lend this result at least a little bit more credence than the usual friendly.
How much more, then? Dave Sarachan has finished his tenure as caretaker boss, and credit is due Bruce Arena’s longtime right-hand man for playing the youth when the safer option might have been to chase results with vets. Which is to say that these players have impressed a coach who will be gone and the new guy might bring in a whole new crop.
Still, this fresh-faced U.S. team can only benefit from this experience and while we will have to wait and see how many of this group can establish themselves in the national team, several made a case that General Manager Earnie Stewart’s selection for USMNT manager will at least have to consider.
As to the match itself that next American coach will need to work on sharpening up his team’s passing. An early Julian Green giveaway nearly resulted in a Paul Pogba goal, and France dominated possession, leaving the U.S. gasping for air at the final whistle, and needing a pair of great, late saves by Zack Steffan to secure the draw.
Sarchan sent the team out in a five back set with Matt Miazga, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and first-time starter Tim Parker as the center backs, and Antonee Robinson and another debuting starter Shaq Moore, as the wingbacks.
All five defended for their lives, though not without some shaky moments. The wingbacks used their individual speed to get forward on occasion and if Moore, in particular, lost his mark once or twice, the three middlemen covered ably, as did Erik Palmer-Brown when called on to replace a bloodied Miazga.
New York Red Bulls defender Parker showed an excellent ability to read the game and should have earned future national team looks.
Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, and Wil Trapp had a huge task against the talented French midfield and mostly stood up well to the challenge. McKennie is making it clear that he backs down to no one, Adams continues to cover acres of ground, this time in direct competition with N’Golo Kante, the Chelsea star Adams admits to patterning his game on, and Trapp worked hard in providing an outlet for his overworked defense.
With the possession arrow pointed firmly in France’s direction, nominal attackers Julian Green and Bobby Wood spent much time helping out in their own end, although Green took his goal chance well, capitalizing on a defensive error and a poor effort from Hugo Lorris in the French goal.
Wood and Moore set up the opportunity, although Wood finds his international and club career at crossroads as he works out whether to drop to the 2 Bundesliga with Hamburg or to move on.
Finally, a word on the Man of the Match, U.S. goalkeeper Zack Steffan. And that may be a phrase we all need to get used to. The Columbus Crew number one has always possessed the tools to follow in the tradition of Meola, Keller, Freidel, Howard, and Guzan, and when we look back on Saturday’s performance we may remember it as the day that Steffan officially joined that august fraternity.
So, more than a friendly? Yes. How much more? That will depend on how high the numbers inside the parentheses next to the players below can climb.
*Cap numbers of USMNT starting 11 vs France: Bobby Wood (39), Julian Green (10), Matt Miazga (7), Tyler Adams (6), Wil Trapp (5), Cameron Carter-Vickers (5), Weston McKennie (4), Zack Steffen (3), Shaq Moore (2), Tim Parker (2), Antonee Robinson (2)
*via US Soccer
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 0 1
FRA 0 1 1
USA – Julian Green 44th minute
FRA – Kylian Mbappé (Benjamin Pavard) 78
USA: 12-Zack Steffen; 18-Shaq Moore (2-DeAndre Yedlin, 74), 5-Cameron Carter-Vickers, 3-Matt Miazga (14-Erik Palmer-Brown, 57), 21-Tim Parker, 17-Antonee Robinson (19-Jorge Villafaña, 82); 4-Tyler Adams, 20-Wil Trapp (capt.), 6-Weston McKennie; 16-Julian Green (8-Joe Corona, 70), 7-Bobby Wood (13-Josh Sargent, 74)
Substitutes: 1-Bill Hamid, 11-Tim Weah, 15-Eric Lichaj, 23-Rubio Rubin
Head coach: Dave Sarachan
FRA: 1-Hugo Lloris (capt.); 22-Benjamin Mendy (21-Lucas Hernández, 66), 19-Djibril Sidibé (2-Benjamin Pavard, 74), 5-Samuel Umtiti, 4-Raphaël Varane; 13-N’Golo Kante, 14-Blaise Matuidi (12-Corentin Tolisso,58), 6-Paul Pogba; 9-Olivier Giroud (11-Ousmane Dembélé, 58), 7-Antoine Griezmann (18-Nabil Fekir, 69), 10-Kylian Mbappé (8-Thomas Lemar, 87)
Substitutes: 23-Alphonse Areola, 16-Steve Mandanda, 3-Presnel Kimpembe, 15-Steve Nzozi, 17-Adil Rami, 20-Florian Thauvin
Head coach: Didier Deschamps
Stats Summary: USA / FRA
Shots: 2 / 19
Shots on Goal: 1 / 8
Saves: 7 / 0
Corner Kicks: 9 / 2
Fouls: 4 / 14
Offside: 0 / 4
USA – Shaq Moore (caution) 68th minute
USA – Weston McKennie (caution) 79