EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Building for the future often means navigating through the ups and downs of the present. Such was the case for the U.S. attack in Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Peru.
Caretaker manager Dave Sarachan opted to start three teenagers in offensive positions -- Jonathan Amon, Josh Sargent and Tim Weah -- and each of them showed flashes of the kind of ability that has the U.S. fan base, still emotionally scarred from last year's World Cup qualifying failure, clamoring for more.
Amon, who was making his U.S. debut, showed off his quickness and directness when causing problems for the opposition defense. Sargent scored the only U.S. goal off a set piece but also revealed an eye for the killer pass, while Weah has shown a bit more polish with each outing in a U.S. shirt.
Yet there were also areas that need more refinement. Weah would like to have another crack at a second-half chance that he fired wide of goal; Sargent, for whatever reason, kept dropping deep to help out defensively, especially in the first half, thus robbing his teammates of an outlet when the ball was won; Amon needs to sharpen his decision-making in terms of when to release the ball and when to have a go at goal himself.
Sarachan summarized the night when he said about Amon: "He showed some moments that give you hope and showed you moments that make you realize he's ."
Hope, of course, can be a dangerous thing given its capacity to obscure reality, but it's something the U.S. program is in dire need of at the moment. It's now been over a year since the U.S. had a full-time head coach, though Sarachan has struck the right tone in using his grandfatherly approach with such a young squad. All that's left is to look for any hint of progress, and there were a few thanks to the club environments that the three players find themselves in.
"Being in a professional environment ... your mind has to be a lot quicker and my movements need to be a lot more active," said Sargent, who has been getting steady minutes with Werder Bremen's reserve team. "I can't just stand still."
Sargent showed he's been a quick study in that regard, using some clever touches and fast movements to set up Weah for his aforementioned look at goal. That the two nearly connected isn't a surprise given that they played together last year at the FIFA U-17 World Cup; Weah also has a connection with Amon, having played with him at U-14 level.
But acclimatizing to the international game is an ongoing process, no matter how well you know your teammates.
"It was pretty fast-paced," said the soft-spoken Amon about his debut. "You've just got to get used to it. I've got a taste of it now. Now I know what to expect."
It's up to the rest of the team to maximize the trio's attacking talents, and that was an area where the U.S. struggled for much of the evening. The home side's possession percentage hovered in the low 30s throughout the match. The opening 45 minutes saw the U.S. create just a few half chances and while often having difficulty getting out of its own half.
"I think in the first half, our structure hurt us in a lot of ways because we were winning it deep and now we don't have a lot of outlets to play," said midfielder Wil Trapp. "When we did win the ball higher up the field, now we can get at them."
The U.S. looked better after it switched to a 4-4-2 after halftime, but Peru gradually re-established its dominance and that played a significant role in the result, as La Blanquirroja finally managed to break through for an equalizer through Edison Flores with four minutes to play. In the build-up, the U.S. had a chance to break pressure only for Peru to immediately win the ball back.
"It's small things," Trapp said of the U.S. team's inability to keep the ball. "It's being in the right spaces in a lot of ways. The times we did that, it was effective. The times we didn't do that, we lost the ball. Being calm and being on the same page, that's something we certainly have to work on, but the spaces, turning, playing forward, that's important."
The tests won't get any easier for this group. In fact, a pair of year-end exams loom in November, when the U.S. will face England and Italy on European soil. That squad figures to be heavily skewed toward European-based players, meaning the likes of Amon, Weah and Sargent may get additional opportunities to show off their skills and progress.
"We're still young," said Weah. "A lot of us don't have a lot of professional experience. We're just getting the hang of it. We're just going to get better and better."
Of course, there will be some ups and downs along the way.