TAMPA, Fla. -- One year after the U.S. men's national team was eliminated from qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, U.S. caretaker manager Dave Sarachan said he's been pleased with the progress made in rebuilding the side.
The U.S. will face Colombia in a friendly at Raymond James Stadium on Thursday, followed by Peru at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut five days later. They will be the ninth and 10th matches the U.S. has played under Sarachan since the U.S. was eliminated from World Cup qualifying thanks to a 2-1 defeat to Trinidad & Tobago.
"We've gotten a number of games under our belt with a lot of fresh faces, new faces, young guys that we feel have a real future in this program," Sarachan said at Tuesday's news conference. "I'm pretty proud of this group that, the way they've handled things. It's business as usual; they come in and want to stake a claim.
"We've established a bit of an identity with this particular group. We've been building each and every friendly that we've brought them in. Our starting points have been just a little bit further along each time. That's what teams begin to do. I think looking back on all of these friendlies since Trinidad until now, there's been a progression. It's by no means a finished progression, but it's moving along in a good direction."
In terms of what exactly that identity is, Sarachan feels this group has shown the organization and competitiveness for which the team has long been known.
"The messaging that I and our staff have continually tried to harp on with this young group is to check all those same boxes," he said. "Each and every time, it's still about the honor of wearing this crest, it's still about competing, It's still about trying to win games, it's still about being yourself and showing your personality."
The U.S. will be missing a few of the players that have formed the backbone of the side during Sarachan's tenure. Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie is suffering from a right adductor strain, while back spasms have ruled out New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams. Borussia Dortmund midfielder Christian Pulisic will miss out due to a calf injury.
"Now what I say is the next man up. We would love to have had those guys, but they're not here," said Sarachan. "Now we've got a group of 23 competing to have an opportunity. That's what you do when someone's not here, now it's an opportunity for other players. We've got a few good young candidates that are excited to be here and get the opportunity to get on field and show what they are about."
Colombia figures to offer a difficult test for the U.S., despite the fact that it is also operating under the guidance of an interim manager, in this case Arturo Reyes. But Reyes still has plenty of firepower at his disposal, a group that includes Juventus midfielder Juan Cuadrado, Monaco forward Radamel Falcao, and Bayern Munich midfielder James Rodriguez.
"Obviously they were coming from a World Cup in a very tough part of the world to qualify," said Sarachan about Colombia. "They have a tremendous amount of talent, and their attacking talent is outstanding, and they brought a number of those guys here. I expect [Columbia players are] going to play similar to us in they way that they want prove to their manager that they belong. They'll punish you if you make mistakes, and we have to be really sharp on a day when you're playing a team like Colombia. It's a great test for us."