EAST HARTFORD, CT -- Three thoughts on the United States men's national team's 1-1 draw with Peru in an international friendly.
1. Late U.S. switch-off costs U.S. victory
U.S. caretaker manager Dave Sarachan rang in nine changes to the lineup that lost 4-2 to Colombia last week, with three players -- left midfielder Jonathan Amon, center-back Aaron Long and right-back Reggie Cannon -- making their international debuts, while left back Ben Sweat made his first start. Conspicuous by his absence from the starting lineup was midfielder Michael Bradley, though he did come on later as a 79th-minute substitute.
Peru made significant alterations as well, with manager Ricardo Gareca making six changes to the side that defeated Chile 3-0 last week.
The U.S. didn't look overwhelmed to start the match, and there were times when the home side looked decent on the ball. But if there was one word to describe the U.S. players on the field in the first half, it would be "raw." Passes just missed their intended targets, while the younger elements of the U.S. lineup could be seen holding on to the ball just a tad too long. The result was some decent approach work, but little in the way of clear opportunities. Overall, cohesion was in short supply.
One such foray in the 15th minute saw Amon break into the clear, only to see his pass just miss Tim Weah at the far post. On another occasion Josh Sargent slipped Kellyn Acosta into the box, only for a heavy touch to kill the threat.
Perhaps taking a page out of Colombia's book, Peru attacked the wings and often looked slick in the buildup, especially when Andy Polo got on the ball out wide, but it wasn't enough to create clear looks at goal.
The home side's sharpness improved to start the second half. Sargent teed up Weah for an opportunity just two minutes in, but the shot swung narrowly wide. The U.S. didn't have to wait much longer to go ahead, though. Amon won a free kick deep on the right wing, and it was left to Sargent to fire home from Acosta's delivery -- and with the help of a deflection -- to put the home side up 1-0.
That inability to keep the ball ultimately cost the U.S. a win, as Peru dominated possession. The visitors nearly equalized in the 75th minute when Polo rattled the bar, before Raul Ruidiaz of the Seattle Sounders headed the rebound narrowly over Brad Guzan's net. But Peru were not to be denied and earned a deserved draw. Polo shook loose on the right wing, and his low pass found Flores at the far post after he evaded the attentions of substitute DeAndre Yedlin.
On the one hand, the U.S. can take heart from the fact that it continues to get some decent results while giving debuts to young players. That said, given how close the U.S. was to securing a victory, this is a tie that will linger in the minds of those involved.
2. Young attacking pieces show potential, but possession issues linger
There is nothing more tantalizing than a young U.S. prospect plying his trade in Europe. The upside seems endless, even if said player is performing in one of the continent's lesser leagues. Reality has a way of intruding, however, and bringing with it more sobering assessments.
Such was the case for the younger elements of the U.S. attack, and in particular Amon. The winger's quickness was evident, and he did well to break into the clear on one first-half opportunity. But it's also clear that his decision-making needs work. There were multiple moments where his decision-making wasn't quite as fine-tuned as it needed to be. Still, Amon is just 19 years old, and his skill set makes him an intriguing prospect. His upside and likely improvement in terms of his speed of play means he is suddenly a player to watch.
Weah again also showed some bright moments, though he needed to be more clinical with his one second-half opportunity.
Sargent seems to keep ticking off the boxes at every level. His ability to link up with teammates was impressive at times, and with better teamwide execution he might have had a couple of assists in addition to his goal. His clever movement off the ball helped him record the game's lone tally. Best of all, he seems to be the kind of striker who can sniff out a goal. Sure, he was the beneficiary of a fortuitous deflection, but his luck was the residue of his aforementioned attributes.
One complaint on the night was the home side's inability to keep the ball for extended stretches. The U.S. team's possession percentage hovered in the low 30s for most of the game, and that weakness saw Peru -- normally a team who does damage on the counter -- pile on the pressure after falling behind. Granted, Peru is a good side with some dangerous attacking pieces, but the U.S. team's inability to control tempo -- even for a little bit -- and give its defense time to rest remains a noticeable weakness.
3. Despite late goal, U.S. defense shows improvement
After being handed a lesson by Colombia's attack, the U.S. was keen to deliver a better defensive effort against Peru. Despite the wholesale changes in the back, the Americans largely delivered, even if the late goal will be cause for disappointment.
Cameron Carter-Vickers and Aaron Long weren't spectacular, but they made the plays they needed to, especially with Peru intent on attacking from wide areas and then delivering crosses into the box. It should give Sarachan -- and whoever gets the job on a permanent basis -- confidence that the center-back position is well stocked.
Debutant Cannon, also had some good moments on the defensive side of the ball as well, and at age 20 has plenty of time to develop and provide long-term cover to presumptive starter Yedlin, despite the Newcastle United man's late mistake here.
But more than anything, the teamwork on defense was the key to keeping Peru at bay until late. Sure, Sweat made some obvious mistakes and didn't look up to the level at times, but his determination to get back and atone for his errors and the fact that he got enough help from his teammates, made sure that Peru's genuine chances were kept to a minimum.