U.S. get big confidence boost from 1-1 draw vs. star-studded France
LYON, France -- The U.S. men's national team played France to a 1-1 draw in an international friendly on Saturday. Julian Green scored just before half-time, but France dominated possession throughout the match and finally found an equalizer through Kylian Mbappe in the 79th minute.
Here are three thoughts from a credible result for the U.S. overall.
1. USMNT nearly pulls off a shocker
On paper, the game set up as a total mismatch. The average age of the U.S. starting lineup checked in at 22 years, 183 days, their second-youngest in the modern era (1990-present). Only the U.S. lineup in the recent friendly against Bolivia was younger -- by just 23 days. Meanwhile, France featured a lineup littered with stars playing at some of the biggest clubs in the world.
Yet the Americans hung tough, and while no one will doubt who the better team is overall, the U.S. by no means embarrassed itself on the night.
The U.S. began the match playing in an unfamiliar 5-3-2 formation, and the hosts were soon overloading the wings, looking threatening in possession. Paul Pogba hit the post in the fifth minute and Olivier Giroud had a free header from a set piece that was right at U.S. keeper Zack Steffen.
The Americans weren't helping themselves, with some sloppy play in midfield that sparked some French counterattacks, but the home side couldn't convert. Antoine Griezmann earned some clear opportunities as the half went on but was unable to find the target. Credit was due to the U.S. defense, which, after looking wobbly early on began to look more organized as the half progressed.
The visitors then took a shock lead just before the break. A cross from Shaq Moore was poorly dealt with by Djibril Sidibe and Green was quick to pounce, firing home past Hugo Lloris at the near post. The goal dismayed the crowd who serenaded the home side with whistles and boos as the half ended.
The U.S. thought it was two goals up just minutes into the second half as Bobby Wood slotted Moore's cross home, but he was called offside, a constant problem for him on the night.
The Americans looked to have suffered a blow when Matt Miazga, who performed well, was forced off after a clash of heads, but Erik Palmer-Brown entered the match and the U.S. still looked solid.
The parade of substitutions didn't do much to alter the match. France still dominated and the only question was whether the U.S. could hold on. Ultimately it couldn't. Substitute Benjamin Pavard found space down the right wing, and with Cameron Carter-Vickers losing his footing, his cross found Mbappe who fired home.
With the dam finally broken, France went for the winner and nearly found it when Nabil Fekir's free kick was headed for goal, only for Steffen to deny him with a superb two-handed save. Steffen continued his fine play in the closing stages, delivering a string of superb saves to preserve the result.
Given that a blowout seemed likely once the team sheets were released prior to the match, this is a result the U.S. will gladly take. Some of its young players gained valuable experience, and better yet, it's of the kind that will increase confidence rather than deflate it.
2. U.S. defense acquits itself well
After playing some version of a 4-1-4-1 for almost the entirety of his tenure, Sarachan trotted out a 5-3-2, with Moore and Antonee Robinson as wing-backs. The U.S. looked overwhelmed early on, and with the midfield slow to provide defensive help out wide, Moore and Robinson looked vulnerable at times. But after about the 15-minute mark, the U.S. was more on the same page, and looked more organized.
Granted, they were bound to concede chances against a team of France's quality, but the U.S. hung tough. Tim Parker and Miazga in particular stood tall, putting out countless fires.
For Miazga, this kind of performance has been building for a while. He has spent the last two years at Dutch side Vitesse and has steadily added more composure to his game. Unfortunately for Miazga, his night ended prematurely when a clash of heads with Giroud forced him to be substituted.
Parker was something of a surprise given that this was just his second international appearance and first start. But he was everywhere on the night, especially in the opening exchanges when the Americans were looking shaky.
Moore, Robinson, Palmer-Brown and Carter-Vickers did their collective bit as well. Moore was even one of the better attacking options on the night, continually testing France left-back Benjamin Mendy.
Finally, honor is due to Steffen as well. The goalkeeping position looks wide open, but given the way he performed on a reasonably big stage, he has taken the lead in the ongoing U.S. goalkeeper battle.
If there was one negative on the night, it was the lack of precision by the U.S. midfield. To be fair, the three-man unit of Wil Trapp, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie defended like demons, but their passing in the middle third was suspect at times, which in turn led to a few counterattacking opportunities for the home side. It's true that the result is encouraging, but the U.S. will ultimately want to contest such matches on more level terms, and that starts with taking better care of the ball.
3. Questions for World Cup-bound France to ponder
Les Bleus had been feeling pretty good about themselves thanks to their two previous results, a 3-1 win over Italy and a 2-0 victory over Ireland that wasn't that close. Have those good vibes evaporated following Saturday night's draw?
On the plus side, France still dominated, and had Griezmann been a bit more clinical on the night, there might have been a few more cheers instead of jeers. But France's World Cup opponents will take note at how vulnerable Les Bleus looked at times on the left side of their defense. Bunkering down just might work if that is what is called for.
Of course, in a week's time, when France opens against Australia, this result will largely be forgotten, especially since it managed to get a draw as opposed to a loss. But in the meantime, it's likely that France's confidence will have taken a minor hit, though that might not be the worst thing. At the least, there will be no reason for overconfidence.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.