Takeaways from a young USMNT's entertaining stalemate against Wales

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The United States men’s national team played its first match in 285 days on Thursday, but it will have to wait a little longer to get on the score sheet following a 0-0 draw with Wales in Swansea.

The Americans dominated the game — especially before both teams made a slew of second-half substitutions — and registered almost twice as many shots as the hosts but couldn’t find the breakthrough.

Still, it was an entertaining contest for the USMNT in its first outing since February’s 1-0 win over Costa Rica, the nine-month break a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are three quick thoughts on Thursday’s friendly.

USMNT attacker Giovanni Reyna (right) holds off a challenge from Wales' defender Chris Gunter during Thursday's international friendly in Swansea. (Geoff Caddick/Getty Images)
USMNT attacker Giovanni Reyna (right) holds off a challenge from Wales' defender Chris Gunter during Thursday's international friendly in Swansea. (Geoff Caddick/Getty Images)

No goals? No problem

This was the rare scoreless draw in which the action on the field actually didn’t disappoint. So what if the U.S. was without the services of Christian Pulisic, who left camp Wednesday after failing to recover from a hamstring injury? (Wales rested Gareth Bale, its marquee man, for its two upcoming UEFA Nations League games.) The excitement to see the fourth-youngest U.S. lineup ever — average age 22 years, 48 days —- was still palpable before the first whistle blew.

And the kids looked good. Real good.

“I think we had a ton of quality,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said afterward. “If you add Christian into that game, you look at it, and it looks like a really good team.”

Some of the sharpness was lacking, of course. That wasn’t at all unexpected considering that the full team trained just twice, on Tuesday and Wednesday, beforehand. But the effort and, more encouraging, the willingness to attack made for an entertaining display nonetheless, one in which six Americans earned their first cap.

The U.S. will get a chance to close out 2020 with a win when it takes on CONCACAF rival Panama on Monday in Austria.

Tyler Adams, Sergiño Dest, Weston McKennie were next level

Pulisic isn’t just the Americans’ best player; he’s also their most irreplaceable. But while the U.S. clearly missed the Chelsea attacker’s ability to blow past defenders on the dribble and create scoring chances for himself and his teammates, Adams, Dest and McKennie each had his most impressive performance in a U.S. shirt.

Deployed in his preferred defensive midfield role, Adams, who because of injuries and the pandemic was making his first USMNT appearance since March of 2019, was everywhere. The RB Leipzig man controlled the pace of the match from his deep-lying position.

“I thought he worked hard in that defensive role,” goalkeeper Zack Steffen said of Adams. “He wanted the ball.”

Adams combined well with both right back Dest and two-way central midfielder McKennie, who both repeatedly troubled the Welsh defenders by surging forward into the attack when opportunities presented themselves.

Part that was out of necessity, as the forwards and wingers struggled. But the quality and confidence of this trio, who are all competing in the Champions League this season, was unmistakable, with Dest and McKennie showing some extra swagger in their first national team tilt since their recent high-profile transfers to Barcelona and Juventus, respectively.

“We have guys that are playing with the top players in the world now — Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo. So they’re going to bring their knowledge,” Adams said. “And when they bring that here and continue to help others, that’s a huge bonus for our team.”

A mixed bag for debutants Konrad, Yunus Musah, Giovanni Reyna

Much of the pregame excitement centered on the long-anticipated first appearance of the 17-year-old Reyna, who was scheduled to make his debut against back in March after breaking into the the lineup with Borussia Dortmund before the COVID-19 lockdown postposed Thursday’s contest almost eight months.

Reyna’s chance came Thursday, when he was named in Berhalter’s starting lineup along with fellow teenagers Konrad de la Fuente and Musah. But while Musah, also 17, showed off some flashes of the grit, skill and guile that has won him a spot in La Liga mainstay Valencia’s 11 this season, Reyna struggled to make an impact without Pulisic or a true frontrunner there to open up space for the him in the final third of the field. (That Berhalter deployed LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget as the lone striker didn’t help Reyna, who at Dortmund is accustomed to feeding passes to an all-world goal machine in Erling Haaland.)

“Gio showed some real quality at times, he really did,” Berhalter said. “His defending was a good starting point and overall, [he was] a 17-year-old debuting and he didn’t look like that.”

The New York-born Musah showed real ability, too. He’s still eligible for three other national teams (England, Ghana and Italy), but hear Adams tell it, the youngster is enjoying his time with the USMNT, which would seem to bode well for the chances that he’ll commit to the quickly improving program.

“He’s always smiling and he brings great energy to the environment of the team,” said Adams. “Moving forward, I think that he offers something on the field not everyone can offer. He’s a physical player, he’s quick, he can beat players on the dribble, [he’s] very dynamic. He was dangerous today.”

As for Barcelona reserve Konrad, who prefers to go by his first name only, his rushed first-half miss from close range showed why the 19-year-old has yet to break into Barca’s first team yet — not that there’s a shred of shame in that.

Overall though, for this promising young squad, it was a good night.

“I think we have a very bright future as long as we keep our heads down, stay humble and continue to work,” Steffen said. “As long as we continue to do those things, and continue stick together and stay united and push each other, I’m very excited about what the future holds for us.”

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