With this summer’s World Cup reduced to little more than a television event in the United States, the men’s national team took its first tentative steps toward 2022 on Sunday at StubHub Center.
And not surprisingly it tripped, settling for a scoreless tie against an inexperienced team from Bosnia and Herzegovina in a listless friendly witnessed by an announced crowd of 11,161.
Yet, considering the unfamiliar circumstances, some of the players and coaches on the U.S. side came away feeling like they had won.
“It’s unprecedented for us. And for the people in U.S. Soccer,” midfielder Will Trapp, who was given the captain’s armband in only his third international appearance, said of the uncertainty surrounding the national team program. “This was instrumental in identifying players and in getting some minutes under our belts.
“It’s a step in the right direction.”
Off the field, the U.S. Soccer Federation will next month hold its first contested election for the body’s president in 20 years. Then comes the process of picking a coach and laying out a blueprint for the near future.
On the field, the team is still licking its wounds after finishing fifth in the six-team CONCACAF qualifying tournament last fall, leaving it out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986. That leaves the U.S. with no choice but to sacrifice the present for the future.
And that focus was obvious in the roster interim coach Dave Sarachan, a former Galaxy assistant, called in to the 18-day January training camp. Fourteen of the players summoned showed up looking for their first senior cap and 20 of the 29, including teenage midfielder Tyler Adams, who started Sunday, are 24 or younger.
Adams, who plays in MLS for the New York Red Bulls, had an energetic start in his second international game, first tripping over a Bosnian defender and tumbling to the turf, then getting up to nod a header on goal in the first minute.
Less than six minutes later, C.J. Sapong got off a strong right-footed shot from the edge of the box that goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic redirected over the net.
A Sapong header from about 10 yards died in Sehic’s arms late in the first half and early in the second half Jordan Morris pushed a shot just wide of the post.
Morris misplayed another opportunity, in the 80th minute, when defender Daniel Graovac took the ball off his foot as the American was preparing to shoot.
“The soccer was spotty at times,” Sarachan said. “But over the course of a couple of weeks it’s a challenge to put together a team.”
Bosnia and Herzegovina is also a team in transition. It has qualified for only one major international tournament since the united team formed in 1995, in the wake of the Bosnian War, and a generation later it’s still looking for firm footing.
The roster it fielded Sunday was a bit older than the U.S. team but no more experienced, with only two players having more than six national team caps coming in.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s best scoring chance came on a penalty kick that Haris Medunjanin, the oldest and most experienced player on the field, drove low off the left post in the 53rd minute.
Afterward, former Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes was looking at U.S. Soccer’s dirty glass as half full.
“We got a result,” he said of the tie. “We’re moving in a good direction. We’re not even thinking about the past. We’re looking into the future.”