U.S. boss Dave Sarachan saw no 'poor' showings in draw with France
LYON, France -- U.S. caretaker manager Dave Sarachan said he couldn't have scripted Saturday's 1-1 draw with France any better given the experience his young side gained against a team that is widely tipped to be one of the favorites to win the upcoming World Cup.
"The whole idea of programming games like this is to offer young players the opportunities to understand what it's like to play away, in front of a home crowd which was fantastic tonight for the French team, against what I think is a team that can legitimately win this World Cup," Sarachan said.
France dominated almost the entire match, but found itself behind 1-0 thanks to Julian Green's opportunistic strike just before half-time. The home side kept pushing and after a few near misses finally scored an equalizer from Kylian Mbappe. France came close a few more times, but found U.S. goalkeeper Zack Steffen in inspired form.
"There were a couple of moments tonight that were spectacular from his free kick towards the end [to] his save that had to be pushed out wide," said Sarachan about Steffen. "I thought he was outstanding. I think he offers a good calm presence, and goalies are expected to make saves when you have to and he did that tonight."
The competition for the starting goalkeeper spot is as wide open as it has been in decades, and while Sarachan declined to state where each keeper stands, he did admit: "Zack has certainly made a great case for himself."
Sarachan also had praise for his team's defensive effort. The U.S. manager opted for a five-man backline and it largely frustrated France on the night. In particular, center backs Matt Miazga and Tim Parker, performed well, though Miazga had to leave the game in the second half when he sustained a laceration on his head in a collision with Olivier Giroud that required 15 stitches to close.
"Defensively I thought our team did a terrific job in terms of understanding what we were trying to do, the shape throughout the match, the ability to close the match out, which painfully we didn't do it against Ireland," said Sarachan.
"We talked about that. We knew that we would do a lot of defending tonight with the quality of the French team and their players. I thought overall, I can't point out a poor performance."
The play from the midfield trio of Wil Trapp, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams was a little more uneven. The three contributed heavily on the defensive side of the ball, but Sarachan noted he would have liked them to be a bit cleaner in terms of connecting passes.
"I think each one tonight had moments when I thought they were a little shaky with the ball," he said. "But again, I think it's very understandable that when the game gets fast and you have a team like France that has lot of numbers centrally...but I thought they came through it OK.
"Because they understand one another, I thought their movement when they had to cover for one another was consistently good all night. If I had to be critical, I would only say that when these games get real fast, can their feet get a little bit better with the ball. But overall they were very good, very solid."
As for France, the sense is that Les Bleus still have a lot work to do ahead of the World Cup given that it could only tie an inexperienced U.S. side. But Sarachan still believes France will make its mark on the tournament.
"I think this is a team that can win the World Cup," said Sarachan about France. "I think in all their positions they have experience and strong players. They are so dangerous going forward on the counter.
"I'm sure their mentality going into next week is going to be excellent. I'm sure these games are difficult, when you're preparing for a World Cup.
"They don't' have many weaknesses for me. Every team has weaknesses, of course, but they're pretty solid all the way through.
"Scoring goals is always the toughest part in our sport. That will be kind of what's different. If they can bang in some goals they'll have a lot of chances."
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.