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Sunday, May 19, 2024

USMNT loses to Slovenia: Takeaways from the first friendly of 2024

The U.S. men’s national team endured a disappointing start to 2024, with a 1-0 loss to Slovenia in San Antonio, Texas.

Slovenia’s Nejc Gradišar scored the lone goal, with the U.S. shutout despite holding 69% possession and outshooting Slovenia 15-9.

What did we learn?

Well, with a roster filled with players who have minimal realistic chance of becoming regulars in the first-choice pool facing a similarly watered down Slovenian side on a less-than-ideal pitch in January, how much could we really learn?

Structurally, the U.S. played as Berhalter has prefered during his reign as head coach (for better and worse). 

The U.S. controlled play but didn’t create a ton through plodding possession ,and conceded a goal in transition. One interesting note is that they didn’t play with a more defined No. 10, as the first team has in recent times with Gio Reyna in the role, instead opting for three traditional central midfielders in a 4-3-3. Diego Luna played as an inverted left winger with license to drift inside to create, but wasn’t an out-and-out No. 10.

Another disappointment is the starting XI wasn’t as heavy with Olympic-eligible players as it could have been. Five starters (Patrick Schulte, Diego Luna, Josh Atencio, Bernard Kamungo and Aidan Morris) were age-eligible, while the likes of Duncan McGuire, John Tolkin, Jack McGlynn and more were left on the bench to start.

All in all, 11 players made their senior USMNT debut on Saturday. The performance was disappointing, but there was minimal overlap with the first (and even second) group for the USMNT here. 

Which players helped their case for future tournaments

DeJuan Jones started the game at left back, constantly getting forward to overlap Luna, and finished it at right back — getting forward to overlap Esmir Bajraktarevic. He was steady and consistent, with the work rate, stamina and athleticism necessary to fill the endline-to-endline duties asked of a fullback in Berhalter’s system. Being able to play both right and left back is very useful to building a tournament roster. 

Unfortunately for him, the Olympic squad seems set at fullback with Tolkin and Wiley on the left then potentially Bryan Reynolds and Joe Scally on the right. It wouldn’t make a ton of sense to use one of the three overage exceptions on another fullback.

Esmir Bajraktarevic provided an immediate spark after entering the match in the second half. His first involvement of his senior national team debut was nutmegging a Slovenia defender. He was one of the few attackers for Berhalter’s side who was unafraid to take chances and take players on. Bajraktarevic boosted his chances to make the Olympic squad.

Bernard Kamungo was a positive influence for the USMNT before he was replaced by Bajraktarevic. He was lively, dynamic and made an impact, though it didn’t result in creating a goal and made one fatal mistake that sparked the counterattack for Slovenia’s goal. Still, he could be a valuable addition to the Olympic squad even if he doesn’t win a starting spot, because those qualities lend well to an impact substitute. 

Which players may have hurt their case for future tournaments

Shaq Moore hasn’t been in his best form since joining Nashville SC and didn’t do himself any favors in limited minutes at the World Cup. He didn’t impress again on Saturday. With so many options at right back — Sergiño Dest, Scally, DeAndre Yedlin, Reynolds plus if any players from the current U-20/U-23 cycles reveal themselves — Moore is likely to be on the outside looking in for the near future.

Tim Tillman, making his USMNT debut, did little to warrant another call-up anytime soon. He filed a one-time switch from Germany last year and became eligible for the USMNT, but at 25-years-old, he isn’t age-eligible for the Olympics and doesn’t seem likely to be within the conversation for Copa America.

Brian White is another overage player who always had an uphill battle of becoming a regular, didn’t get much of any service to work with and thus was restricted in the impact he could deliver. 

(Photo: Omar Vega/Getty Images)

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