EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — The metric that may best explain the state of the United States men’s national soccer team is not wins or goals or assists, but a far more unpredictable one: age.
The 10 American field players sent out to face Peru on Tuesday night, for example, had an average age of 21.9. Three were still teenagers. Three of the starters were making their first appearance for the team. Another was making his second.
So when that young team marched off 90-plus minutes later with a 1-1 tie against Peru, which arrived with more than half the players who had represented the country at this summer’s World Cup, there was reason for U.S. Soccer and its fans to be optimistic. One of those teenagers, after all, the boyish Josh Sargent, had scored the team’s goal.
But like so much around the United States team these days, its promise and its inexperience were on display throughout the match — a collection of bright flashes, clumsy giveaways and positional wanderlust that showed that the American team remained a work in progress.
Take two plays: Sargent’s shot, off a well-rehearsed set-piece, which caromed in off a defender’s knee in the 49th minute, and Peru’s tying goal in the 86th, scored when the substitute DeAndre Yedlin — one of the rare veterans in the United States lineup — fell asleep at the back post and allowed Edison Flores to slip behind him for a tap-in.
In many ways, then, the night was typical for the interim manager Dave Sarachan and his team.
It has been a year of experimenting for the United States men’s national team, which has turned the page on last year’s embarrassing World Cup qualifying failure by trying out dozens of new faces in one exhibition after the next. That inexperience has shown at times, particularly in recent losses to tougher, more experienced squads like Brazil and Colombia.
Sarachan, hired to lead the team for one game but now about to celebrate his one-year anniversary in the post, has tried to see each of the matches as a potential learning experience, a chance to expand the player pool and to indoctrinate new players.
He has talked about establishing connections between players on and off the field, and of teaching them to recognize when to press the pace, and when to have the maturity to slow it down, to control possession, to see out a potential victory like Tuesday’s.
“Part of that,” he had said Monday, “is just getting to know one another.”
Still, some of those miscommunications common in that maturation process were evident on Tuesday: a fizzled chance in the penalty area when a layoff pass surprised its intended recipient; a lead pass played a split-second too late, or a yard too far; a giveaway in midfield, a lapse in concentration, a lost chance at a heartening victory.
Still, Sargent’s goal was a bright moment, even if Yedlin’s lapse was not. This is how it goes for the United States national team these days. Three more players — Reggie Cannon, Aaron Long and Jonathan Amon — made their debuts on Tuesday night. Three more teenagers — Sargent, Timothy Weah and Amon — gained some experience.
Next month, the team will have two more opportunities to show what it can do, and what it should not, when it heads to Europe to play England and Italy. Sarachan may be gone by then, replaced by a permanent coach, but the team will try to continue to progress whether he is along for the trip or not.
“I think the progress from camp to camp and game to game is moving in the right direction,” Sarachan said. “So there’s a lot of hope.”