More than three years after its last trip to Ireland, the U.S. national team is back once again, and the Americans are hoping its current collection of young talent fares much better than the last group to make the trip to the Emerald Isle.
The U.S. suffered a 4-1 loss to Ireland on November 18, 2014 in a match that was as lopsided as the score indicated. Jurgen Klinsmann brought a young squad to Ireland for that match, but he also started nine players who were part of the 2014 World Cup team. What made that shellacking all the more frustrating was the fact that Ireland was also trying out new faces, but it was the Irish team that showed more toughness and quality.
On Saturday, the U.S. will face Ireland once again, and will feature a significantly younger team than the one that lost to Ireland in 2014, with goalkeeper Bill Hamid, midfielder Rubio Rubin and forward Bobby Wood the only current members of the squad to play in the 2014 meeting. An encouraging 3-0 win against Bolivia on Monday provided a confidence boost for the young group, but the Americans are fully aware that Ireland will present a much tougher challenge.
"We know it's going to be a bigger test, and it's going to be tough playing on the road, in front of their fans, so we just have to be ready to fight," U.S. midfielder Weston McKennie told Goal. "That’s what Americans are known for, putting up a fight, and with such a young group here now with so much to prove I think the players will be putting up a fight."
Caretaker coach Dave Sarachan has called in some reinforcements for the friendlies against Ireland and France, which should help against an Ireland team that has its own injection of youth along with a strong nucleus of veterans that includes Shane Long, James McLean and temporary captain John O'Shea, who will be playing in his farewell match for the Ireland squad.
Saturday will mark the sixth time the U.S. has played Ireland in Dublin, with the Irish posting a 5-0 record in the previous meetings. In fact, the Americans haven't beaten Ireland since 1996 — in Boston — which was before several current U.S. players were born.
The Ireland game should provide some clarity on what the current pecking order is at various positions, including goalkeeper, where Bill Hamid and Zack Steffen will challenge for starts in the upcoming friendlies. Hamid is the more experienced option, but he struggled for playing time with Danish champions FC Midtjylland. Steffen is in the midst of another standout season for the Columbus Crew, and showed well in his national team debut in the March win against Paraguay.
Christian Pulisic's absence leaves a void in the playmaker role, one which could be filled in a variety of ways. Sarachan has previously tried playing without a true attacking midfielder, as we saw in the March win against Paraguay, when Wil Trapp, Tyler Adams and Marky Delgado made up the central trio. If Sarachan goes with that approach again, then we could see a trio of Trapp, Adams and McKennie. Another playmaker option is Kenny Saief, who worked on the wing against Paraguay, but can play in a central role.
On the wing, Sarachan will have to consider giving Tim Weah another start after his showing against Bolivia. Rubin and Julian Green are also options, but so is Adams, who can be deployed either centrally or on the right flank. Sarachan could choose to play Adams as a winger against Ireland, and then in central midfield against France's formidable midfield.
At forward, Wood's return to the team should see him earn a start against France, but Andrija Novakovich has earned himself a long look, and he would make a solid option against Ireland. Josh Sargent held his own against Bolivia, scoring in his national team debut, but he seems more likely destined for a substitute's role in the upcoming friendlies.
Defensively, the central defense tandem of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga should be deployed in both upcoming friendlies. Sarachan gave Erik Palmer-Brown and Walker Zimmerman a look against Bolivia, but the Carter-Vickers pairing with Miazga is widely regarded as the future of the position. Tim Parker is enjoying a standout season with the New York Red Bulls, and should also see some minutes.
At fullback, Yedlin and Villafana give the U.S. a pair of veteran options to take on Ireland and France, though Antonee Robinson played very well against Bolivia and may have put himself in position for another look. Levante right back Shaq Moore is back with the squad and is searching for his first cap.