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Young USMNT squad looks to end heartbreaking 2017 with hope for future

1:07 AM EST 11/14/17
Kellyn Acosta USA Gold Cup
Caretaker coach Dave Sarachan likes what he has seen from his U.S. squad in the team's first camp since failing to qualify for the World Cup

Nothing that happens in Tuesday's friendly between the U.S. national team and Portugal will take away the heartache of the Americans missing out on the 2018 World Cup, but what the U.S. can do is give fans something to feel good about as they endure a long wait for matches that matter.

A promising collection of talented prospects has been called in for the U.S., and while they all may not play, we should see enough of them to get a taste of what the next generation could have to offer. Players such as Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Matt Miazga, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Ethan Horvath have been considered the next generation for some time, and caretaker U.S. coach Dave Sarachan should have no issue with giving some of them a taste of senior national team soccer.

"We have a number of players who are young, and are still getting acclimated and used to this level, but I can tell you I think what we'll see on Tuesday is a group that has a lot of energy, team spirit and confidence," Sarachan said. "We know we're facing an excellent team in Portugal, and our group, I think, is coming together pretty well. They're getting to know one another, we're getting to know them, and we're excited to see what it looks like on Tuesday."

The Americans will face a Portuguese squad playing without Cristiano Ronaldo, who was left off the roster along with veterans Nani and Ricardo Quaresma. The Portuguese side will still boast plenty of big-name players, including former Real Madrid defender Pepe, Barcelona fullback Nelson Semedo, Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva and Euro 2016 goal-scoring hero Eder.

Even without Ronaldo, that is more than enough firepower to provide a good test for the Americans.

"The ultimate goal for this group that we have here is to get the best experience they can get against good players and a good team," Sarachan said. "Not having Cristiano here, I'm not going to cry over it, but I think our players understand there's still a great challenge ahead."

The match sees the return of John Brooks, who missed the September and October qualifiers because of a thigh injury. He returns to find some competition in central defense. Miazga and Carter-Vickers should be in contention to start alongside Brooks, while Sarachan is more likely to turn to holdovers DeAndre Yedlin and Jorge Villafana at fullback.

The real intrigue exists in central midfield, where a plethora of options fill out the squad. Danny Williams is back with the team after a year away, and he will be battling a trio of talented youngsters for minutes: Kellyn Acosta, along with McKennie and Adams, two highly regarded prospects still in their teens.

Sarachan could chose to deploy a 4-5-1 to take advantage of his midfield options, leaving Juan Agudelo, Dom Dwyer and C.J Sapong to contend for the target striker role. That may be the more prudent approach playing on the road against a Portugal squad with some dangerous attacking weapons.

The friendly should provide a good opportunity for a young goalkeeper to state his case to be the new starter going forward, and Ethan Horvath looks to be the best best for that shot despite some recent struggles with Club Brugge. Horvath is the lone American goalkeeper playing regularly in a European first division, something Bill Hamid will hope to change as he joins Danish side Midtjylland this winter.

Given how many new faces are in the U.S. squad, it is difficult to see there being much cohesion in the group Tuesday, but Sarachan already sounds encouraged by what he saw from the players this week in Portugal.

"What makes this week so special for me personally is the fact that we've assembled a group of players I feel have a bright future, young players that have shown up with no bitterness in their mouth, no chip on their shoulders," Sarachan said. "With a lot enthusiasm, and a lot of energy, and I think in the short term have created great team spirit."