USA HOLD FRANCE TO TIE
The United States ended their series of friendlies on Saturday on a positive note as they held on to tie a World Cup-bound French team in Lyon.
After their defeat to the Republic of Ireland where they threw the game away with a 90th minute goal, the young Americans were looking to bounce back against France and they did just that when they were able to hang on to a 1-1 scoreline, thanks in part to the heroic goalkeeping of Zack Steffen and Julian Green's first-half strike.
On a very warm evening in Lyon, where food and wine are taken seriously, the French fans came out in force to see off their team before they head to Putin-land for the 2018 World Cup. In fact, 58,241 fans (with some Americans in the away section) showed up for what was expected to be, by the French that I spoke to anyway, a French victory.
The first half of the game belonged to the boys in blue and they did just about everything right except for hitting the back of the net. As a matter of fact, at the half-hour mark, the Yanks only had 31% of possession but they made it count when they took the lead just before intermission.
Benjamin Mendy made a nice run up the left side of the field and into the box, with a goal on his mind, in the early minutes. He didn't consider Matt Miazga though who ruined the Man City man's chance and put it out for a corner. It wasn't a good one either, but the French kept the ball and Paul Pogba took a chance, shooting from the top right of the 18-yard box. Steffen dove for it, but it didn't matter because the goalpost was obviously made in America as the woodwork made the save.
Ten minutes in Shaq Moore gave away a free kick on the left side of the box and Antoine Griezmann delivered a fine ball that found Olivier Giroud's head and the Chelsea man out-jumped everybody but the Columbus Crew keeper was in the right place to make the save.
And ten minutes later Griezmann and Giroud tried to create something but it turned to nothing as the American defenders, who coach Dave Sarachan decided to play five in the back, brushed aside this attack by this team that will be heading to Russia in a week or so.
The Atletico Madrid man then tried his luck from a tight angle, but Miazga got a foot on it to see it bypass the face of goal and go out for another French corner. The corner turned into a French throw-in from the other side of the field. This turned into another half chance but it turned into just another wasted effort for Les Bleus.
The Americans gained possession and pushed forward but what became the theme of the first half, they soon gifted the ball back to their gracious hosts.
Kylian Mbappe took a chance in the 26th minute but put it over the crossbar, followed by Giroud getting a sniff at goal that turned into one of the nine French corners on the night. The Chelsea front man took the kick and hit it over everybody, as he rubbed his head in obvious frustration. Although it seemed like a training ground exercise to the one-time winners of the World Cup, they were having no luck in getting the ball past the boys in white. But Paul Pogba took a chance when he managed to get around Green at the top of the area and fired his effort goal-bound. Steffen however, got down fast and low and made the save.
With ten minutes until the half, the French crowd was getting impatient and they let it be known. Just then Antonee Robinson played the ball through for Bobby Wood and although he couldn't reach it, the flag went up anyway. It did, however, show the French that there was a goal threat with the Americans capable of countering while they played with the ball around Steffen's goal.
With about seven minutes before the half, Didier Deschamps team kept pressing, especially Griezmann and Giroud where they got into the 18-yard box and tried to get a clear shot at the target but with so many white shirts in the way, it was cleared but again, straight back to the Frenchmen. Griezmann then pulled the trigger just outside the box and although there was not a marker in sight he hit it wide of the post.
Then it happened. Green had the ball on the right, inside the box and put a move on Samuel Umititi, beating the Barcelona defender and firing past Hugo Lloris. All the Tottenham keeper could do was pick the ball out of the back of his net and shake his head as the Stuttgart man turned to celebrate with his team. The Scottish referee then blew for the intermission.
The second half started in similar fashion to the first, with the home team taking the ball by the neck and charging downfield. In the final third, Mbappe passed to Pogba, who gave it to the G-Mann, who shot again. The shot was poor, as most of his first-half shots were.
Again, a small section of the stadium where the USA fans were tucked away came alive with roars and cheers when Bobby Wood rippled the net. The linesman's flag, unfortunately, came up telling the Hamburger SV man that, no, you did not score a goal thus saving Lloris from further embarrassment against the 25-year-old Yank.
Even with 40 minutes left on the clock, you could feel the tension in the French. The fans were not very happy when their team played too many passes in their own half. The action did continue but this time it wasn't a pretty sight. Pogba won a corner. Griezmann took the corner. This time it wasn't half bad and came down in the middle of the box as Steffen struggled to get to it. Miazga did however, but so did Giroud. A clash of heads ensued and both men fell to the ground. The blood poured from their heads and both were substituted. Coach Sarachan later said in the press conference that the New Jersey native required 15 stitches. Eric Palmer-Brown came on for him to shore up the defense and earn his second cap.
And so the game continued as it was. France attacked. The USA defended. A Pogba shot was denied by the foot of Cameron Carter-Vickers and then France continued with substitutions, bringing on fresh legs.
Just over an hour gone and a rare American chance as Robinson shot from a decent angle but the Spurs keeper tipped it over the bar for an even rarer American corner kick. They had just two the entire game.
Steffen was again called into action when he snatched Pogba's curling shot. The French then won a free kick about 14 yards out to the left of the box when Griezmann tried to go around Shaq Moore, so the man who also plies his trade in Spain pulled him down and was flashed the yellow card. Mbappe took it and took it well but too much curl made sure it cleared the far post. This was followed by the best move of the game. In the 69th minute, Deschamps put Nabil Fekir on the field for the hapless Griezmann. It doesn't happen often, but Griezmann had a really bad day at the office.
U.S. captain Will Trapp brought down Pogba and the Man United midfielder took his own free kick from about 22 yards out and struck it into the white wall that was the steadfast American defenders. A few minutes later Pogba should have been shown a yellow card when, after Joe Corona stole the ball from him, he was brought down hard for his effort.
With a dozen minutes left on the clock, it finally happened. Second half substitute Benjamin Pavard picked out Mbappe in the box and the PSG man didn't miss from short range. The crowd went wild and the French smelled victory.
It wasn't to be. Although the onslaught continued, the Americans remained determined. A double save by Steffen put the icing on the cake and the Americans were going to fly home with their heads held high against a team that will be looking to add another World Cup championship to their trophy case.
Yanks Abroad first headed to the press conference to get Coach Sarachan's take on the game.
"This game, for this group of players, you couldn't have scripted it any better. The whole idea of programming games like this is to offer young players opportunities to understand what its like to play away in front of a home crowd, which was fantastic tonight for the French team, what I think is a team that legitimately could win this World Cup," said Sarachan.
Referring to the way the Americans defended tonight, he was full of praise for his team.
"Defensively, I thought we did a terrific job in terms of what we're trying to do with the shape of the match and the ability to close the match out which, painfully we didn't do against Ireland. We knew that we would do a lot of defending tonight with the quality of the French team and their players. Those are tough games and Zack Steffen was fantastic."
Afterward, Steffen gave his take on the game.
"It was crazy (out there tonight). The atmosphere was amazing. The guys in front of me put everything out there that they had. I'm really proud of how they played. It's a good result against a world class team and it was a lot of fun."
He then commented on having five defenders in front of him.
"It was a different formation and I think we adjusted to it well from the Ireland game. I think the guys' movement was good and we were pretty connected at times, most of the time."
Regarding his night and the saves he was called upon to make, the Crew man continued.
"The guys did their part and so when it was time to step up I knew that I had to do my part. I'm happy that I was able to come up with a couple saves for the team."
While the French team heads off to Russia, the American players will have a summer vacation or return to their MLS teams. All they can do now is enjoy the World Cup on their television sets and wait to see who will be appointed as their new head coach, as the rebuilding continues.
The result was a very good one for the Americans as they look to build a team that will be able to compete at the highest level.