HANOVER, N.J. – The U.S. men’s national team meets mighty Brazil on Friday in its first match since the 2018 World Cup it failed to qualify for, and a new generation of American players are ready to turn the page.
“We want to put the past behind us. We obviously all know what happened,” said DeAndre Yedlin, the second-youngest player on the U.S. team that advanced to the knockout stages in 2014 and now, at 25, one of the USMNT’s elder statemen. “It’s a clean slate, a fresh start, so we’re excited for that.”
Yedlin is just one of three members of the current 24-man roster with World Cup experience, along with fellow defender John Brooks and winger Julian Green. He’s also one of three who were on the field when the U.S. missed the cut with a loss to tiny Trinidad and Tobago last October. (Paul Arriola and Bobby Wood are the others.)
The transition from wide-eyed youngster to grizzled veteran has been gradual for the holdovers, however. It began a month after that seismic result at T&T, when a promising but inexperienced U.S. squad played reigning European champion Portugal to a 1-1 tie. Ten months later, a new core has been established, with teenagers like Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie forcing their way into interim coach Dave Sarachan’s starting lineup. Both the 19-year-old Adams and McKennie, who just turned 20, figure to start against Neymar and Co. at MetLife Stadium.
But the older players will have an important role to play, too, even if it’s different than the one they occupied in the past.
“When you’re the younger guy, you’re kind of only looking out for yourself,” Yedlin said. “You have to be a bit selfish. When you’re the older guy you have to look out for the younger guys as well. If they’re making mistakes, you have to help them. I think it’s just a different perspective.”
As is the case for the newbies, the likes of Yedlin and Brooks are still learning. They might be relative greybeards on a squad with an average age of 23. In the bigger picture, they haven’t even entered their primes.
“People think of him as an old veteran and he’s really not,” Sarachan said of Brooks before Monday training session. “Part of the maturation process is not only on the field but off. I think he’s really embraced that part of things, being much more integrated with the group.”
Wood, Arriola and Green – who scored in the Round of 16 loss to Belgium at Brazil 2014 – will also be counted on for leadership this cycle, even with older players such as Jozy Altidore and Brad Guzan expected to return before the end of the year. Right now, though, the program belongs to them and the kids.
“This is a group that we’ve kind of established since November,” Sarachan said. “The group has responded. We’ve established now a core of guys who have sort of taken on that responsibility of turning that page and moving forward.”
An almost identical roster held France to a draw on the road on the eve of the World Cup, but the end-of-year slate is almost as formidable. After taking on Brazil, the U.S. will play Mexico next week, followed by matches against Colombia, Peru, England and Italy.
“This is a very ambitious schedule, these six games we have coming up,” Sarachan said when asked when stalwarts like Altidore and Guzan might return. “Experience for young players is invaluable. I do know a lot of the veterans. I know what they can bring. They’re part of the future, but when we get into the meat of things next year. Right now, I think these are important games for these guys.”
There are some risks involved. The U.S. has lost 17 of 18 games versus Brazil all time, getting outscored 39-12 along the way. A full-strength American side was routed 4-1 when they last met three years ago. But a good performance – like the one in June against Les Bleus – can produce benefits for years to come.
“These games build confidence,” said 18-year-old forward Tim Weah. “We didn’t know they were going to win the World Cup, but we played our butts off like it was a final for us, and tied France. It’s something to build on.”
“It’s a good young group that’s hungry,” Yedlin added. “I think everyone’s ready.”
More soccer on Yahoo Sports:
• Why promising U.S. youngster Weah decided to stay at PSG
• Pulisic left off roster for upcoming USMNT friendlies vs. Brazil, Mexico
• McIntyre’s 23 Thoughts: Why Dempsey is the greatest Yank ever
• Bushnell: Dempsey officially announces retirement from pro soccer