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Match Report

U.S. U-23s Fall to England in Lethargic, Lackluster Effort

Outmanned and unable to make anything happen in the midfield, Andi Herzog's U.S. under-23 team fell to England's U-21 side in a game that revealed the Yanks' offensive shortcomings.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
September 04, 2015
1:30 AM
THE UNITED STATES U-23 men's national team fell to England's under-21 team, 1-0, on Thursday night in Preston, England. The match, one of the team's final friendlies before the start of Olympic Qualifying on October 1, was a plodding, mostly uneventful affair. The Yanks showed some good flashes of play but their weaknesses were definitely exposed. 
Andi Herzog sent his men out in a 4-4-2 formation, with Cody Cropper in goal, Boyd Okwuonu at left back, Eric Miller at right back, and a central defense pairing of Matt Miazga and Shane O’Neill. Will Trapp, Marc Pelosi, Alonso Hernandez, and Emerson Hyndman started in the midfield while Mario Rodriguez paired with Jerome Kiesewetter up top.
The U.S. team started off relatively well and generated a few decent opportunities, the best coming in the 19th minute when Rodriguez came close to scoring but pushed his shot wide. From that point on, however, England took control of the match and Cropper was forced to make a pair of decent saves before halftime.
England resumed its control of the match after intermission and nearly went ahead in the 54th minute when captain James Ward-Prowse hit a swerving 25-yard shot that forced a difficult save from goalkeeper Zack Steffen (who replaced Cropper at the half).
In the 72nd minute England took the lead when Sunderland's Duncan Watmore got on the end of a loose ball in the box and slid a pass to a wide open James Wilson. The Manchester United product poked the ball home with ease for the game's only goal.
All told the U.S. defended well but it struggled to create decent chances. It's worth mentioning that Gareth Southgate's England squad featured a lot of talent, including 14 players with Premier League experience. It's hardly embarrasing to lose to the English U-21s, in England, but the Americans' inability to implement anything resembling a game plan is not a positive sign for this unit.
Andi Herzog's team will now travel 45 minutes southeast to Bury, England, to face Qatar on September 8. Here are three thoughts on the game.

O'Neill and Cropper impressed

While it was a largely lethargic performance for the U.S., Cropper and O'Neill clearly stood out. Cropper made a pair of big saves in the first half to keep the U.S. close and he read the game well and justified why he is likely the first-choice keeper. While Steffen did well in the second half, Cropper had to work hard to keep the game scoreless. 
O'Neill stood tall in central defense, making a series a series of important blocks and interceptions to break up  several dangerous chances for England. After a strong tournament in Toulon, O'Neill looks to be one of the top players on the U-23 team.

Midfield play was non-existent

If there was a major cause for concern, it would be the team's midfield play. Faced with a poised English defense, the U.S. midfielders did not seem to have a clue as to how to break them down. Generally, the creativity and the offensive ideas were not there. Too many passes resulted in turnovers and the American midfielders were on their back foot for most of the game.
Whenever the U.S. team possessed the ball, it seemed like the off-the-ball movement wasn't where it needed to be to open up the game.

Lack of Width Limited the Yanks

It seems to be a problem for U.S. national teams at all levels, but for this U-23 team it was especially glaring: There were no wide options.

The fullbacks didn't create—Boyd Okwuonu had an off night and Eric Miller was strong defensively but offered little going forward. In the midfield, Pelosi and Hernandez looked uncomfortable out wide.
As a result, everything seemed to need to go up the middle for the United States and it was both predictable and easy for England to defend.

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