Last-Minute Loss to Ireland Offers Valuable Lessons for Young MNT

The volume continued to rise Saturday at Aviva Stadium as the clock ticked towards full time. Graham Burke’s 57th minute equalizer had whipped the home crowd into a frenzy. With every ball won in the air by the Irish and each attack through the midfield, the decibel level climbed. As the match entered its final minutes, an experienced Ireland squad relentlessly pushed for a late winner.

The U.S. Men’s National Team worked hard and kept the game even during the first 89 minutes in Dublin, but as the fourth official prepared for stoppage time, the Irish attacking surge finally broke through. Buoyed by the crowd, a quick buildup found James McClean inside the box, and after he took a dangerous turn towards the net, Alan Judge hammered it home.

A valiant effort by an MNT side whose average age was just north of 23 years came up just short. As the young roster forges the future for the USA, Saturday night’s defeat at the death served as a valuable lump to take.

“It was a great game for our young guys to learn from,” head coach Dave Sarachan said after the match. “For our young guys tonight, this is what these games are all about - knowing how to manage a game like this on away soil, a tough place to play. Mistakes will punish you against good teams. You’ve got to stay tuned in for 90 minutes. The concentration level has to be there.”

USA-Ireland Average Age Comparison


Starting XI

Players Who Appeared


28 years, 117 days

27 years, 354 days


23 years, 73 days

23 years, 7 days

The MNT’s current European tour was designed to test a youthful player pool against strong overseas opponents in pressure-filled environments. Saturday provided the team’s most-difficult match since its November trip to reigning European champions Portugal, where they secured a 1-1 draw. The last-minute loss in Dublin provided many teaching moments.

“We realized that it’s 90 minutes,” captain Wil Trapp said. “At this level, you don’t defend well, you don’t bring that competition, you get punished. It’s all about continuing to compete, and I thought we lost that, especially in the last 10, 15 minutes, but that’s international football.”

In defeat, the MNT showed flashes of flow and peeks of its potential. Bobby Wood’s 45th minute goal to open the scoring came off a well-executed set piece, but after the half Ireland found the equalizer through a defensive breakdown. The back-and-forth battle produced positives, but also an array of areas on which to improve.

Now one of the MNT’s most seasoned veterans, Wood previously played on another young MNT roster after the 2014 FIFA World Cup. That team suffered a run of devastating last-minute goals. In five of its six games after the tournament, the USA gave up a goal in the 86th minute or later. The stretch included game-winning goals in the 87th minute and second-half stoppage time in matches against Colombia and Denmark, respectively. For Wood, to play a complete game is a lesson that needs to be learned through experience.

“It’s a learning process,” Wood said. “We’re playing against a very experienced Irish team and we’ve just got to learn and stay concentrated for 90 minutes. It’s fun playing with these guys. The only thing that was missing was the result. It’s tough at this level; you need to get used to that, play at that level and stay with it 90 minutes.”

This MNT roster carries an average age of 23 years, 102 days, and while the starting XI took the field at just 23 years, 73 days, Ireland checked in at five years older. Sixteen of the 25 players on the trip in Europe have five caps or less, while three made their first appearance for the USA at Aviva Stadium: Luca de la Torre, Shaq Moore and Tim Parker.

First caps have been frequent for the U.S. under Sarachan. Since November, 18 players have earned their MNT debuts. The head coach has also given 24 players their first MNT invites as he looks to expand the player pool. In just five games at the helm, Sarachan has already deployed 45 different players. Showing a nod to the future, only 11 of them appeared during the Final Round of 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying.

“It’s a moment I’ve waited for a long time. It’s the highest honor,” said Parker, who was up to speed from the moment he replaced Cameron Carter-Vickers in the 61st minute. “I just wanted to do whatever I could to make the team better. It’s tough to play away. We just have to find ways to make it our game, play on our terms. We’re a young team that’s just getting to know each other. We had chances to put the game away; unfortunately, it didn’t fall into our hands.”

After Saturday, every player on the MNT roster has made at least one appearance. While the team will have plenty to review from the last-minute loss, it also has an opportunity to apply some of those lessons as a final test awaits in France against Les Bleus. Lyon’s Groupama Stadium will serve as another raucous host venue against a supremely talented squad that will be one of the favorites heading to the FIFA World Cup in Russia. No matter the result, the game will grant another invaluable learning experience.

“At the end of the day, we made a couple mistakes that led to their goals,” Sarachan said. “That’s hopefully the learning process for these young guys, closing out a game and making sure the little things don’t punish you. They did tonight.

“When I went in the locker room, they were a little bit gutted they didn’t get a result. There’s a lot to say about the French team, but our guys will be excited and ready for the match.”