The U.S. Men’s National Team ended its annual January Camp on a high note, earning a 1-0 shutout victory against Costa Rica on Feb. 1, 2020 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif.
Here are three takeaways from the match and the month-long camp.
Nearly a Debut Record
With 12 of the 22-man roster uncapped at the senior level, debuts were certain. There was even the potential to match the modern era record of eight, which was set in the USMNT’s 2-0 win against Canada on Sept. 3, 1992.
Ultimately, seven players earned their first USMNT caps in the 1-0 win against Costa Rica, tying last year’s opening match against Panama for the second most all-time.
Goal scorer Uly Llanez, along with Brenden Aaronson, Jesús Ferreira and Sam Vines all started the match – each being 20 years old or younger - while substitutes Mark McKenzie, Brandon Servania and Chase Gasper came off the bench to aid in the 1-0 win.
“It’s a great honor to be part of this program and they’re always going to remember their first game,” USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said after the game. “We trained for four weeks now. We knew the age of our guys and the capability of our guys, and it was nice to see them grow throughout the month. We were very comfortable that they would be able to perform today based on what we have seen the last four weeks.”
Twenty different players have earned their first caps in the 19 matches so far under Berhalter, with 13 of them age-eligible for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
No PK Controversy as Uly Llanez Makes Some History
After Reggie Cannon earned what would be the decisive penalty kick in the 49th minute, a quick discussion occurred between Paul Arriola and Uly Llanez on who would end up taking it. The most experienced played on the field at the time, Arriola had practiced penalties throughout the month-long camp and seemed like the go-to taker, but Berhalter also confirmed after the match that one hadn’t been designated.
When referee Oshane Nation pointed to the penalty spot, Llanez quickly grabbed the ball.
“I wanted to score a goal because I had my family here, and I knew Paul had been here for a long time now,” Llanez said post-game. “I thought he was going to take the ball away from me, but he came up to me and asked, ‘Do you want it?’.
“I was like yeah, I do. I have my family here, I’m confident, I think I’ll score this goal.”
Having tallied in his own debut – a 3-1 win against Puerto Rico on May 22, 2016 – Arriola told Llanez to take the spot kick.
“It’s all about confidence. Of course, I would have loved to take it, but knowing the situation, knowing how great a game he had, the chances he was creating... for him to be a young guy and be able to get a goal in his debut – I know what that’s like – so I let him take it and he did a great job.”
“Give credit to Paul, because he supported Uly in this moment,” Berhalter said about the occurrence. “I think it was a really nice interaction that took place there for the penalty kick.”
Llanez joined Arriola as one of 54 players to tally in their first match with the USMNT. At 18 years and 305 days, he also became the third youngest player to do so, following only Juan Agudelo (17 years, 359 days; Nov. 17, 2010 vs. South Africa) and Josh Sargent (18 years, 102 days; May 28, 2018 vs. Bolivia).
Olympic Qualifying Warmup
With the USA and Costa Rica scheduled to open the 2020 Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship against each other in March, Saturday’s friendly served as a small preview of what should be a pivotal match.
At 23 years, 216 days, the USMNT starting XI was the youngest ever fielded for a January Camp match. The four starting debutants were joined by Reggie Cannon and Jackson Yueill for a total of six players whom are eligible to take part in the tournament. Three more USMNT subs –McKenzie, Servania and Lewis – are also eligible.
Meanwhile, Costa Rica brought five U-23 players off the bench in the second half, with Bernard Alfaro, Luis Diaz, Randall Leal, Cristopher Nuñes and Manfred Ugalde all receiving time, bringing the total number of players that could appear in the Olympic qualifying opener to 14.
Last month, Berhalter confirmed that the Olympic qualifying tournament would be the priority for the MNT program in March, while keeping in mind the fact that clubs don’t have to release players for the tournament. Berhalter has said that senior team regulars who they can get released - players like Cannon and Yueill - are likely to be with the U-23 side as the USA attempts to qualify for its first Summer Olympic tournament since 2008.
“Jason Kreis is the coach of the U-23 team. He’s going to pick the best possible team that’s going to help us qualify for the Olympics,” Berhalter said after the game. “We’re confident in Jason. It was nice to be able to work with these players. With Jason being in camp, it gave him the opportunity to look at these players first-hand, up-close and really work with them and the concepts. I can’t talk specifically about the makeup of the qualifying roster, but I know we’re going to be prepared.”