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USA beat Paraguay 1-0 in friendly between World Cup absentees

Bobby Wood slid home a penalty in first half

A very young, very inexperienced USA side beat Paraguay 1-0, in front of almost 10,000 fans in Cary, North Carolina. Bobby Wood converted a first half penalty for the US, for a side that average age was just under 24 years old. Nine starters were 25 years old or younger, and seven starters had five or fewer caps to their name.

Dave Sarachan, continuing his role as interim USA manager, played a 4-1-4-1 formation from the start of the game. In goal was Zack Steffen, and he was joined in the back by DeAndre Yedlin, Matt Miazga, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Jorge Villafana. Wil Trapp captained the team as the deepest midfielder, with Marky Delgado and Tyler Adams playing centrally in front of him. Darlington Nagbe played on the right hand side of the midfield, with Kenny Saief on the left. Wood played up top as a lone striker.

Miguel Almiron was the marquee name for the Paraguay side, a country that just missed out on World Cup qualification in South America. Interim manager Gustavo Morinigo also named a relatively inexperienced squad, as the country looks to build towards the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The US controlled play early on, but had little end product to show for their possession. Their best chance in the opening portion of the first half came in the 16th minute, as Paraguay couldn’t clear out a cross from Villafana. That allowed a second cross from Nagbe, but with Wood and Saief in the same place at the same time, Saief couldn’t get enough on his shot, and it was blocked twice en route to goal.

Paraguay’s best chance of the half came via a set piece in the 26th minute. A free kick from left footed Oscar Romero was well placed, and striker Federico Santander rose up to head the ball towards goal. Steffen was awkwardly backpedaling towards goal, but was still able to make the save on the line, as the header didn’t have enough power on it to truly trouble the keeper.

Wood scored the only goal of the game in the 45th minute, but it was the play from Delgado and Adams that earned the penalty. Adams passed back to Delgado in his own half, but then started to make a run up field. Paraguay, in that moment, was playing with a high line, and Adams streaked right by the defense as Delgado played the ball into space. Adams seemed indecisive in the box, and tried to round keeper Gatito Fernandez. But Fernandez caught Adams, and then guessed the wrong way when Wood stepped up to the spot, and coolly passed the ball into the net for his 11th international goal.

Paraguay then began to make their substitutions in the second half, but surprisingly, Sarachan stuck with his starting 11 for the first 67 minutes. Saief had a free kick saved at the near post in the 66th minute, but then was removed a minute later, making way for Rubio Rubin. That play was preceded by Almiron nearly capitalizing on a mistake in the back from Miazga, but the Atlanta United superstar’s shot was blocked in the box by a sliding Trapp.

Andrija Novakovich, on loan in the second division on the Netherlands, made his USA debut by coming on for Wood in the 77th minute. Tim Weah, son of former Ballon d’Or winner, and current Liberian president George Weah, came on for Delgado in the 86th minute. The two combined for the US’ last chance of the game, as Weah passed into space for Novakovich, who took advantage of Paraguay getting numbers forward. But Novakovich was denied by Fernandez, and his follow up attempt was sent wide of the goal.

Paraguay had one final chance, but Steffen saved a free kick from a sharp angle, and the US got their first victory of the 2018 year, after a draw against Bosnia and Herzegovina back in January.