HomeSportsUSMNT begins 2024 with 1-0 loss to Slovenia in frigid friendly

USMNT begins 2024 with 1-0 loss to Slovenia in frigid friendly

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A young U.S. mens’ national team comprised entirely of players from MLS dropped the program’s first match of 2024, losing 1-0 to Slovenia on Saturday in a friendly in chilly San Antonio, Texas.

Nejc Gradišar scored the only goal of the contest in the first half following a U.S. giveaway:

“Disappointed not to win the game, disappointed not to get any result in the game, obviously,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter told reporters after the match. “But overall, when I’m looking at the stats, it’s a performance that would I think was good enough to get something out of the game.”

Here are a few quick takeaways, plus more post-match reaction from Berhalter.

Play of the game

The match served as an introduction to senior international soccer for the seven starters and four second half substitutes who made their senior debut. A couple of them, right winger Bernard Kamungo and defender Sean Zawadzki, learned the hard way how quickly and ruthlessly mistakes are punished at the highest level of the sport. 

The visitors’ goal came after Kamungo was stripped of the ball by Danijel Šturm along the right touchline. Zawadzki was slow to react to the run of striker Gradišar, who collected a through pass from Šturm and slotted the ball under U.S. keeper Patrick Schulte. And just like that, the Americans were behind against an organized, technical foe.

“The first half was the more difficult half in general because of the opponent,” Berhalter said. “Second half, as they tired, it did open up a little bit. But I think we also just played a little faster.”

Turning point

Gifting the guests an early goal wasn’t part of the plan, and it forced the Americans to chase the game for more than an hour, searching for a leveler that never came. Second half sub John Tolkin had two glorious chances to equalize in the final 10 minutes of regular time, but the fullback sent both of his shots from the left side of the penalty box off-target.

Perhaps the best scoring opportunity the home side got all afternoon came just three minutes after they conceded. 

Aidan Morris started the play by finding Diego Luna just inside the opponent’s half. Luna played a slick one-two with Timmy Tillman, then threaded a beautiful pass between two defenders to Brian White. White squared the pass to Kamungo, but the FC Dallas winger wasn’t able to make up for his earlier miscue (and add another layer to his already inspiring backstory), as visiting backstop Igor Vekič saved the effort with his right foot. Had the shot gone in, the outcome could’ve been very different.

Key stat

Combined with November’s 2-1 CONCACAF Nations League loss in Trinidad and Tobago that closed out the U.S. men’s 2023, Saturday’s defeat marked the first time the USMNT has dropped consecutive games since early in Berhalter’s tenure.

The last time it happened was in 2019, when Mexico beat the Americans in the 2019 Gold Cup final and then did it again in a friendly in New Jersey a couple of months later.

What’s next for the USMNT

With this entire U.S. squad based in MLS, all 23 players will return to their clubs to prepare for the start of the new season next month.

Most if not all of the 12 participants who are age-eligible for the Olympics this summer will be involved in under-23 national team coach Marko Mitrović’s March training camp, the U-23s penultimate gathering before the Paris Games.

“All in all, for them to experience what it is like to play its full senior level is valuable,” Berhalter said of those players, adding that Luna and subs Esmir Bajraktarevic and Jack McGlynn had performed particularly well. “It’s going to help them as they move forward with the Olympic group.”

Meantime, Miles Robinson and maybe one or two more (DeJuan Jones? Shaq Moore?) players from the January roster will likely be with a full-strength senior team that month for the CONCACAF Nations League finals. Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie & Co. face Jamaica in the semis in Arlington, Texas on March 21.

What’s next for Slovenia

Like the hosts, the Slovenians also fielded a mostly domestic-based lineup on Saturday. But several of the players who featured in San Antonio are in the running for spots on coach Matjaž Kek’s roster for June and July’s European Championship in Germany — a competition the entire country is looking forward to. Euro 2024 marks Slovenia’s first major tournament appearance since the 2010 World Cup and first trip back to the Euros since the turn of the millennium.

Before that, Kek’s team hosts Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in a late March friendly.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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