England's young stars thump Christian Pulisic, U.S. in Wayne Rooney's final international
LONDON -- England disposed of the United States 3-0 in an international friendly on Thursday. Goals two minutes apart from Jesse Lingard and Trent Alexander-Arnold put the home side 2-0 up at halftime. Callum Wilson celebrated his international debut with England's third goal toward the end.
Here are three thoughts from the match.
1. U.S. no match for ruthless England
On a night when Wayne Rooney was being honored one final time, the U.S. faced a daunting task against an in-form England side. Yet there were some factors that, at first glance, lessened the talent disparity. First, the U.S. welcomed back Christian Pulisic for the first time since last May and for just the second time in 2018. There was also the fact that with England having a UEFA Nations League game against Croatia in three days' time, manager Gareth Southgate opted to put a starting XI comprised mostly of reserves. The total number of caps in England's lineup was less than Wayne Rooney has by himself.
None of it mattered in the end, though, as the U.S.'s lack of defensive awareness in critical moments, combined with its usual inability to keep possession, showed just how far the U.S. has to go before it can even begin to compete with a top side like England.
Manager Dave Sarachan opted for a 4-4-2 formation, with Wil Trapp and Weston McKennie providing defensive support for the trident of Pulisic, Julian Green and Tim Weah. The absence of Tyler Adams was something of a surprise; the reason given for his exclusion from the starting lineup was that Adams had logged a lot of mileage in recent club matches, but the U.S. missed his tenacity and bite in midfield.
With Fabian Delph allowed to dictate the match uncontested in the center of the park, England dominated from the outset, continually attacking the flanks. The U.S didn't help itself with some poor passing out of the back. One such giveaway from goalkeeper Brad Guzan to Lingard created an opening, but Wilson failed to hit the target. Wilson then had what looked to be a legitimate shout for a penalty waved off a minute later when he appeared to be upended by Guzan as the pair contended for a loose ball.
It took about 13 minutes for the U.S. to even get a toehold into the match and Sarachan's side began to look threatening on the counter. Pulisic had a glorious chance to put the U.S. on top in the 24th minute, running through the England defense only to be denied from close range by England keeper Jordan Pickford.
But England was soon back on the front foot, and two goals in a two-minute span set the Three Lions up for an easy night. Both goals owed themselves to a lack of defensive concentration by wide midfielders: In the 25th minute, Pulisic gave the ball away cheaply; when Trapp went out wide to help out defensively, the Dortmund man's failure to track back and pick up Lingard allowed the England midfielder to set up and curl his shot into the top corner.
Alexander-Arnold doubled the lead two minutes later as he fired Jadon Sancho's pass just inside the far post, with Tim Weah the one who was too slow to react on this occasion.
The U.S. looked more composed in the second half and twice threatened through Pulisic and Bobby Wood, but England were on cruise control. While Rooney entered the match to raucous applause in the 57th minute, it was left to Wilson to cap off his debut in style, volleying home Fabian Delph's cross in the 77th minute.
Ultimately, this was another tough lesson for this U.S. side and while there is no disgrace in losing to a team like England, the lack of defensive sharpness meant the Americans didn't even give themselves a chance. That area will need to be tightened up considerably ahead of Tuesday's friendly against Italy.
2. A mixed bag for Pulisic
Manager Dave Sarachan warned not to expect miracles from Pulisic but it was no surprise that the Dortmund midfielder was at the heart of the U.S. team's best attacking moves.
Had he converted his 24th-minute chance, it might have served to give the U.S. a badly needed dose of confidence. Instead it served as a prelude for perhaps his worst sequence of the night midway through the first half. Not only did the U.S. attacker lose the ball in midfield, but his inability to sense danger and track back allowed Lingard too much space to operate on England's first goal.
Granted, one can argue that Pulisic is in the lineup for his attacking prowess and not to defend. But given his time playing on the wing for his club team, he should have shown more defensive awareness on the play.
That, of course, raises the question as to whether Pulisic should be stationed out wide in the first place, at least when playing for the U.S. national team. The Americans got very little out of Green on the evening and given Adams' versatility, his insertion into a wide role not only would have allowed Pulisic to move centrally but would also have brought some more bite into the lineup. Sarachan did bring Adams on in the 62nd minute but Pulisic stayed out wide.
After Tuesday's friendly against Italy, such questions will be left to the new manager when he's appointed. But Sarachan has one more chance to give it a try.
3. England's depth really made the difference
With so much attention lavished on Rooney, it was easy to overlook the fact that it was an experimental side selected by Southgate. Yet the team looked to be operating with a fair amount of fluidity, especially in the first half. Delph in particular stood out, not only with his ability to control the tempo but to hit the killer pass as well. While the inexperienced defensive pairing of Lewis Dunk and Michael Keane bent at times, it didn't break. And Wilson capped off a hardworking debut with a well-taken third goal.
For his part, Rooney didn't look out of place after coming on in the 57th minute. And why would he? He's been tearing it up in MLS, so his match sharpness gave the hosts an added edge.
The crowd roared in anticipation as he received the ball at the top of the box in the 71st minute, only for his shot to be right at Guzan. He then had a clear look at goal in stoppage time, but Guzan dove low to his right to deny the England legend a storybook ending.