Opara, Polster, Steffen make US debuts in 0-0 tie vs Bosnia
CARSON, Calif. (AP) — In previous World Cup years, the United States used its January training camp to evaluate young players for a tournament five months later. This time, the Americans likely don’t have a game that matters until the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Defenders Ike Opara and Matt Polster made their national team debuts along with goalkeeper Zack Steffen as the Americans played a listless 0-0 tie in an exhibition against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday night.
The Americans played their second game since they failed to qualify for the World Cup, and they used an inexperienced roster. Interim coach Dave Sarachan ran the team for the second straight match following the resignation of Bruce Arena, who quit after the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances ended with a 2-1 loss at Trinidad and Tobago in October
This was the last men’s national team match of Sunil Gulati’s 12-year-reign as U.S. Soccer Federation president. Eight candidates are running to succeed him, and the search for a new coach has been put off until after the vote on Feb. 10.
“I think it’s a bright future,” midfielder Gyasi Zardes said. “I’m extremely positive. I have positive feedback for all the other players that were a part of this camp and moving forward, we’re moving in a good direction.”
Haris Medunjanin sent a penalty kick off Steffen’s right post in the 53rd minute as the goalkeeper dove the other way, a kick awarded when Walker Zimmerman fouled Luka Menalo just inside the penalty area.
Bill Hamid, who started in goal, made a kick save on Menalo’s shot in the 43rd minute after Tomislav Tomic crossed past Justin Morrow and the ball deflected off Zimmerman.
With the match not on a FIFA international date, nine American starters entered with four or fewer appearances, and Jordan Morris and Zardes were the only national team veterans. Midfielder Wil Trapp captained the U.S. for the first time in just his third appearance and first start.
Morris had the best U.S. chance, taking a pass from Trapp in the 51st and shooting just wide.
“Whether it is a preseason game, like this in a lot of ways, or a qualifier, it matters,” Trapp said.
Opara, a starter at the 2009 Under-20 World Cup, made his debut at age 28 in central defense after earning Major League Soccer’s defender of the year honor in 2017.
“I think I would have been nervous years ago,” Opara said. “But after all kind of what I’ve been through, it’s an opportunity. It’s special and it’s an honor, and honestly (I) don’t let the pressure get to me anymore I don’t think.”
Polster started at right back and, like Opara, played the entire match.
“The objective in this January camp and moving forward is to identify players that you think can make it at this level, that you think can have an impact at this level. As we move forward, it’s always an evaluative process,” Sarachan said.
Steffen replaced Hamid at the start of the second half.
“There wasn’t too much pressure. We just went out there and played and got connected with the guys we play against all year,” Steffen said.
A crowd of just 11,161 was announced for the first U.S. home game since elimination. The Americans have not announced whether they will play in Europe during the March FIFA dates. They have a match tentatively scheduled for June 9 against France in Lyon.
“It’s unprecedented for us, of course, and for most people in U.S. Soccer at the moment,” Trapp said. “But this camp was invaluable in the fact of identifying players, getting much-needed minutes under our belt, and starting to formulate a pool of players that can affect that 2022 roster.”
Bosnia also failed to qualify for the World Cup, and Robert Prosinecki coached for the first time since replacing Mehmed Bazdarevic. Prosinecki, a former Yugoslavia and Croatia star, gave six players their debuts in the starting lineup. Nebraska Omaha sophomore forward Elvir Ibisevic entered in the 83rd minute. He is a cousin of Bosnia forward Vedad Ibisevic and a former member of the U.S. Under-17 team.