The United States Men’s National Team were given another serious pre-World Cup test during their 0-0 draw with Uruguay on Sunday.
Gregg Berhalter is working hard to figure out his strongest team ahead of Qatar 2022 and following a 3-0 win over Morocco in midweek, will have been keen to see how his players match up against such illustrious South American opposition.
On the whole, the USMNT competed well with La Celeste, controlling 54% possession and attempting nine shots to Uruguay’s 12.
Jesus Ferreira had the best chances for the Stars and Stripes, first seeing a powerful shot inside the box denied by Fernando Muslera on 19 minutes before heading over a DeAndre Yedlin cross from close range shortly after.
With Berhalter making a host of changes, the second half largely belonged to Uruguay.
In the 63rd minute, Sean Johnson spectacularly denied Darwin Nunez from close range and then, in the final 10 minutes, a breakaway saw Nunez square the ball to Edinson Cavani, but a deflection off Erik Palmer-Brown was enough to put off the striker who fired wide.
In the end, neither side had the clinical edge to seal the win and both goalkeepers will take the plaudits for pulling off excellent saves to preserve their clean sheets.
Having only received a call-up due to Zack Steffen leaving camp for family reasons, Sean Johnson will have been rather surprised to get the start against Uruguay. Nevertheless, he took full advantage of the opportunity with a couple of spectacular saves to keep the score at 0-0.
The standout moment was his positioning and reactions to deny Nunez from close range, with the Benfica man looking certain to convert Matias Vecino’s perfect cross. NYCFC stopper Johnson was in the right spot to get a shin to the effort, while he didn’t allow the presence of Mathias Olivera between him and Nunez to put him off.
That was one of three saves on the day for Johnson, who commanded his box well and proved why he’s one of the hottest goalkeepers in MLS right now – this shutout was his seventh in a row and eighth in his last nine matches for club and country.
At 33, this was only Johnson’s 10th cap. He’s still an outside bet to make the World Cup roster at all, let alone be the starter. But with performances like this, in the context of his wider form, USMNT supporters at least know they have a reliable option should the likes of Steffen, Matt Turner, and Ethan Horvath all be starved of minutes in the Premier League next season.
“I’ve been waiting some time for this opportunity,” Johnson told reporters after the match. “But I did the best job I could to prepare every single week at my club and then coming in, the transition was easy. The guys in front of me made the job a lot easier today, so I was happy to contribute to the performance and yeah, we’ll always take a clean sheet.”
The goalkeeper added: “There’s quality on both sides of the pitch. So obviously just doing anything I could to help my team on the day, being there when I was called upon.”
Berhalter revealed Johnson has been pushing for a USMNT runout against quality opposition and praised the MLS Cup winner for his reaction to getting the chance.
“Sean Johnson in goal, who has been really asking for a difficult opportunity or a challenging game, and he got his game and he responded,” he said. “I thought he played an excellent game.”
For all Johnson’s heroics, this was a game in which the USMNT did have chances to win but, on the day, their forwards weren’t sharp enough.
“We got the ball into really good positions and then just didn’t take advantage of that,” Berhalter said. “They blocked some crosses. We got some corners. The final pass was a bit off.”
Still, a 0-0 draw against a team ranked 13th in the world, in a game where you’re perhaps a little disappointed not to score a winner, has to be seen as a positive and something to, in Berhalter’s own words, ‘build on’.
“There were moments and we came up a little bit short, but we’ll keep working with these guys,” he added. “It’s just something to build on. That was the whole idea with team performance, individual performances. We wanted guys to set a baseline to now keep improving.”