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Bulls Abroad: Tyler Adams and Aaron Long play full 90 in USMNT loss to Italy

Only losing 1-0 was a victory of sorts for an outclassed USMNT against Italy.

MLS: Toronto FC at New York Red Bulls Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Since they traveled all the way to Europe with the US Men’s National Team, it seemed only fair that Tyler Adams and Aaron Long be given the chance to play for USMNT during this November international window.

Adams got that chance with 28 minutes off the bench in the USA’s 3-0 loss to England at Wembley on November 15. But apparently USMNT head coach Dave Sarachan was mostly saving the New York Red Bulls contingent of his November squad for the following game against Italy in Belgium.

On November 20 in Genk, Adams and Long both started for USMNT.

As the game wore on - and it was a wearing game for a mostly outplayed USMNT - RBNY fans waited for Sarachan to summon Adams and Long to the bench. Both players have a big game on November 25 - against Atlanta United in the first leg of the 2018 MLS Eastern Conference Final - and for some that suggested they deserved to have their legs and pride spared against Italy.

Sarachan clearly disagreed. Adams and Long stayed on the field for the full 90 minutes, fully earning their ninth and second USMNT caps respectively.

Both players were arguably among the better performers for USMNT, though that is faint praise on a day when Italy dominated the game, out-shooting the USA 17-3. The fact it took until stoppage time for the Italians to find the game-winning goal they deserved - through Matteo Politano - was largely down to goalkeeper Evan Horvath taking the opportunity to shine as he backstopped USA’s rearguard effort to stay on level terms.

Italy’s 1-0 win was not undeserved, though Horvath was unfortunate to be denied the clean sheet he seemed to have earned single-handed.

This game was USMNT’s last of 2018 and should be the last of Dave Sarachan’s tenure as the team’s interim head coach. It was match that aptly summed up his stint at the helm of the senior men’s national team: youngest USA starting XI of US Soccer’s modern era (i.e. going back to 1990); youngest USMNT captain of the modern era (Christian Pulisic); Romain Gall’s late entry to the game made him the 20th player to debut for USMNT in 2018 and the 23rd debutant on Sarachan’s watch. And the USA looked a little fragile and short on both ideas and execution - also increasingly characteristic elements for USMNT under Sarachan.

The (presumably) departing head coach did not deliver a particularly memorable year for USMNT on the field. After back-to-back losses in November without even a goal to celebrate, it would appear most USA fans are eager to see the team move on from the Sarachan era. It has largely been a long and frustrating series of seemingly endless tinkering with the squad and starting XI with very little obvious progress toward any sort of meaningful goal.

But Sarachan has clearly been under instruction to get as many young and emerging players as he can familiarized with the national team set-up, all the while keeping the head coach’s seat warm for the next guy.

Over the course of the next year, with a Gold Cup and CONCACAF Nations League ahead, USMNT can be expected to start to form itself around a playing style and group of players on which it will rely for the task of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. And it is likely at least player or two introduced to the national team on Sarachan’s watch will be among those who help USMNT toward what it hopes will be considerably better days than it enjoyed in 2018.

Sarachan may not be thought of too kindly now, but history may ultimately regard him more kindly: an interim head coach whose interim was far too long, but who helped advance the national team careers of some future USMNT heroes.

Doesn’t change the fact he could have let Adams and Long off a little easier in this game, of course.