“Being down, 2-0, at halftime is like being down, 4-0, in a normal game, but we had enough leadership to get something out of the game,” Donovan said. “When I look at this team today, if they have a hiccup early, if Wales scores in the first five minutes, are they able to dig and get something out of the game?”
The current American players have also seemed aware of the pitfalls of youth. In September, after they were humbled by Japan, 2-0, in an exhibition match, Adams suggested they had more to learn. Japan had unsteadied the United States with a high line of pressure, and the Americans were not savvy enough in the moment to adjust.
“Our team is young,” Adams said that night. “I think today we were maybe a little bit naïve.”
At the World Cup, where a single poor performance, even in the group stage, can be the difference between elimination or advancement, that could mean disaster.
That inexperience has some wondering if this World Cup arrived too soon for this particular United States team, if its fans should instead rest their hopes on the 2026 tournament, which will be jointly hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, when this young core of American players will be older, more experienced and, presumably, a bit better.
The players, at least, said they did not have the time to think that way.
“For us, it’s right now,” McKennie said. “For us, it’s to be able to leave our mark and work toward our goal, changing in the way the world views American soccer, and I think that the time is now to be able to do that.”