Weston McKennie needed little time to make an impact for a U.S. soccer team starting a five-year wait until its next chance to play in the World Cup.
The 19-year-old midfielder from Texas scored 21 minutes into his national team debut, a 1-1 tie against Portugal on Tuesday night at Leiria in the Americans’ first match since failing to qualify for next year’s World Cup.
McKennie, who has played his way into German club Schalke’s lineup this season, took a pass from C.J. Sapong, used three touches to create space from Ricardo Ferreira and then beat Beto to the inside post with a right-footed shot from 12 yards. McKennie joined with 18-year-old midfielder Tyler Adams to become the first pair of teenagers to start together for the Americans since 1988 and became the third-youngest American to score in his debut behind Juan Agudelo (17) and Landon Donovan (18).
“We just want to turn the page and show the U.S. what the future holds,” McKennie said. “This group is full of energy. We went out there from the very first whistle until the end and we fought from beginning to end.”
The U.S. used eight starters 24 or younger in Dave Sarachan’s first match as interim coach, and the missteps of youth were on display against third-ranked Portugal, which rested many regulars.
Ethan Horvath, a 22-year-old goalkeeper making his first appearance since his debut against Cuba in October 2016, allowed Vitorino Antunes’ volley from a flank following Bruno Fernandes’ pass to drop between his arms, through his legs and into the net for a 31st-minute equalizer. Horvath, who plays for Club Brugge, covered his face with his gloved hands.
“Obviously, it’s a big blow for him personally,” Sarachan said. “In a career of a goalkeeper, you’re going to have moments like that.”
Adams made his first U.S. appearance and Cameron Carter-Vickers, a 19-year-old son of former NBA player Howard Carter, became the third debutante when he replaced John Brooks in central defense at the start of the second half. Loaned this season from Tottenham to second-tier Sheffield United, Carter-Vickers put a header off the crossbar in the 55th minute.
“We all want to achieve,” he said. “We haven’t done anything yet in the game so we all want to push on and try and do things and try and win things.”
Adams became a regular this year with the New York Red Bulls.
“Goosebumps,” he said of his debut. “I think that going forward, we have to be patient, but the future is bright.”
Sarachan was the top assistant to Bruce Arena, who quit three days after the 2-1 loss last month in Trinidad that ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight Word Cup appearances. Right back DeAndre Yedlin was the only player from the starting lineup in Port-of-Spain to open against the Portuguese, who also used a mostly young lineup.
Brooks, who missed the last four qualifiers because of a torn thigh muscle, made his first U.S, appearance since June. He headed the ball in the net off a corner kick in the 44th minute, but the goal was called off because of a push away from the ball by 22-year-old defender Matt Miazga, who played in just his fourth national team game.
Eric Lichaj started at left back. Midfielder Danny Williams captained the U.S. for the first time and was in defensive midfield for his first appearance in 13 months. Kellyn Acosta was in central midfield with McKennie, a pairing that goes back to the FC Dallas youth academy. Agudelo and Adams were wide as part of a 4-1-4-1 formation headed by Sapong, who made just his third appearance.
Bill Hamid took over in goal in the second half and tipped Goncalo Paciencia’s shot off the crossbar in the 68th minute.
Josh Sargent, the first American to train with the under-17, under-20 and senior national teams in the same year, did not dress because of a strained right quadriceps.
“2017 obviously was a bitter disappointment with the World Cup, and rightfully so,” Miazga said. “But we have to look forward now. You don’t look back. We can’t dwell on the past. We have to look forward and take responsibility and improve.”