In his final match as U.S. soccer coach, Dave Sarachan gave 20-year-old star Christian Pulisic the captain's arm band for the first time and sent out the youngest lineup since the American team started keeping records.
Matteo Politano scored his first international goal in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time, and Italy beat the United States 1-0 in an exhibition on Tuesday night at Genk, Belgium, as Pulisic became the youngest captain in the modern history of the American team.
Coach Bruce Arena quit after the loss in Trinidad and Tobago in October 2017 that ended the Americans' streak of seven straight World Cup appearances and was replaced on an interim basis by Sarachan, his top assistant.
As the U.S. Soccer Federation restructured under new president Carlos Cordeiro, Sarachan's transition to a younger roster and guided the Americans to three wins, five losses and four ties in 12 exhibitions. Romain Gall, a 23-year-old midfielder, became the 23rd player to make his debut under Sarachan, replacing Pulisic in the 83rd minute.
"Well, it was my last game. I haven't been told that, but it's evident there's going to be a change in the very near future," Sarachan said. "To look back on the games that we played, the players that we've exposed to this level, that we brought forth, I'm certain it's going to pay dividends down the line. So for me I feel as though when the next person comes in, they're going to have a great starting point and that makes me feel good."
New U.S. general manager Earnie Stewart has said a new coach will be hired later this year, and Columbus Crew coach Gregg Berhalter is the favorite. The new coach will take over for a January training camp followed by a pair of friendlies, and his first competitive matches will be next June at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Nine of the 11 U.S. starters were 23 or younger, and the lineup's average age of 22 years, 71 days was an American record low, besting the 22-160 against Bolivia on May 28.
Ethan Horvath, on his home field for Club Brugge, made his first international appearance since January and had five saves before the goal by Politano, a 25-year-old winger playing his second match for the Azzurri. Politano passed to Marco Verratti about 25 yards above the penalty arc and sprinted through the penalty area. Roberto Gagliardini beat defender Aaron Long to Verratti's feed into the area and poked the ball ahead to the onrushing Politano, who cut past Jorge Villafana, touched the ball from his left foot to his right and beat Horvath from 8 yards.
Pulisic was the only holdover in the U.S. starting lineup from last Thursday's 3-0 loss at England. At 20 years, 63 days, Pulisic bettered Landon Donovan, who was 22 years, 220 days when he first captained the Americans in a World Cup qualifier at El Salvador on Oct. 9, 2004, a match regular captain Claudio Reyna missed because of a quadriceps injury.
Before last week, Pulisic had played just once for the U.S. since the defeat at Trinidad, sidelined by minor injuries and taking time off from the national team to concentrate on his club career with Borussia Dortmund in Germany. Pulisic was moved from wide midfield to forward in a 3-5-2 formation against Italy. The new coach will face the issue of where to deploy Pulisic, who usually is wide for Dortmund.
The U.S. finished with three wins, five losses and three draws in 2018, its fewest games in a year since going 1-2 in 1987, all that June at the President's Cup in South Korea. The Americans have one win and three draws in 12 matches against Italy.
Notes: The U.S. will play Costa Rica in an exhibition on Feb. 2 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California.
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