Slovenia 1-0 United States (Jan 20, 2024) Game Analysis – ESPN

The U.S. men’s national team suffered a defeat in its opening match of 2024, as an inexperienced lineup was beaten 1-0 by Slovenia in San Antonio, Texas, on Saturday.

Eleven Americans made their first national team appearances, the most in a match in 36 years, and a mistake by one of those debutants led to Slovenia’s goal.

Twenty-four players made debuts, including 13 for Slovenia. One of those, Nejc Gradisar, scored in the 26th minute after a giveaway by 22-year-old winger Bernard Kamungo. The Americans are winless in their last six games against European nations dating to 2021, including four straight losses.

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“It wasn’t always perfect, but the will was there, the desire was there, the competitiveness was there, and we kept going to the last whistle trying to get the equalizer,” Berhalter told media. “And I really liked that, how they kept their heads up and kept going.

“Overall, when I’m looking at the stats, it’s a performance that I think was good enough to get something out of the game.”

Seven American starters debuted, tying the team’s most since modern records began in 1990. The 11 debuts were one shy of the U.S. high set Aug. 3, 1973, against Poland, and matched Jan. 10, 1988, at Guatemala.

Slovenia scored after Danijel Sturm stripped the ball from Kamungo just short of the center line, dribbled and passed to the 21-year-old Gradisar, who sprinted ahead of defender Sean Zawadzki. With the outside of his right foot, Gradisar slotted the ball past onrushing goalkeeper Patrick Schulte.

All Americans were from Major League Soccer for a match not on a FIFA international date. Europe-based players return when the U.S. faces Jamaica on March 21 in a Concacaf Nations League semifinal.

Following a November defeat at Trinidad and Tobago, the U.S. has lost consecutive games under coach Gregg Berhalter for the first time since a pair of matches against Mexico in 2019. The 12th-ranked U.S. has lost four straight games against European opponents and is winless against Europe since beating Bosnia and Herzegovina in December 2021.

Slovenia goalkeeper Igor Vekic, also making his debut, used his right foot to block Kamungo’s open shot from near the penalty spot in the 30th minute. Second-half sub John Tolkin put a pair of good chances wide in the last 15 minutes.

Seattle Sounders midfielder Josh Atencio was one of 11 debutants for the USMNT against Slovenia.

Carmen Mandato/USSF/Getty Images for USSF

The seven debuting American starters matched the total in last January’s loss to Serbia. Schulte, Zawadzki and Kamungo were joined by midfielders Josh Atencio and Timothy Tillman, winger Diego Luna and forward Brian White.

Jack McGlynn, Duncan McGuire and Esmir Bajraktarevic entered in the 61st minute and Aziel Jackson in the 89th. Bajraktarevic, an 18-year-old winger, showed a spark with his ability to take on opponents.

“It’s very difficult right now to find one v. one players,” Berhalter said. “It’s nice when you see that type of quality.”

Seventy-one players have debuted in Berhalter’s 67 games, the second-highest total under a U.S. coach behind 89 debuts in 148 games with Bruce Arena.

Eleven of the U.S. players are eligible for this year’s Olympics. The men’s soccer tournament is restricted to players under 23 with three wild cards over the limit allowed for each nation.

“I think this is a great opportunity to learn and if you think about 11 guys got their debut tonight, five of the guys who started are Olympic-age eligible,” Berhalter said. “So this is going to be a great learning experience this group, and really happy with the opportunity to do this camp and think we definitely got something out of it looking forward.”

Tillman became part of the 10th set of brothers to play for the U.S.; Malik Tillman debuted in 2022 and has made eight appearances.

Right back Shaq Moore made his first appearance since the 2022 World Cup against Iran and central defender Miles Robinson captained the U.S. for the first time.

After March’s Nations League finals, the U.S. will play host to the Copa America and the best teams from South America this summer.

“Looking forward, it’s competition time,” Berhalter said. “We have trophies on the line this summer with Copa America and this spring with Nations League, and we’re looking forward to getting the entire group together and trying to win our third consecutive Nations League and then have a great showing in Cop America.

“So it’s an exciting six months of soccer coming up for the USMNT.”

Eight starters debuted for 54th-ranked Slovenia, which plays Denmark, Serbia and England in the group stage of the European Championship in June.

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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