HOUSTON, Tx. — Though it was only an international friendly, the United States men’s national team faced down a South American powerhouse in Chile and earned a 1-1 draw Tuesday evening before a crowd of 18,033 at BBVA Compass Stadium.
The last time the USMNT faced a top CONMEBOL power in Houston, they fell 4-0 to Argentina in the 2016 Copa America Centenario semifinals. Though the stakes were much lower on Tuesday, the team continued to make strides in its reinvention under first-year coach Gregg Berhalter.
The USMNT starting lineup included seven changes from the side that defeated Ecuador 1-0 on Thursday in Orlando — though it was two of the return starters providing the initial one-two punch to get the U.S. on the board in the 4th minute.
Fans were still finding their way into the stadium when Gyasi Zardes took goalkeeper Ethan Horvath’s goal kick past midfield, playing Christian Pulisic in toward goal with a neat first-touch pass. Pulisic drew contact from charging Chilean goalkeeper Gabriel Arias and tumbled, but not before releasing a shot that languidly bounced into the corner of the goal.
Chile answered less than five minutes later, with an unmarked Oscar Opazo received an outlet pass and equalized after the U.S. backline dealt with numbers directly in front of goal. That goal firmly setting the tone for a high-energy, up-and-down first half with chances for both teams. One of the few pauses in the action was a troubling one for U.S. fans, as Pulisic went off with a right quadricep injury in the 36th minute, replaced by LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget.
The second half — played at a more deliberate pace than the frenetic first half — started with Chile dominating possession. Zardes had two chances to put the USMNT ahead against the run of play, on a 55th-minute shot that floated over the bar, and on a 60th-minute cross that tantalizingly skipped past him in front of goal. Chile finished the match with a 2:1 possession advantage over the U.S., with 11 shots to the USMNT’s five.
“Offensively, I thought that we spent a lot of energy in the first half and had a lot of good movement and a lot of quick attacks and I think that cost energy in the team, but it also hurt Chile, it gave them so many problems,” Berhalter said after the game. “I think we made it extremely difficult for [Chile] and I thought we showed the bravery of trying to play through some of their pressure,” Berhalter said.
“It was a very tough game,” observed defender DeAndre Yedlin, adding that when Chile had possession, “they made us really have to defend, but I think everyone dug in deep and we tried to put what we have been working in training into the pitch.”
Berhalter selected three MLS players besides Columbus Crew forward Zardes to feature in the starting XI. Real Salt Lake forward Corey Baird made just his third overall international appearance, and Seattle Sounders midfielder Christian Roldan made his ninth appearance. By contrast, veteran Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley made his 145th appearance for the USMNT.
“I think we can still improve as a team; the system is difficult,” Roldan reflected after the match. “I think that by the time the Gold Cup comes, we’ll have time more to improve as a team and the movements of our midfielders and as a whole.”
Though some of Chile’s highest-profile players didn’t make the trip to Houston, La Roja did feature some significant star power contributing to the reigning South American champions’ recent run of success, including Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Charles Aranguiz, Besiktas defender and perennial captain Gary Medel, Fenerbahce defender Mauricio Isla, and veteran midfielder Arturo Vidal, who recently added Barcelona to a list of Champions League clubs — including Juventus, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen — he’s played for. The only MLS player on the Chile roster, Colorado Rapids forward Diego Rubio, put in a brief sub turn late.