The United States got a bit of a reality check in its 2-1 defeat to the Republic of Ireland. That isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Granted, there were reasons to be disappointed at the result. The U.S. actually took the lead in first-half stoppage time on a real poacher's goal from Bobby Wood. That the U.S. failed to build on that advantage, or at least manage the scoreline better is cause for a furrowed brow or two.
But in many ways, this match served its purpose, if for no other reason that to temper expectations a bit, and paint a sharper picture of where exactly the players on the current roster stand, even as they gained more experience. Certainly after the 3-0 cakewalk over Bolivia a bit of irrational exuberance ensued, though to be clear it wasn't coming from caretaker manager Dave Sarachan, nor did it emanate from the players. But in the wake of Saturday's defeat it's clear that this group has a ways to go.
On this day it was telling that while there were some moments of impressive play, they were only that -- moments.
There were no real standout individual performances from the match, and there were some critical breakdowns. Bill Hamid will shoulder most of the responsibility for the first goal, having attempted to come out for a cross and not getting anywhere near it. But Alan Judge's game-winner was more down to the collective. The U.S. found itself outnumbered on the right wing, and no player took charge to address the situation. Tyler Adams was the wrong side of James McClean, and sure enough a teammate found McClean with the ball, allowing the Ireland midfielder the freedom to run at Matt Miazga, who bit on the West Brom player's feint. With only Hamid to beat, Judge -- who also was untracked -- intervened and fired home for the winner.
Granted, the parade of substitutions that often accompanies a friendly can compromise defensive organization. In this case it certainly didn't help.
"I think the guys will learn," said midfielder Weston McKennie in the post-match mixed zone. "A lot of the guys play over in Europe anyway so we're learning tactically.
"And the guy's that are playing in MLS are still learning tactically and knowing how to play in these situations, so I think it's OK."
But this was as much about focus as anything, and while the stakes were small, the lesson was still harsh, at least in the context of this game.
"We were playing against a very experienced Irish team and we've just got to learn and stay concentrated for 90 minutes," said Wood.
So this is where this crop of players is right now. Talented? No doubt. Plenty of promise? Yes. That was the case before these last two games, and it's just as true now. But there will be plenty of mistakes along the way. There may even be a heavy defeat or two.
That is what possibly looms next weekend, when the U.S. will take on a France side that is talented enough to win the upcoming World Cup. There will be high-caliber opponents all over the field from Antoine Griezmann to N'Golo Kante to Kylian Mbappe and so on. Staying healthy will be a primary concern for Les Bleus, but there will also be a desire to impress France manager Didier Deschamps.
That makes for a daunting task. The U.S. has acquitted itself reasonably enough by playing its kids be it at home or on the road. Without question it should continue to do so. Just be ready for a rollercoaster ride once the next World Cup cycle begins in earnest.