KANSAS CITY, Kan. — For the United States men’s national soccer team, a string of four games this month against a diverse set of opponents presents any number of productive opportunities.
There are moments to workshop collective tactics, moments to evaluate individual players, moments to strengthen the interpersonal bonds that make up the group’s general character.
And then there are moments like Sunday, when the team could face an elite opponent, pull out a measuring stick and plainly take stock of its own quality in the middle of its monthslong preparations for this year’s World Cup.
Providing the test was Uruguay, the 13th-ranked team in the world, and the Americans will be reasonably satisfied with the result: a hard fought, 0-0 draw in an exhibition played before a crowd of 19,569 fans in Kansas City, Kan.
The testing and inquisition and self-reflection will continue in the months to come, though before the game, there did emerge at least one bit of certainty: Wales will be the United States’ first opponent at the World Cup in Qatar after beating Ukraine, 1-0, in a scintillating play-in game earlier in the day in Cardiff, Wales.
In Kansas City, Diego Alonso, the Uruguay coach, rotated his lineup somewhat from the team’s previous game against Mexico. Big names like Federico Valverde and Edinson Cavani (who misfired on an open net in the waning moments of Sunday’s game), for instance, played only the final 30 minutes or so. But La Celeste, as the team is known, still presented a stern, star-studded task for the U.S.
In its traditional sky blue shirt, Uruguay controlled play early, dissecting the American defense with purposeful passing, resulting in a number of nervy, narrow misses. But the U.S. gradually gained a foothold after withstanding that early pressure, threatening Uruguay with a sequence of chances, with right winger Tim Weah in particular providing repeated spurts of danger and creativity in the first half.
“A lot of us are young, and we’re still getting that experience against these high-level teams,” Weah said before the game. “So I feel like playing a team like Uruguay that has a lot of stars is amazing.”
The 15th-ranked United States began its training camp this month with a game against Morocco, ranked 24th. And the team’s next two games this month represent a bit of a drop-off in overall quality: Grenada (170th) on Friday in Austin, Texas, and El Salvador (74th) on the road on June 14.
So the match on Sunday and the Americans’ solid performance — that they emerged from a sparring session with a top team mostly unscathed — will represent an optimistic development for a young team trying to mold itself into a contender.