Cole Bassett's late goal in debut sends US past Bosnia 1-0

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Bosnia and Herzegovina defender Josip Corluka, center, heads the ball over United States defender Brooks Lennon, left, during the first half of an international friendly soccer match, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

CARSON, Calif. – Cole Bassett wrote down his two main goals for the U.S. national team's two-week December camp and left them sitting on his bed so he would see them every day.

“Make my debut, and score a goal,” Bassett recalled.

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The 20-year-old Colorado Rapids midfielder crossed off everything on his Christmas list Saturday night while the Americans wrapped up for the holidays with one last victory and even more optimism for next month.

Bassett scored in the 89th minute of his U.S. debut and the Americans set a record for victories in a calendar year with a 1-0 exhibition win over 10-man Bosnia and Herzegovina on Saturday night.

After a frustrating second half for a U.S. team struggling to crack Bosnia's conservative setup, Bassett slammed home a rebound of a shot by 18-year-old Jonathan Gomez, the former Louisville City defender headed to Real Sociedad. Gomez had also just made his U.S. debut as a second-half substitute.

The newcomers' goal salvaged the Americans’ 17th win of 2021, surpassing the 2013 record.

“JoGo got a good shot off, and I always just try to sniff goals and be in the right spot,” said Bassett, the 57th player to score in his U.S. debut. “I’ve dreamed about this my whole life, to play for the national team. ... For me to finally be here and score in this moment, it’s something special, especially for my family, because they’ve sacrificed a lot to get me here.”

Four Americans made their national team debuts from a U.S. player group consisting almost exclusively of domestic-based talent. Manager Gregg Berhalter staged the camp to keep his players fit for bigger competitions next month while attempting to expand the breadth of his player pool.

After going 17-2-3 (.841) in 2021 for the U.S. team's highest winning percentage ever posted in a year with at least five matches, the Americans begin a string of three World Cup qualifiers Jan. 27 against El Salvador.

“It was fast and furious, but whoever was called up came through,” Berhalter said of the U.S.′ busy 2021 schedule, which included a competitive match in 10 of 12 months. “We’re proud of this group to show their resiliency and keep competing against a compact opponent. ... It wasn’t pretty, but they pulled through.”

Bassett’s late goal put a big finish on the U.S. men’s first appearance since February 2020 at the LA Galaxy’s suburban stadium. The U.S. team is 13-2-3 with 11 shutouts at the venue, currently named Dignity Health Sports Park.

Matt Turner got his ninth shutout, surpassing Kasey Keller's one-year record for U.S. goalkeepers set in 2005. Turner appeared in 13 games this year, the most by a U.S. keeper in his debut year.

Berhalter has now given debuts to 53 players in his 44 games in charge. That’s the third-most newcomers to get a chance under any coach in U.S. history, and Berhalter did it in many fewer games than Bob Bradley or Bruce Arena.

Atlanta United defender Brooks Lennon started against Bosnia in the 24-year-old Arizona native's U.S. debut. In the 78th minute, Bassett and 18-year-old defender Cade Cowell came on for their debuts, and Gomez followed in the 84th minute.

New England’s Henry Kessler also made just his second appearance, while Internacional’s Johnny Cardoso made his third. Roma defender Bryan Reynolds came on in the second half for his second career U.S. appearance.

This raw American lineup struggled to generate a consistent attack against a Bosnian team with eight starters making their first-ever international appearances.

Bosnia already has been eliminated from World Cup qualification, and this exhibition was not in a FIFA window, leaving its federation to field a team of inexperienced players from their top domestic league while international stars like Edin Džeko, Miralem Pjanić, Asmir Begović and Sead Kolašinac stayed in Europe.

U.S. midfielder Kellyn Acosta went down hard in the 40th minute after a hard challenge from behind by Bosnia's Amar Begić, who received a straight red card. Acosta returned to action after a short pause, while the 21-year-old Begić was furious to be tossed from his international debut.

Jordan Morris looked sharp on several attacks early in the Seattle forward’s first U.S. appearance in more than two years, bolstering his chances of getting a roster spot for the next round of World Cup qualifiers. He tore a ligament in his left knee in February while on loan with Swansea. Berhalter said he was “pleasantly surprised” by Morris' entire camp.

Before the game, U.S. Soccer named Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic its male player of the year and Ricardo Pepi its top young player. The 23-year-old Pulisic became the youngest three-time winner of the award, joining Landon Donovan (four), Clint Dempsey and Keller in the three-timers club.


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