In the greater scheme of this week, tonight’s friendly was largely irrelevant - a game forced upon Northern Ireland by FIFA to fill a fixtures void.
With a vital World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria just days away, this was a game Ian Baraclough and his team could have done without.
Yet Niall McGinn’s stunning volley to bring Northern Ireland back into the game in the dying minutes, Dion Charles looking threatening on debut, Shayne Lavery’s tigerish effort, Daniel Ballard and Ciaron Brown being stubborn in defence and goalkeeper Conor Hazard not having a save to make until 12 minutes to go made this a worthwhile exercise.
Against a star-studded United States team, used to scoring at will on the international circuit, Northern Ireland’s makeshift outfit held their own.
The men in green were frustrated at the two goals conceded and felt both could have easily been avoided.
Boss Ian Baraclough made 10 changes from the team that started in Parma last Thursday with only Corry Evans remaining in midfield.
Star players Steven Davis and Jonny Evans were kept out of the match squad, delaying the Northern Ireland skipper’s record breaking feat of 126 international caps.
Celtic’s Hazard started his first senior Northern Ireland to earn his second cap, and with Baraclough still employing a 3-5-2 formation, Sunderland’s Conor McLaughlin was joined by inexperienced duo Cardiff City’s Brown and Ballard from Blackpool in the backline.
Matty Kennedy and Shane Ferguson were on the wings, Corry Evans in his usual holding role and George Saville and Jordan Thompson played in the centre of midfield.
Linfield striker Lavery was right at home starting alongside skipper for the night, Northern Ireland favourite Kyle Lafferty.
Coach Gregg Berhalter made four changes from the team that hammered Jamaica 4-1 last week.
There were just two players from the MLS in the starting XI while Barcelona’s Sergino Dest, Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund’s Giovanni Reyna, son of Rangers great Claudio, all retained their places in the side.
In their last four games heading into the game the Stars and Stripes scored 23 goals and conceded just three, however it should be stated, those games were against Panama, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica.
In the opening exchanges the US had plenty of possession, with a lot of the play going through Chelsea’s Pulisic and then on the right Barcelona’s Sergino Dest showed some lovely touches but the Northern Ireland defence were equal to him.
Pulisic set up Antonee Robinson to send in a teasing cross but the ball was marshalled out to safety by the thrown-together Northern Ireland defence.
Lafferty was pumped on his big night, chest stuck out with a fierce determination expressed on the 33 year-old’s face.
The Kesh man pulled rank with Thompson on 10 minutes over a free kick on the edge of the box which was drilled into the wall and then when Saville won possession six minutes later in midfield, the Middlesbrough ace immediately played in Lafferty who raced in but sadly displayed why he hasn’t found the international net in five years, by snatching at his shot.
Hazard hadn’t even made a save when the US received the bounce of the ball to score the go-ahead goal on the half hour mark, although the Northern Ireland defence should have done much better to shut Reyna down.
The teenager was picked out in the red zone by Tim Ream, he brushed off McLaughlin far too easily and then wasn’t closed down with ample space and time to shoot. The Dortmund midfielder fired a shot which deflected off Brown and looped over Hazard who was already committed.
It was the 18 year-old’s second goal for the States in four international appearances.
From a Northern Ireland perspective it was avoidable and it meant the men in green haven’t kept a clean sheet since November 2019 – 11 games ago.
The goal added fresh impetus to the States’ attack but Hazard still wasn’t called upon to make a save.
Lavery, who has scored 19 goals for the Blues this season, was having a decent game on his home turf. He forced Manchester City’s Zach Steffan into his first meaningful save down low to his right and seemed to enjoy playing the running back role barging through the US midfield and defence at every opportunity, winning free kicks and corners for his side.
The US made a couple of changes at the start of the second half giving a debut to 18 year-old Roma defender Bryan Reynolds and bringing on LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget. Dest and Valencia’s Yunus Musah, who only committed his future to the States a few weeks ago, made way.
The US piled on the pressure in the second half but it took a penalty kick for them to double their advantage.
Ballard was adjudged to have brought down dangerman Pulisic in the area by Welsh referee Ian Jenkins just short of the hour mark after the Chelsea front man nicked it past him in the box.
Pulisic stepped up and struck the ball low and hard past Hazard, who still hadn’t made a save.
The goal prompted Baraclough to make a quadruple substitution with Saville, Lavery, Ferguson and Evans all departing and Dion Charles brought on for his debut alongside Ali McCann, Jamal Lewis and Paddy McNair.
It seemed rather harsh on Lavery, who fought gallantly for the cause.
After the US had made their own triple swap, the Accrington Stanley hitman, raw and hungry for action, was just the tonic this Northern Ireland side needed.
Just five minutes after entering the fray, he was fed by Lafferty just outside the box but blazed over the bar and then three minutes later he called Steffan into action when he fired a rocket at goal.
Having hardly had a touch all game, Hazard made three fine saves in six minutes, two from sub Daryl Dike and also Lletget.
Suddenly the game, with two minutes remaining, got very interesting after Niall McGinn scored a stunning volley from an acute angle.
It appeared as though Lafferty, when the ball was played into the box, was going to direct it goalwards but his flick on was met by McGinn who struck it ever so sweetly into the net.
In an effort to find the equaliser, Northern Ireland threw men forward and as the ref was just about to blow for full time, Thompson sent a Hail Mary into the box but a green shirt could not turn the ball goalwards.
Yet another defeat for Northern Ireland and boss Baraclough but with a thrown-together side in operation, it was a commendable display against a side who arrived in Belfast with quality scattered throughout their roster and are on the rise in international football.
Wednesday night against Bulgaria is the priority and the major fucus.
Victory against Bulgaria must be achieved, otherwise World Cup hopes and dreams are over.
Northern Ireland lost out 2-1 to the USA at Windsor Park on Sunday evening as another performance with promising spells went unrewarded, bar a spectacular Marco van Basten-esque consolation from Niall McGinn.