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Slovenia beats US 1-0 in an exhibition that included 24 international debuts

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — On an afternoon of debuts, the result for the United States against a European opponent was familiar.

Eleven Americans made their first national team appearances, the most in a match in 36 years, and a mistake by one of those debutants led to Slovenia's goal in a 1-0 exhibition win Saturday.

Twenty-four players made debuts, including 13 for Slovenia. One of those, Nejc Gradišar, scored in the 26th minute after a giveaway by 22-year-old winger Bernard Kamungo. The Americans are winless in their last six games against European nations dating to 2021, including four straight losses.

“It wasn't always perfect, but the will was there, the desire was there, the competitiveness was there,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “This is going to be a great learning experience for this group.”

Seven American starters debuted, tying the team's most since modern records began in 1990. The 11 debuts were one shy of the U.S. high set Aug. 3, 1973, against Poland, and matched Jan. 10, 1988, at Guatemala.

Slovenia scored after Danijel Šturm stripped the ball from Kamungo just short of the center line, dribbled and passed to the 21-year-old Gradišar, who sprinted ahead of defender Sean Zawadzki. With the outside of his right foot, Gradišar slotted the ball past onrushing goalkeeper Patrick Schulte.

All Americans were from Major League Soccer for a match not on a FIFA international date. Europe-based players return when the U.S. faces Jamaica on March 21 in a CONCACAF Nations League semifinal.

Following a November defeat at Trinidad and Tobago, the 12th-ranked U.S. has lost consecutive games under Berhalter for the first time since a pair of matches against Mexico in 2019.

Slovenia goalkeeper Igor Vekič, also making his debut, used his right foot to block Kamungo’s open shot from near the penalty spot in the 30th minute. Second-half sub John Tolkin put a pair of good chances wide in the last 15 minutes.

The seven debuting American starters matched the total in last January's loss to Serbia. Schulte, Zawadzki and Kamungo were joined by midfielders Josh Atencio and Timmy Tillman, winger Diego Luna and forward Brian White.

Jack McGlynn, Duncan McGuire and Esmir Bajraktarevic entered in the 61st minute and Aziel Jackson in the 89th. Bajraktarevic, an 18-year-old winger, showed a spark with his ability to take on opponents.

“It's very difficult right now to find one v. one players," Berhalter said. “It's nice when you see that type of quality.”

Seventy-one players have debuted in Berhalter's 67 games, the second-highest total under a U.S. coach behind 89 debuts in 148 games with Bruce Arena.

Eleven of the U.S. players, including five starters, are eligible for this year's Olympics. The men's soccer tournament is restricted to players under 23 with three wild cards over the limit allowed for each nation.

Tillman became part of the 10th set of brothers to play for the U.S.; Malik Tillman debuted in 2022 and has made eight appearances.

Right back Shaq Moore made his first appearance since the 2022 World Cup against Iran and central defender Miles Robinson captained the U.S. for the first time.

Eight starters debuted for 54th-ranked Slovenia, which plays Denmark, Serbia and England in the group stage of the European Championship in June.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer