Northern Ireland’s search for a first win during 90 minutes under Ian Baraclough stretched to 10 matches as the USA won a low-key friendly 2-1.
Giovanni Reyna and Christian Pulisic scored for the visitors as the USA moved into a two-goal lead.
NI substitute Niall McGinn pulled a goal back with a superb strike late on.
After losing to Italy on Thursday, Baraclough’s men face Bulgaria in their second World Cup qualifier on Wednesday.
The starting team that welcomes the Bulgarians to Belfast will no doubt be very different to the one that started Sunday’s friendly after Baraclough made 10 changes to side that lost 2-0 in Parma.
Stand-in captain Kyle Lafferty missed a great early chance to open the scoring for the hosts and Shayne Lavery looked lively up front in his first senior international start, while his replacement Dion Charles twice went close during a confident 30-minute debut.
In a match between two countries facing each other for the first time, the opening goal arrived on the half hour and was a result of the home defence standing off Tim Ream, allowing him far too much time and space to slide a ball inside to Borussia Dortmund’s Reyna.
The teenager struck a low shot that looked like being comfortably saved by Conor Hazard, but it took a wicked deflection off the lunging Ciaron Brown and looped over the stranded Celtic keeper.
Gregg Berhalter’s side doubled their lead in the 59th minute when Daniel Ballard was adjudged to have fouled Pulisic in the box and the Chelsea midfielder got up to casually roll in his penalty.
McGinn, one of a host of players to come off the bench in the second half, pulled one back in the 88th minute when he hammered in an outstanding shot from a difficult angle after a Lafferty lay-off.
Energetic Lavery brings all-action style to international stage
There may have been a few eyebrows raised when his name appeared on the teamsheet ahead of Charles, but Lavery’s ever-willing running up front was the only real positive element for NI in a flat first half.
The in-form Linfield striker was making his first international start and, playing in a front two with captain for the night Kyle Lafferty, he showed the USA defenders what the Irish League already knows – that he will run, run and run some more.
One of those runs led to a shot on goal when, in the 38th minute, the former Everton man was played in nicely by Lafferty and his crisp, angled shot tested Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen who got down well to save to his right.
In contrast, Lavery’s strike partner Lafferty did not have the half he would have hoped for with the armband on, missing a great opportunity early on to end his international goal drought that is now at 23 games.
George Saville won possession and slid a clever ball in that played Lafferty through on goal, but he chose to take the shot on early and dragged his effort wide of the post.
Ballard impresses again as Charles makes impact from bench
Operating in a back three with Conor McLaughlin and Ciaron Brown, Dan Ballard did nothing to diminish his growing reputation as an international player, while Saville imposed himself more in midfield than he has done in recent outings for Northern Ireland.
Ballard’s ability to step up to international football was a plus-point of Baraclough’s first eight games last autumn and he once again showed that he is comfortable playing in a back three that seems to be preferred by the former Under-21 boss.
The Arsenal loanee dived in and gave away the penalty from which the visitors claimed their second goal, but he remained composed throughout, and the fact he was taken off early could suggest that he has a chance of starting against Bulgaria on Wednesday.
Although no doubt disappointed not to have made the starting line up in what is his first experience with the senior Northern Ireland squad, Accrington striker Charles wasted no time in making an impact on the match when he replaced Lavery with half an hour to play.
With one of his first touches on 65 minutes he curled just over after a Lafferty lay-off and, two minutes later, he picked the ball up in the centre circle and made a driving run forward, before unleashing a well-struck shot that was saved by Steffen.
Hazard, winning just his second cap, equipped himself well in the second half, making a good block from Daryl Dike before denying the same player two minutes later with a good save at his near post – an area in which regular keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell has struggled of late.
While the result may not have been top of Baraclough’s priority list for Sunday’s match, his reign could do with the boost of a win soon and it will be interesting to see what lessons – if any – he has learnt ahead of the key qualifier against Bulgaria back at Windsor Park.
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