Friday’s friendly that began uncharacteristically early in the United States proved to be a sobering, and perhaps beneficial, wake-up call for American men.
Greg Berhalter wants his young team to play aggressively and directly, pressing the opponent into fouls and then exploiting quick runs and passes behind the defense. He wants to tilt the field, and for that purpose, he has said repeatedly that he plans to deploy a high tail line in Qatar. It is expected to be in the foreground.
Sometimes, however, the opponent has other plans. Facing an intelligent and energetic Japanese team that refused to allow the United States to establish a foothold or play on their strengths, the Americans collapsed and were easily defeated, 2-0, at Merkur Spiel-Arena in Dusseldorf, Germany. The United States made a series of twists and didn’t hit a single shot on target in their worst performance under Berhalter since losing in a World Cup qualifier in Panama last October. This game featured a highly spinning team playing in excessive humidity. On Friday in Germany, Americans were simply poor.
“I think we ended up hurting ourselves a little bit in the game with silly gifts,” Berhalter told ESPN after the match. “Give Japan a lot of credit. Good team, competitive team, they pressed well. But we can do better.”
During the first half that set the tone for Japan’s dominant win, the Americans lost possession of their half 54 times. This is the largest number since Berhalter took office in 2019. According to TruMedia. Key defenders Walker Zimmermann and Aaron Long, who were the favorites to start in Qatar, were challenged by Japan to organize reinforcements. Both struggled. The midfield was sluggish and unable to maintain possession or move into attack, the front three posed no vertical threat and were largely silent. Striker Jesus Ferreira missed the best chance the United States was able to create by heading a high cross from right-back Serginho Dest over the bar.
“It’s more [a lack of] character in the game. “For some reason I didn’t see a lot of characters in performance tonight,” Berhalter said.
We only have one match left – next Tuesday’s friendly match against Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain. Berhalter plans to unveil their 26-man squad for the World Cup on November 9, and the team will start training in Qatar five days later. The Americans open the World Cup against Wales on November 21.
It’s easy to focus on that match, and the next high-profile mile against England, like the make-or-fail games the US comes up with in November. As modern world football culture is, teams from the dominant continents of Europe and South America will be more fearful and familiar. This is somewhat understandable – only two of the 84 World Cup semi-finalists came from outside these two popular regions. But if anyone associated with the United States thought that undeclared Iran, the opponent in the group stage final, would be an easier outing, Friday’s show should erase that notion. Iran (No. 22) ranked higher than Japan (No. 24), which clearly outperformed the Americans.
Moving beyond the comfort zone of CONCACAF, the United States has to adapt.
“I think the group can achieve something. We just have to see. My biggest concern is that we underestimate the World Cup as we underestimate the first qualifying window. That’s my biggest concern,” Berhalter said. Sports Illustrated this summer.
Perhaps this is the silver lining to the defeat in Düsseldorf: it’s not just the big names who can play. Although the US were missing out on some potential World Cup players – winger Christian Pulisic was left out on Friday with a mild injury in training, while left-back Anthony Robinson, midfielder Younes Moussa and winger Tim Weah were unavailable this month – they did not start Japan XI most experienced either. However, their energy and coordinated pressure were too much for the United States to bear. Long and Zimmerman’s turnovers led to two Samurai Blues in the first 10 minutes, and Japan would score the only goal they needed in the 24th minute after a terrible midfield gift from Weston McKinney. Dest was too far from the striker and couldn’t recover, the central defender stretched towards the ball and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Daichi Kamada was alone on the left side of the penalty area to finish the ball with ease.
“Really disappointing. It was a really competitive match for a friendly, and I kind of wish we had gotten a little more sting right from the start. “I think we’re hurting ourselves in many ways,” US goalkeeper Matt Turner told ESPN. “Maybe they deserve to win this.”
Substitutions changed the look of the game, as it happens in all friendlies, and the Americans got two improved spells in the second half as Josh Sargent and Jordan Morris finally forced the Japanese back a bit. But Brenden Aaronson’s late and hopeful attempt from the top of the box, which sailed high, was the most promising of the looks. Japan scored their deserved second in the 88th minute when substitute Kaoru Mituma, who plays for Brighton & Hove Albion, beat Reggie Cannon and Tyler Adams in a dribble before firing past Turner.
While Friday’s defeat raised troubling questions about how the United States would deal with a decent and skilled opponent who would be proactive, pressured and aggressive, it also helped Berhalter answer one. Despite the two goals, Turner was fantastic. He made six saves, two of which were great, and couldn’t do much on the occasions when he got hit. Up until this point, it seems that the time Arsenal has been training – playing only one match for Arsenal – has not dampened his intensity.
“One day at a time. Stay healthy. Anytime I get the chance to play a game, I play well, I play consistently, and show people the progress I’ve made in my game,” Turner said of his style after a loss. In the 2-3 months I spent at Arsenal. Overall, I just want to show that I’m there to compete. I’m really, really, really proud and grateful for every opportunity I have to represent this country.”
It looks like Turner will start in Qatar, whether the rest of his squad are ready or not.
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