My 3 Thoughts on USMNT-Japan
Japan pressures U.S. into mistakes from the start, dominates in a 2-0 win.
DÜSSELDORF, Germany — The U.S. men’s national team lost to Japan 2-0 in a pre-World Cup friendly on Friday. Here are my three thoughts on the game:
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• The U.S. lost the ball so often it couldn’t start many attacks. Whether it was the starting central defenders (Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman) or the the midfielders (Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Luca de la Torre), the U.S. lost the ball relentlessly from the start under pressure from a not-full-strength Japan team and could rarely even get the ball forward to the creative players in the attack. It was far too sloppy and imprecise from the U.S., and it has got to improve in the next two months before the World Cup. Are Long and Zimmerman good enough ball-playing defenders for the highest level? That’s a question that should be asked from this wake-up call. (And would any of Chris Richards, Tim Ream or John Brooks be an upgrade in that area?) The lack of sharpness in the midfield was surprising, though: Adams and McKennie are usually more reliable on the ball, but they were off too, and it was McKennie’s bad give-away that led to the Japanese opener from Daichi Kamada. (Nor did it help that there was a giant space for Kamada on the right side vacated by an upfield Sergiño Dest after the give-away. It was 1-0 Japan at halftime, and frankly it could have been worse.
• The U.S.’s World Cup opponents will watch these struggles and take note. Wales, England and Iran will see that the U.S. back line can be pressed and give the ball away easily. They will see that Jesús Ferreira doesn’t have the speed to be a vertical deep threat to beat the press over the top. They will see that the central midfield, despite having a 3-vs.-2 advantage against most teams, doesn’t capitalize on that the way it should. They will see that the U.S., which should be a regular threat to score on set-pieces, often doesn’t even get the delivery in the right place. They will see a U.S. team that on Friday was without Christian Pulisic (not rostered due to a knock suffered in training) and Yunus Musah (out injured), another issue on a team that regularly has young important players out with injuries. Pulisic and Musah obviously could have helped against Japan, but the truth was that the ball rarely even got to the positions on the field where they could have been dangerous. Zero shots on goal for the U.S. isn’t a misprint. It’s just the really, really bad truth.
• You really can’t find a spot for Jordan Pefok on this entire 26-man roster? That’s hard to believe in general after Berhalter chose to omit Pefok—who’s been scoring goals for the first-place team in the Bundesliga, Union Berlin—but it’s hard to believe after watching this game, too. The U.S.’s best scoring chance came in the first half when Dest got forward down the right and put the ball on a platter for Ferreira, who was open in front of the goal, but Ferreira headed over the bar. You have to think that Pefok, who has scored several goals with his head this season, would have put that chance away or at least put it on frame. With the lack of an obvious starting choice at the No. 9 position during World Cup qualifying, the U.S. center-forward who’s doing the best at the highest club level should be an obvious choice for a 26-man roster, no matter if he’s not an ideal fit for Berhalter’s system. There will come a time at the World Cup when the U.S. is desperate for a goal, and in those situations you just want someone who can put the ball in the net out there.
What are your thoughts on the game? You can join the discussion in the comments below.
Thanks Grant for the excellent and quick analysis. The main thing I saw lacking which will be vital in two months is passion. I didn’t see any on the pitch and whether it’s a friendly or not, this is where we need to show what we can do.
And I totally agree with you on Pefok being a requirement to the roster. A coach who is so inflexible with a 26-man roster is so disappointing.
It was particularly shocking to see McKennie and Adams play so poorly. They are two of the leaders of this team. For better or worse, their performance sets the tone, just as it did today.