My 4 Thoughts on USMNT 1, Wales 1
Late Gareth Bale penalty gives Wales a big point against a U.S. team that will be disappointed it couldn't hold the lead.
DOHA, Qatar — The USMNT tied Wales 1-1 in their opening game of the World Cup on Monday after a 36th-minute goal by Tim Weah was matched by Gareth Bale’s 82nd-minute penalty. Here are my four thoughts on the game:
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• This is going to feel like two points dropped after a mostly positive U.S. performance. It sure looked like the U.S. was going to get a big three points in its World Cup opener as Weah’s goal stood up for nearly 50 minutes, but a misguided challenge by Walker Zimmerman in the box on Bale was whistled for the penalty, and the Welsh superstar (who hadn’t played 90 minutes in forever) converted the spot kick. The U.S. had chances to go up 2-0 at various times in the second half and will regret not executing better in the attacking third on those opportunities. But the truth is Wales performed much better in the second half and started to create some chances of its own. Wales ended up having a slight advantage on expected goals (1.56 to 0.79 if you include the penalty kick). It’s a shame that the U.S. couldn’t get all three points. It would have set up the Americans well to advance from the group. Now this group will be on a knife’s edge as I suspect the U.S. and Wales will continue to duke it out for second place behind an England team that looked great today in a 6-2 win over Iran. That said, there’s no reason the U.S. can’t give England a game on Friday. It’s just now that much more important.
• The Christian Pulisic/Weah combo continues to produce goals in big games. Remember when Weah’s gorgeous cross was hit by Pulisic for the game-winning goal against Mexico at home a year ago? Well, Pulisic returned the favor on Monday in the World Cup, embarking on a gorgeous run through the midfield and laying off a pinpoint pass for Weah to finish with ice-cold composure. We had wondered this week if Weah might get a surprise nod at center-forward considering the U.S.’s struggles at the spot and Weah’s history of playing there at club level. Weah didn’t start as the No. 9 on Monday, but he certainly provided a center-forward’s finish at speed going down the gut. Give credit to Gregg Berhalter for starting Weah ahead of Gio Reyna (who didn’t play at all) or Brenden Aaronson. Both those players can be impact guys, but Weah has a record of producing goals and assists for the national team that those guys don’t have. Weah’s father, the great George Weah, never got to play in a World Cup, so you have to think it was a special moment for the Weah family to see Tim put it in the net.
• The left side of Fulham’s back line looked good in red, white and blue. Berhalter smartly chose to start Tim Ream as his left center-back even though Ream hadn’t even been with the U.S. team in more than a year before this camp. And the 35-year-old Ream made the coach’s trust pay off, showing his usual skill playing the ball out of the back and playing solid defense. There’s a calmness and wisdom about Ream that not many U.S. center-backs possess, and his club familiarity with Fulham teammate Antonee Robinson helped too on Monday. Robinson got forward down the left side on several occasions, and while he didn’t have any truly dangerous crosses you still like seeing him get in the position to deliver them. Overall, the U.S. defense did well except for the penalty, and Matt Turner had a terrific reaction save in the 64th minute on a Ben Davies header on one of the few occasions the U.S. back line let one slip.
• The U.S. men haven’t won many World Cup games over the years, and you realize again how hard it is to get them. World Cup wins haven’t happened often in the modern era for the U.S. men: One in 2014 (Ghana), one in 2010 (Algeria), two in 2002 (Mexico and Portugal) and one in 1994 (Colombia). That’s it. Tonight will feel like a large missed opportunity because three points and a great chance to advance from the group were there to be taken. More than four out of five teams that win their first World Cup game advance to the elimination rounds. Now the challenge will be for the U.S. to shake off the frustration from what could have been in this game and get ready to play England. No England team has ever beaten the U.S. in a World Cup (men’s or women’s), and while it’s a small sample size, the U.S. should go into that game feeling like it can play with any team in the tournament.
What are your thoughts? You can join the discussion in the comments below.