5 takeaways from USMNT’s friendly loss to Japan originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Friday’s international match against Japan was not so friendly for the US men’s team.
The USMNT fell 2-0 to a team from Japan looking on par as they prepare to battle it out in a tough Group E in Qatar that includes Spain, Germany and Costa Rica.
However, the US was quite the opposite, as its keys to a B Group that includes England, Wales and Iran at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Before the USMNT ignores this loss and prepares for Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, let’s look at five takeaways from the game:
Injuries are taking their toll
If you’re looking at the glass-half-full side of this loss, look no further. The USMNT is enduring a tough run of injury luck lately with key starting caliber players like Antonee Robinson, Yunus Musah, Miles Robinson, Timothy Weah, Chris Richards and more out of the game. When a team faces that problem, it’s hard to replicate the potential quality of a starting 11 when half of that group is out.
That’s not to give coach Gregg Berhalter any excuse: The performance was lackluster and he’ll need to optimize the team he has. But he will have to hope to have the healthiest possible team at his disposal in November.
Attacking in the last third lacked creativity
Christian Pulisic was healthy before kickoff until he took a late hit that knocked him out. Having him available may have helped offer some attacking juice down the left flank, but it’s hard to say given how bad the rest of the team looked.
Giovanni Reyna and Brenden Aaronson came forward to play on the wings, but it’s clear that both are better off as 8 or 10 attackers rather than trying to create from the flank. Japanese and Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu, in particular, closed out several moves as he rotated up the defensive line to play both center-back and right-back.
Jesús Ferreira will have to be more clinical
Starting competition No. 9 is possibly the most important that Berhalter is keeping an eye on before November. While Ferreira is currently the first-choice option, he’ll need to be in great shape to keep that job, especially with Jordan Pefok being excluded from the September squad.
Ferreira finished off a scintillating cross from Sergiño Dest in the opening minutes, as shown above, but parried his header over the crossbar instead of directing it down with Japan goalkeeper Shūichi Gonda caught out of position.
Matt Turner made his case to start in Qatar
Although the USMNT backline often struggled throughout the 90 minutes, Arsenal’s new goalkeeper Matt Turner made several important saves that kept the score from going worse than 2-0.
Turner hasn’t featured much at Arsenal since leaving New England Revolution in the summer transfer window, but Japan had eight shots on target and only two went in. That level of stopping will be vital in Qatar, but dropping Aaron Long could be the way forward for Berhalter. He was one of the starters replaced, and while having a lefty center back is crucial to some coaches’ systems, Mark McKenzie looked much better when he replaced the New York Red Bulls defender.
Overcoming Group B will not be easy
Looking at the Group B teams on paper, it’s fair to argue that the USMNT has the second-best roster when fully healthy. England, of course, are favorites to top the group, while Wales and Iran should be in contention for second place. However, if the US performs like this in Qatar, it’s a safe bet to say they could finish fourth in the group.
Considering that Iran defeated Uruguay 1-0 in their friendly and Wales are close to some European powerhouses, the USMNT is on the wrong track in terms of form as November approaches. The friendly against Saudi Arabia is the team’s last game before taking on Wales to open the group stage, so let’s see if the Americans can steer the ship in the right direction.