It’s never a good sign when the biggest pro from the United States men’s national team’s Friday debacle full of cons — a 2-0 loss to Japan that doubles as the Yanks’ penultimate FIFA World Cup tune-up — was goalkeeper Matt Turner. The Arsenal summer signee was called into action frequently and made six saves, stopping the game on German soil from turning into a lopsided defeat.
Almost exclusively outside of the play from Turner, which wasn’t perfect but fits in line with the trend of stellar play from American goalkeepers since the turn of the century in World Cup years, it was Japan’s men against the USA’s boys. The Americans didn’t muster a shot on goal for the first time in a year. The best chance came early, a seventh-minute header from Jesus Ferreira that ballooned over the crossbar despite an exemplary cross from Sergino Dest and no Japanese defender getting a hand on him. The USA never had a clear-cut chance at goal. That’s an exhausting 83-plus minutes.
The problems coming out of the loss to Japan don’t concern Christian Pulisic, who didn’t play out of precaution due to an injury he suffered earlier this week. A majority of the rest of the starters and reserves will be in Qatar. USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter’s isolationist policy works at the club level. And it’s starting to become tangible plot holes heading into the tournament where his future at the helm will be determined. I only say those gaps are evident now because the U.S. has the safety net of being far removed from the World Cup, where there was time to fix everything. That’s gone, and it’s the same inconsistent tune from the Americans.
It’s obvious to call out the game against the Blue Samurai as inadequate for advancing to the knockout stage of the World Cup, something the USMNT has done in its last two appearances at the showcase. To me, it’s a bigger indictment to see how boring the Yanks’ style of play was. No enthusiasm, no desire to take risks and test the Japanese defense, and no creativity. Berhalter at least did something to try and quell his team’s monotonous nature with four subs to start the second half. And after a few minutes of pressure near Japan’s goal, it went away and never came back.
The lineup changes made for this game, most notably the inclusion of Sam Vines, didn’t pan out. It was obvious how integral the currently hurt Antonee Robinson is. The center-back pairing of Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman looked shaky. Zimmerman has done well with others, so Long should get the shaft from the starting 11 in Qatar. Let’s not forget Ferreira up top, who has scored five goals for the USMNT in 2022. Four of those came against lowly Grenada though, so essentially one goal against legitimate competition. The quest for a legitimate No. 9 for Qatar has failed. And plugging in the same players who haven’t produced enough in the American’s attack is moronic. Let’s not forget in the last five USMNT games outside American borders, the team has scored one goal, a Jordan Morris stoppage-time equalizer against El Salvador in June, and hasn’t won. Quite the confidence-killer.
The starting positions for Nov. 21’s game against Wales appear to be a two-man battle for one of the wing spots opposite Pulisic between Gio Reyna — son of Claudio — and Brenden Aaronson. My idea for a Tim Weah false-nine wasn’t heard by Sir Gregg. The midfield of Yunus Musah, who’s also hurt, alongside Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams is locked, as are the outside back spots filled by Dest and Robinson. Zimmerman wearing the captain’s armband against Japan gave the signal he’s penciled in, leaving the other center-back spot vacant for now, and Long’s audition was a bust. There’s still time to consider John Brooks or Tim Ream, because Mark McKenzie ain’t gonna cut it either. Maybe try Chris Richards, who didn’t play against Japan. One odd idea would be Reggie Cannon too, who fits better as an outside back, but consistently slides over to supplement the two central defenders. He must be on the plane to Qatar after being one of the few non-Turner bright spots from Friday’s match.
Friday’s fiasco does bring intrigue to Tuesday’s dress rehearsal, and the last USMNT game until it lines up against Gareth Bale right before Thanksgiving. The Americans will face Saudi Arabia, which will also be in Qatar. Berhalter has nothing to lose by tinkering with the lineups. No one will care about this game if the USMNT succeeds at the World Cup. Should the Yanks stink up the place like this morning’s mondo duke, it will be easy to look back at these two games and wonder what Greggy-poo could’ve done to avoid the poopshow. But hey, at least Matt Turner played well.