USMNT dominated by Japan in shocking World Cup loss

USMNT dominated by Japan in shocking World Cup loss

Japan's Daichi Kamada, right, and the United States' Weston McKennie challenge for the ball during the friendly international soccer match between the USA and Japan as part of the Kirin Challenge Cup in Duesseldorf, Germany, Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Japan’s Daichi Kamada, right, and the United States’ Weston McKennie challenge for the ball during the friendly international soccer match between the USA and Japan as part of the Kirin Challenge Cup in Duesseldorf, Germany, Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The US men’s national soccer team spent 90 of its final 180 minutes before the 2022 World Cup dominating and crushing Japan.

The USMNT went into Friday’s friendly with excitement and hope; a 2-0 loss, however, set off an alarm. The Americans were sloppy. They were not threatening. They were “really disappointed,” in the words of goalkeeper Matt Turner.

They didn’t get a single shot on target. And for some players who could have played prominent roles in Qatar, they weren’t good enough.

The concerns will be alleviated with absences. Christian Pulisic lost the game with a minor “knock” suffered in training. Four other starters – Tim Weah, Yunus Musah, Antonee Robinson and Chris Richards – are also out with injuries that should be fully resolved by November.

But Japan was far from full strength. However, it exposed some of the USMNT’s biggest flaws, and, especially in the first half of the side, suggested that the USA is not as ready for the World Cup as many were or had hoped.

Why was the first half of the USMNT so terrible

Over the first 30 minutes of Friday’s game, according to statistics cited by ESPN, the USMNT gave the ball 28 times in the defensive third and only four passes were completed in the attacking third.

During the first half, he lost possession in his defensive half 54 times, more often than ever before under head coach Gregg Berhalter.

It failed, spectacularly, to play through the Japanese press for two main reasons. Without a vertical threat among the US front three, Japan pressured the game and ate up space in the middle of the field. And without a competent ball-playing center back, the United States couldn’t cope.

The first problem may be temporary. Pulisic and Weah usually provide the vertical threat, running beyond striker Jesus Ferreira and behind another backline. With the two aside, Berhalter chose Gio Reyna and Brenden Aaronson, great players, but who are also more attacking midfielders than forwards; they do not extend the game.

With no great options, the US played into the teeth of the press. And Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman couldn’t break it.

Japan forced those two MLS center backs to become their fourth back. And they gave the ball away, time and time again, preempting US attacks and jumpstarting Japan. Even before the opening goal, Long’s pass was poorly intercepted, giving Japan their first clear chance; and Zimmerman telegraphed a pass in his own defensive third down, which led to another.

As a result of USMNT’s problems in possession of the initial goal

One possible solution in such a compressed game is to extend the field vertically and horizontally with high ridges. But that solution requires security in possession. That was rare in the US.

In the 24th minute, right back Sergiño Dest thought they did, so he started to bomb forward, as he often does – but at that exact moment, Weston McKennie played an errant pass; Japan broke on the counter; and Daichi Kamada scored from the position left by Dest.

The USA made four halftime substitutions — the most important being Reggie Cannon for Dest — and a critical tactical change. He changed his shape in possession, from a 4-1-2-3 to the 3-2-5 he used in a stunning 3-0 win over Morocco in June. Gun slot into the back three. Left back Sam Vines pushed high. Luca de la Torre, who played on the same line as fellow midfielder McKennie in the first half, dropped to Tyler Adams, and USA’s rhythm improved.

But even in the second half, Japan was the better team.

The lone bright spot for the USMNT was goalkeeper Matt Turner, who held on for a 1-0 deficit until the 88th minute – and appears to have locked up a starting spot.

But there was no one else on Monday. Long, who is competing with Richards and Cameron Carter-Vickers for the starting centre-back spot, looked tense and uncomfortable for 45 minutes, until he was replaced at half-time by Mark McKenzie time.

Vines, who got a chance to claim the backup role behind Robinson, didn’t take it.

The USMNT will be a different team when Pulisic, Musah and Weah in particular return. But at least, on Friday, it was no closer to being a World Cup-ready team.

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