DUSSELDORF, Germany — With the World Cup less than two months away, the United States men’s national team were hoping to polish their game against Japan, but instead it was the Samurai Blue who looked most ready for the showpiece tournament, straddling goals either side of halftime from Daichi Kamada and Kaoru Mitoma for a 2-0 win.
The scoreline flattered Team USA’s lackluster performance, as the Americans looked completely out of sync throughout the game. It’s clear that even at this late stage, USA manager Gregg Berhalter has work to do.
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1. The United States has no answer for the Japanese press
Berhalter often wants his team to play on the front foot, and that starts with pressing teams up the pitch. That day, however, Japan gave Americans a taste of their own medicine, and it worked perfectly. For example, Japan’s goal in the 24th minute, when a turnover from Weston McKennie led to a transition opportunity in which Hidemasa Morita found Kamada wide open to pass Matt Turner in the American goal.
The United States was also slow to react to seemingly everything, playing coy at times, and no American was safe from returning the ball. Could it have been nerves or a security matter with the World Cup looming? It seems unlikely.
The effectiveness of Japan’s pressure meant that the United States rarely entered the sort of places where they could threaten Shuichi Gonda in Japan’s goal, and only had five touches in Japan’s penalty area during of the first half – the fewest for the USMNT in a friendly since 2019. Sergino Dest threw an inviting cross for Jesus Ferreira in the eighth minute, but the FC Dallas striker could only make a ball head above the bar. Ferreira’s lack of physical presence in the lead, combined with the absence of Christian Pulisic due to a knock, only compounded the USA team’s struggles with the ball. USA looked a bit more threatening with Joshua Sargent leading in the second half, but not by much.
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Given the difficulty the United States had at full-back – and it was as much a midfield issue as a defensive one – it stands to reason that the group stage opponents of the United States will take many notes in terms of how to achieve US defense.
2. Has Turner claimed the USA #1 jersey?
The United States had Turner to thank for entering the half with a one-goal deficit. In particular, his save from Kamada when cleared on goal in the 13th minute after Walker Zimmerman’s gift was impressive. He also commanded his box well and made the routine stops he was supposed to make.
The only complaint was Turner’s distribution in some instances, in which his contact and accuracy with the ball was sub-par. He will have to refine that in the weeks remaining before the World Cup.
Was it enough to push your nose forward in the battle for the starting goalkeeper spot? You would have to think so, but Berhalter has long had a soft spot for Zack Steffen. It probably won’t be until November that we know that answer for sure.
3. Fringe players have little impact
On a day when the opportunity presented itself to players competing for the bottom spots on the roster, there wasn’t much movement. Reggie Cannon and Mark McKenzie performed well in the backup roles, but there wasn’t much else to note. In terms of starters, Sam Vines didn’t improve his stock at all, and neither did Aaron Long, as neither player kept pace with the game.
In fact, it was rather a day during which the absences of certain injured players were revealing. Pulisic in attack, Yunus Musah in midfield and Chris Richards in central defense all need to heal as quickly as possible.
United States: Matt Turner 8, Sam Vines 4, Aaron Long 4, Walker Zimmerman 5, Sergino Dest 5, Luca de la Torre 4, Tyler Adams 4, Weston McKennie 3, Giovanni Reyna 5, Jesus Ferreira 4, Brenden Aaronson 5
Subtitles: Jordan Morris 5, Mark McKenzie 6, Josh Sargent 5, Reggie Cannon 6, Malik Tillman 5, Johnny Cardoso 5
Japan: Shuichi Gonda 5, Takehiro Tomiyasu 6, Hiroki Sakai 7, Yuta Nakayama 7, Maya Yoshida 6, Wataru Endo 8, Takefusa Kubo 7, Midemasa Morita 6, Junya Ito 6, Daichi Kamada 7, Daizen Maeda 6
Subtitles: Daniel Schmidt 5, Shuto Machino 5, Hiroki Ito 5, Kaoru Mitoma 7, Ritsu Doan 5, Genki Haraguchi N/R
Best and Worst Performers
BEST: Daichi Kamada, Japan. There were a few players to choose from. Endo led the show in midfield, and the centre-back duo of Sakai and Nakayama were dialed in throughout, but Kamada took his aim well and was involved in a few more slick build-ups.
Worst: Weston McKennie, USA The same was true at the other end of the spectrum, but the gift from McKennie that sparked the streak that led to Kamada’s goal, and which he only completed on 69.2% of his passes, was stands out from the rest.
Highlights and Moments
The numbers and accompanying charts tell the story of America’s impotence in the face of Japan.
Passes completed in the attacking third so far:
japan 35#USMNT 4
—Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) September 23, 2022
#USMNT first half hits…
🇺🇸 The Pulisic shaped hole is back!
🇯🇵 Japan made 82 offensive third touches, compared to 42 for the United States pic.twitter.com/DTtOvq56SA
— Paul Carr (@PaulCarr) September 23, 2022
USMNT had ZERO shots on target against Japan 🙃 pic.twitter.com/LxshxQMRAG
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) September 23, 2022
Japan 2-0 USA
– The American Analyst (@OptaAnalystUS) September 23, 2022
Japan put the icing on the cake with a well conceded goal from Mitoma, after sweeping Cannon and the rest of the American defense.
Japan win 2-0 win over USMNT to start international break 🎯 pic.twitter.com/shduF3c28J
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) September 23, 2022
After the game: What players and managers said
Berhalter: “We have work to do. We clearly have to improve.
“We have to play with personality, we have to play relaxed, we have to play with intensity, and when we do those things we’re a really good team. But when we’re not, we’re an average team.”
Adam: “I felt like we were just playing in Japan’s hand. We could have understood quite easily that they were pressing us high, and the solution I think at the start of the game was probably to play a bit more directly. , a bit behind to adjust that pressure, to go down a bit and create a bit more space, a bit more calm on the ball. But it was difficult. We didn’t find solutions at the beginning and, yes, as the game continued, we started to find a few more solutions, but we just didn’t create any clear-cut chances.
“I think some of the Concacaf teams, you know, Mexico and Honduras, pressed us and we found solutions. We just needed to find solutions earlier. I think we had a game plan. and I think it would have been effective if we stuck to the, the game plan. But sometimes I just felt that maybe we started looking for individual solutions instead of sticking together, stick to the game plan, to stay disciplined in our game plan. And you saw Japan, they did it well. They had a game plan and it was effective.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– The United States is now 1-3-2 this year against teams that qualified for the November World Cup.
– Friday was the first time since a 1-0 World Cup qualifying loss to Panama in October 2021 that the USMNT was held to zero shots on target.
– Turner’s six saves were second by an American keeper under Berhalter, who took over in January 2019. (Turner also has the most saves in a game under Berhalter, eight, against Morocco on June 1.)
United States: The USMNT travels to Spain for a Tuesday friendly against Saudi Arabia in Murcia. This will be the last game for the United States before the opening match of the World Cup group stage on November 21 against Wales.
Japan: Two other friendly matches on the program. The first will be Ecuador on Tuesday, also in Düsseldorf. Then against Canada on November 17 in Dubai, just a week before the November 23 clash against Germany at the World Cup.