USMNT Must Hope Friendly Form Doesn’t Follow It to World Cup
The U.S. national team’s World Cup preparations ended quietly on Tuesday afternoon. They played a 0-0 draw against Saudi Arabia at an almost empty Estadio Nueva Condomina, Murcia, Spain.
The next time the Americans gather, they’ll be in Qatar, with about a week to prepare before the World Cup opener against Wales on Nov. 21. The terrible loss to Japan last Friday ,, will be forgotten. But Gregg Berhalter and his World Cup squad members will have to hope this pair of disappointing outings is not a sign of the future.
Immediately after Tuesday’s tie, Berhalter suggested that waiting for the World Cup might be more difficult than playing in it.
” It’s nerve-wracking times. He said that people are anxious about whether they will be on the roster. “But having said all that, we just have to go out and play together. The confidence isn’t there yet, but we’ll get there.” The confidence isn’t there yet, but we’ll get there.”
Since sealing its World Cup spot at the end of March, the U.S. has gone 2-1-3 across six games and was shut out in three. The Americans only managed two shots on target against Japan, Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia together on Tuesday. Berhalter is not closer to solving his dilemma at the front. None of the strikers called up in this month’s campaign stood out. Meanwhile, the Americans struggled to create opportunities against both Saudi Arabia’s lower block and Japan’s vigorous press. Berhalter stated that he still believes we are not as confident as he would like. “We’re playing tentative and you can see, the connections are not there like we want … I can’t fault the effort but we need to keep improving.”
Absent its primary attackers, the 53rd-ranked Saudis played a rough, defensive game that didn’t challenge the U.S. during its buildup but did ask questions of the Americans’ ability to find space in against a deeper, more compact opponent. Wingers Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna started in the same game for the first time since the Concacaf Nations League final 15 months ago. Ricardo Pepi was placed in the front. To spread the Saudis, the Americans were willing to play longer balls towards the corner or over the top. Weston McKennie, a midfielder, made several attacking runs from deeper parts. Play was slow overall, Pepi wasn’t a factor and there were many breakdowns in U.S. execution. Reyna was forced to leave at the half-hour mark due to muscle tightness. This happened just minutes after Tyler Adams had barely missed the long range. This was the best chance in the first half.
Jesus Ferreira, perhaps the favorite to start at striker in Qatar, replaced Pepi in the 59th and had a good look a few seconds later after turning quickly on a smart feed from Paul Arriola. Ferreira hit straight at the Saudi goalkeeper. This month was a bright month for U.S. strikers, especially after Berhalter decided not to include Union Berlin’s Jordan Pefok, his most consistent forward. Pefok may have increased his chances by staying home, in the end. It remains to be determined if Berhalter believes Pefok is a good tactical fit.
“It wasn’t easy,” Berhalter said to Fox when he was asked to evaluate his forwards. “Jesus came on, and got a few chances. Ricardo was not able to make it through the day. He didn’t get much service. He didn’t get many chances. It’s really hard to evaluate players when they’re not getting opportunities.”
Following the April draw, the World Cup’s Group B was recognized as perhaps the tournament’s tightest because its members had the highest average FIFA ranking. It may be the most open, even though each side faces questions about continuity or momentum a few months later.
Despite the less-than-convincing performance by the Americans this month, neither England or Wales are in World Cup form. The Welsh are currently 0-4-1 in their last five games, 2-5-2 this season and have just suffered relegation form UEFA’s Nations League A. England and Wales are also struggling after a 0-3-3 run that ended with Monday’s 3-3 draw against Germany. During which the Three Lions blew a late lead, scoring their first goal from open play in over eight hours. Three weeks ago, Iran re-appointed Carlos Queiroz as their coach. The veteran Portuguese manager led Team Melli from 2011 to 2019 and replaced Dragan Skocic, who was fired in July despite guiding Iran to an 8-1-1 record in the final round of Asian World Cup qualifying.
Obviously, everyone would rather hit the ground in Qatar on some kind of roll. But USA-Wales is in 55 days, and plenty is going to happen before then that will diminish the disappointment of the past two games. The form and fitness of players will change, and the U.S. could be quite different in Qatar. Berhalter stated this week that five potential starters were not available over the past week. These included Yunus Musah, winger Tim Weah, and Antonee Robinson. The World Cup could be a snapshot of a moment, not necessarily a long-term outcome for the national team.
“In a perfect world, I have it in mind,” Berhalter said Monday when asked if he could envision his starting XI in the World Cup opener. “But one thing is certain, it’s not international soccer. Do I believe we have the best players at each position? Yes. Do I believe they will all be available for the World Cup? I don’t know. This is what every international manager will have to deal with right now. The next few weeks may make their mark on his ultimate 26-man roster, but they won’t change the team’s identity. The U.S. will remain what it is, whether it’s good or bad. Berhalter doesn’t intend to blow it up and has no choice but to believe that the tentative displays against Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia are a reflection of the timing and not the team.
“This camp has ended and we will be heading to Qatar. Be at ease,” Berhatler stated when he was asked about his message to the group. “This is the team. The team’s not changing after that, and we need to play our game and play with confidence.”
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