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As Qatar 2022 looms, the US appear to be who they are: the third-best team in Concacaf | USA

The United States men’s team drew 0-0 with Saudi Arabia in Spain on Tuesday in their last game before their World Cup debut against Wales on Nov. 21. Following Friday’s meek 2-0 loss to Japan in Germany, these are two set-ups that served to underline the team’s shortcomings rather than resolve them, played in low-key environments that felt more like pre-season buddies than the last. international. pre-World Cup matches.

Context is key

It was a series that was more to sleep than to fire, but let’s face the strange circumstances. A game in front of 364 spectators (yes, 364!) on a bad pitch at the home of Real Murcia of the third division is not an occasion that generates good vibes.

Contrast that with June 2014, when the US took down Brazil with a pair of 2-1 victories: over Turkey in front of 26,672 fans at Red Bull Arena and Nigeria in front of 52,033 in Jacksonville. The United States beat Ghana in their first group match in Brazil nine days after that victory in Florida. But this group of players return to their clubs, some of them facing another dozen or so matches until Qatar 2022 begins.

It would have carried an injury risk, but US Soccer may have reason to regret not hosting another friendly in November, as several nations including Mexico and Canada have done. With this evidence a final dress rehearsal on the eve of the tournament would have been useful.

If America doesn’t have rhythm and intensity, it doesn’t have much

Head coach Gregg Berhalter has dropped some experienced names to shape what will be one of Qatar’s youngest rosters. That reflects a conscious break with the past after the Bruce Arena veterans’ failure to make it to the 2018 tournament, and also a desire to instill a dynamic pressing style that Berhalter hopes will make up for a talent deficit in relation to the most striking lists of the World Cup.

But when they are outmatched in force and pressure, as was the case against Japan and during part of Tuesday’s game, they seem to drift, unable to find a quick course correction unless Berhalter changes things with substitutions or Christian Pulisic gets sidetracked. take charge. That’s partly due to a lack of experience, but it also reflects a reliance on midfielder Weston McKennie.

Entering dangerous areas, he was an inspiring link for forwards when the US was at its best during Concacaf qualifying. However, the Juventus man was poor against Japan and mediocre against Saudi Arabia, and as a result, the US lacked dominance in midfield. These two botched matches have made it even more apparent that Yunus Musah’s tenacity and resilience under pressure will prove critical against World Cup caliber nations. The Valencia midfielder was not present at this concentration due to injury; but his absence only enhanced his reputation.

Striking shortcomings persist

Two shots on goal against Saudi Arabia; none against Japan. A team that entered the international window without a proven goalscorer ended it unknowingly due to a lack of good chances. It means that FC Dallas’ Jesus Ferreira remains the favorite to start against Wales, forcing goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Yami to make a fairly easy save shortly after coming off Ricardo Pepi.

With a measly 13 touches, Pepi did not have the opportunity to show that he is recovering his goalscoring touch after a fallow period of almost a year. It’s fair to say that this encounter wasn’t much of a confidence boost for the teenager.

Also discouraging, one of the team’s brightest creative forces, Gio Reyna, walked out after half an hour as a precaution with muscle strain. The 19-year-old’s injury history means he’s best treated as a potential impact substitute despite his starting XI-level ability. And Pulisic was silenced. Berhalter’s side have scored once in six games on foreign soil this year. It’s been over a year since they haven’t been on the road and they haven’t found the net in six of their 12 games in 2022.

The battle to be number one is done

Japan’s dominance gave Matt Turner a chance to show off his shot-stopping skills and a clean sheet against Saudi Arabia also enhanced Arsenal’s substitute case to start in Qatar. The 28-year-old is now surely the undisputed first choice, with his only serious rival, Zack Steffen, absent from camp.

Berhalter was expected to give potential third options Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson some action, but Turner played every minute of both games. With the center back spot next to Walker Zimmerman still up for grabs, Turner looked reassuringly confident. The identity of the goalkeeper likely to start against Wales might have been the only problem Berhalter was able to resolve to his satisfaction after a couple of games that proved more confusing than enlightening.

Uncertainty is true in Qatar

Was this an improved performance compared to the Japan game? Slightly, yes. But Saudi Arabia is a worse team than Japan. And yet better opportunities were carved out than the Americans. For what it’s worth, neither opponent has gone beyond the round of 16 at a World Cup.

Frowning, the weight of the world on his shoulders, Berhalter stalked the touchline like a Hamlet from the technical area, dressed entirely in black Nikes, as if attending a memorial service in a sport casual dress code. But obituary notices don’t need to be published just yet because of the US’s prospects of advancing from Group B, which also includes England and Iran, as well as Wales.

The performances in the last two games are sure to generate pessimism, but they should also strike a note of realism. So much emotional energy has been invested in returning to the World Cup after eight years, with less consideration of how the team will fare in Qatar.

The United States looked what it is: the third-best nation in Concacaf, without half a dozen players. Berhalter’s side have shown they can up their game against their biggest rivals, Mexico, so it’s entirely possible they’ll be inspired on the biggest stage in November. Either they will get some early luck or benefit from a moment of individual greatness that will send their self-confidence soaring.

On the other hand, this is an injury-prone team that lacks depth: the US struggle if their handful of stars are absent or in a bad mood, and they need to get things right from the start, as it’s difficult imagine them qualifying from the group. if they lose the opening clash with Wales.

Berhalter is certainly running a master class in managing bearish expectations. After admitting to reporters that the team “kicked our ass” from Japan, he said that “anxiety” and lack of confidence affected the display against Saudi Arabia. The only ways from here are up… or out.

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