DÜSSELDORF, Germany — Even an optimist would be hard-pressed to draw any positive signs from the United States men’s soccer team’s display against Japan on Friday afternoon.
Matt Turner, one of the goalkeepers fighting for No. 1, looked steady with his hands (though less so with his feet) as he made athletic saves in both halves.
Nobody seemed to get hurt. The weather was nice.
Could it have been that?
In one of their last tune-ups before stepping onto soccer’s biggest stage in November, the Americans lost, 2-0, in a lackluster effort that will no doubt be seen as a missed opportunity for an accelerating group. their preparations for the World Cup.
The Americans have another friendly scheduled against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in Spain, the team’s last official match before their opening match against Wales in Qatar.
Coach Gregg Berhalter noted during the week that some of his players seemed to be a bit “tight,” that is, paralyzed with nerves. He said it was understandable: There were life-changing jobs on the line for various players fighting for spots on his roster.
But it will be worrying for him and the team’s fans that the instability continued so blatantly until Friday’s noon game against Japan.
“The guys didn’t look fresh,” Berhalter said after the game. “From a physical exit, we look a step back. A team like Japan will punish you.”
“It was a lack of comfort with the ball, silly gifts. It wasn’t what we imagined.”
The Americans were undoubtedly missing some of their key personnel: Antonee Robinson, Tim Weah and Yunus Musah, three potential World Cup starters, were ruled out of the entire camp with injuries, and Christian Pulisic, the biggest star. from the team, he was cut from the squad on Friday after sustaining an injury of his own in practice. Berhalter called Pulisic “the day to day” with a “punch” that he did not specify.
But against Japan, which also heads to Qatar, the team’s problems felt bigger than the absence of some players.
Japan applied constant pressure to the US half from kick-off, and the Americans, with sloppy touches and erratic passing, struggled to make their way up the field with any semblance of intent. The United States finished the match without a single shot on goal.
“We wish we could show our personality on the field a little bit more,” Turner said. “Obviously the guys are disappointed.” When asked how worrying the performance was, he said: “Better now than the first week in Qatar.”
Japan’s first goal was a microcosm of the Americans’ problems. The US was trying to get the ball out of defense in the 24th minute when midfielder Weston McKennie nonchalantly handed the ball over. A couple of quick passes later, and with the American backline suddenly struggling to recover, the ball reached Daichi Kamada, spread wide on the left side of the penalty area, and he calmly threaded it into the right post. .
The best opportunity for the Americans had come earlier in the first half, when Sergiño Dest shot to the baseline to the right of the Japanese goal and launched a perfect cross through the mouth of the Japanese goal, where Jesús Ferreira, one of the players. in contention for the forward position, was waiting.
With a chance directly in front of him, Ferreria sent his header harmlessly to the crossbar, much to the delight of the dense crowd of Japanese fans sitting behind the net.
The crowd erupted again in the final minutes of the game when Kaoru Motima capped a solo dribbling run down the left side by deftly bending a shot into the bottom right corner of the goal around Turner.
The Americans lowered their heads. It was that kind of afternoon.