You’re taking this very personal. Tom, this is business and this man is taking it very, very personal.
So said Sonny Corleone to Tom Hagen as the jaw-wired Mike suggested the Turk and dirty police commissioner had to go. And if you squint and stare for long enough, Lionel Messi sure looks like a young Al Pacino (if a little more Tony Montana than Michael Corleone):
Of course, Mike eventually got his way, and today, Leo got his. Again.
With four goals in today’s Barcelona derby against Espanyol, Lionel Messi is now on 50 for the La Liga season, 72 in all-competitions.
In the three games since Barcelona was shown out of Champions League, Messi’s been as hyped as a movie drug lord protecting his last pile of coke. Taking all the talk about not stepping up against Chelsea and Real Madrid very personally, Messi’s scored nine times in the last seven days.
Here’s today’s insanity. For those wondering, “only” 10 of his Liga goals have come from the spot.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a 50th goal than recognizing the man who constructed the team around you. After converting his second penalty of the day, Messi runs over to thank Pep Guardiola (who looked thoroughly un-entertained on the first goal).
Also, note Messi’s eyes in the replay of the first penalty kick conversation. Right has his plant leg hits the ground, he looks up to see where the `keeper’s going.
If I tried that, I’d miss either miss the ball entirely or John Terry it, but any coach that wants me to take a penalty kick deserves what they get.
The USMNT drew 0-0 against Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain, as Gregg Berhalter’s side finished their World Cup preparations with plenty of pressure building on them.
[ MORE: Player ratings out of 10 ]
Tyler Adams went closest to scoring for the USMNT but in truth it was a poor game in a near-empty stadium in southern Spain, as an injury-hit Saudi Arabia were dangerous on the break.
This is not the kind of performance, and result, Berhalter would have wanted after their disappointing defeat to Japan last week and it gives him plenty of questions to answer just 54 days out from the World Cup kicking off in Qatar.
What we learned from Saudi Arabia vs USMNT
Confidence is low in the USMNT camp: This was not much better than the defeat to Japan and the U.S. look totally devoid of confidence on the ball. In the final third they always seemed to pick the wrong option and there were still some very bad giveaways in defense as Long, Turner and Adams were all guilty. This is a team which was playing safe and looked like a group of players who didn’t want to pick up an injury in the final game before the World Cup. There was no cutting edge and you have to feel sorry for Ricardo Pepi up top, as there was no cohesion and no rhythm to this display.
Musah, Robinson, Weah are badly missed: Berhalter referenced the starters he was missing before this game and it is clear the USMNT missed players who can keep the ball and provide quality from wide positions. Musah makes the USMNT tick in midfield and Weah and Robinson are so direct out wide that it allows midfielders to run into dangerous positions knowing they will be found. The USMNT had none of that in this game aside from Pulisic and McKennie combining and getting in a few times down the left in the first half. Pulisic in particularly went missing in the second half of this.
Saudi Arabia will be a tough nut to crack: Missing several key starters, this was a spirited display from Saudi Arabia. Herve Renard knows how to organize a team to be disciplined and dangerous on the counter and Saudi Arabia were exactly that. They’re in a very tough group with Argentina, Mexico and Poland, but they can cause a few shocks. The fact they have five more friendlies between now and the World Cup and all of their players are based domestically (with many coming from Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr) means they are very familiar playing together and are a robust unit.
The USMNT looked to go long early and often and it worked to generate more chances than they did against Japan. McKennie surged in-behind the defenders, Pulisic cut in from the left and Long and Zimmerman both looked long whenever they could. Saudi Arabia were still a threat on the break and the spacing between the midfield trio and the defense remains a big issue for the USMNT as there were far too many gaps on the transition.
How to watch Saudi Arabia vs USMNT live, updates and start time
Saudi Arabia vs USMNT live analysis! – By Joe Prince-Wright
- Send in your questions for our live Q&A (click on the video above) straight after Saudi Arabia vs USMNT
- Gio Reyna leaves game in the 30th minute, replaced by Paul Arriola
18 minutes to go. Still 0-0. Not a lot going on.
SHOT! Much better from the USMNT as sub Scally had a cross cleared, then moments later fellow sub Ferreira smashes on goal but it is saved. The subs having a great impact. That is more like it.
Scally, McKenzie and Ferreira on for the USMNT. Yedlin (who was down for a long time getting treatment following a nasty tackle), Pepi and Long off.
59' – SUBS:
Scally on for Yedlin
Ferreira on for Pepi
McKenzie on for Long pic.twitter.com/BkdddAygXS
— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) September 27, 2022
The USMNT have yet to get going in this second half. Saudi Arabia looking more dangerous and whipped in a few crosses.
An update on Gio Reyna: he was taken off as a precaution (per Fox Sports’ Jenny Taft) and U.S. Soccer have since said he was ‘experiencing muscle tightness’ and that was why he was taken out.
Second half is underway and no subs from either side. It has been all Saudi Arabia so far.
HALF TIME: Saudi Arabia 0-0 USMNT – Not a great half from the U.S., again. A few more chances with McKennie and Adams going close and balls over the top causing problems. However, Saudi Arabia have had a few chances and are looking decent on the counter. To sum up the USMNT’s display in a word: sloppy.
The news filtering through about Gio Reyna doesn’t sound positive, as it has been confirmed by U.S. Soccer that the substitution was not planned. All signs point to some kind of injury. Fingers crossed it is nothing serious and the U.S. were just being very, very cautious given his recent injury history.
CLOSE! Saudi Arabia almost take the lead. Walker Zimmerman and Paul Arriola make crucial blocks after substitute Haitham Asiri got in down the right and Hattan Bahebri couldn’t sort out his feet at the key moment. Huge let off.
SUB: A worrying sign for the USMNT whenever Gio Reyna goes off early in a game and heads straight down the tunnel. Given his history record, this is concerning. Paul Arriola is on. 30 minutes gone.
USMNT fans won’t be delighted with what they’ve seen so far. Sure, it’s better than the display against Japan but it couldn’t get any worse, could it?
WIDE! Tyler Adams puts a shot just wide from 25 yards out. A decent effort after some sustained U.S. pressure.
Pulisic, wearing the captain’s armband, is looking real sharp. Some surging runs in from the left and he’s popping up everywhere.
Not too much going on at the moment as the USMNT struggle to get in the final third on a regular basis.
Lovely ball over the top and McKennie controls well but his shot is straight at the goalkeeper. Still, much better from the USMNT.
A few decent runs forward from the USMNT. As Pepi and McKennie both flagged for offside. Quick passing and moving from the U.S. as that is more like it.
KICK OFF: We are underway! Straight away Saudi Arabia have a shot from the edge of the box and Turner pushes it away. Sharp start from Saudi Arabia, who are missing several key players due to injury.
Anthems ring around the stadium in Murcia in front of a very small crowd which looks like being less than 1,000. Can the USMNT respond to that heavy defeat against Japan? We are about to find out.
Tick-tock! Kick off is almost here and this is the final chance for players to impress Gregg Berhalter ahead of the World Cup. Will it be another nervy, error-strewn display form the Stars and Stripes? Or will the likes of Pulisic, Adams and McKennie stand tall and really lead this young team to a much-needed win and, perhaps more importantly, a positive display?
As we approach kick off, the general reaction to team news focuses on Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman once again starting together at center back. This probably shows that Erik Palmer-Brown and Mark McKenzie are way down the pecking order in that position and the injured duo of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards are well ahead of them. Also, watching Pulisic and Reyna on the wings could be fun, especially if they’re allowed to drift inside at will.
The team news is in from sunny southern Spain, as the beautiful Estadio Nuevo Condomina is the setting for the USMNT’s final game before the World Cup kicks off.
For the USMNT, Matt Turner starts in goal once again with Zimmerman and Long at center back. DeAndre Yedlin comes in at right back, with Sergino Dest switching over to left back. Ricardo Pepi comes in for Jesus Ferreira up top, Christian Pulisic replaces Brenden Aaronson out wide and Kellyn Acosta is in for Luca de la Torre in midfield.
Gregg Berhalter has gone a lot stronger with this starting lineup than we thought he might. Is that showing the pressure is on him to get a positive result? Perhaps.
End September strong. 👊
— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) September 27, 2022
Below is the Saudi Arabian starting lineup, as their entire roster is from their domestic league and for any USMNT fans underestimating them, Saudi Arabia finished above Japan in World Cup qualifying.
— Saudi National Team (@SaudiNT_EN) September 27, 2022
Saudi Arabia vs USMNT head-to-head record
This will be the seventh meeting between the Yanks and Green Falcons, but the first since 1999 against a national team representing political issues for the United States. Saudi Arabia won two of the first four but the Yanks claimed home soil wins in a 1995 friendly and the 1999 Confederations Cup. All of the on-field mentions above mean absolutely nothing for Tuesday but they are fun to note on a pre-match preview (Upside-down smile face emoji).
"The inconsistency of this team even with injuries is pretty shocking."
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) September 24, 2022
The lowdown on Saudi Arabia
This is a very Saudi Arabia experienced side, one that went 13W-4D-1L in World Cup qualifying and have experience in a lot of 1-0 contests including recent Spain-based friendly losses to Colombia and Venezuela. The team will also feel at home in Murcia, where it played those matches and where it had a scoreless tangle with Ecuador four days prior to this tilt. Ecuador outshot the Saudis 11-5 and had 60 percent of the ball but all that will get you an argument that you deserved better than a solitary point that comes from a real match. If you want to see your Yanks break down a sound team, Tuesday’s a good chance.
Let’s be very fair to Berhalter, who has a young team and has overseen some memorable and downright awesome triumphs in CONCACAF: There are injuries right now — Christian Pulisic was rested with a knock on Friday — and the coach does not have access to Timothy Weah, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Chris Richards.
But his judgment is being questioned with Fulham captain Tim Ream, Union Berlin center forward Jordan Pefok, and Benfica back John Brooks healthy and ready to contribute but sitting at home. Berhalter has questioned their fits in the system and also said something nebulous about the team not expressing its “personality” versus Japan and that sounds pretty bad when the system looks awful.
USMNT team news, injuries, lineup
This is easily the most interesting lineup in some time for the USMNT after Berhalter gave starting looks to some of his lynchpins and got a mixed bag of results, none of which were exceptional aside from goalkeeper Matt Turner (and even he was not at his best in possession on an admittedly poor pitch in Dusseldorf) and Brenden Aaronson if we’re being judicious in the name of optimism. But really, all of the front three were ghosts. Much of is down to the eight men behind them, though, and forgiving glances can be cast at Aaronson and Giovanni Reyna. Jesus Ferreira is not included after missing a chance that would and could be called a sitter if he didn’t have to jump to head it (We kid, but it’s dark humor).
Aaron Long was very poor and Walker Zimmerman uncharacteristically poor next to him, while youngster Sam Vines had a rough first half before Berhalter adjusted his usage from left back to left wing back with emphasis on the wing part. Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams are often the heartbeat of this team but both looked a mix of cavalier and junior varsity. That won’t happen often, and very rarely will occur at the same time.
Here’s what to watch from Berhalter’s lineup choices, presuming he doesn’t change his formation.
- If Matt Turner starts — and then stays healthy and relatively blunder-free at Arsenal — forget about anyone else starting the World Cup opener in Qatar. If it’s Ethan Horvath or presumed No. 3 Sean Johnson, well, anything’s possible.
- We’ll see Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, but will it be Luca de la Torre completing the midfield trio? Will Kellyn Acosta or Johnny Cardoso arrive to move McKennie into a different role? Will Malik Tillman get his chance to start? Or will Giovanni Reyna be played in position (please?)?
- Ricardo Pepi: The way Josh Sargent was plugged into the front three in the second half, it seems like FC Dallas star Ferreira and alum Pepi were meant to trade starts.
- Christian Pulisic will start on the wing. How does he look, both in form and body language?
- Sergino Dest and Sam Vines were the fullbacks versus Japan, with Reggie Cannon coming off the bench. Will it be Joe Scally and DeAndre Yedlin to start? Will Dest swap to left back? Antonee Robinson and Dest are the favorites to start in Qatar, but is the latter’s spot on the right now in question?
- Much of U.S. Soccer, us included, considered this break to be a bunch of center backs bidding to play next to Walker Zimmerman in Qatar. Will it be Zimmerman plus one on Tuesday or something else?
UEFA Nations League champions France will not go back-to-back, and Portugal is battling with Spain in its bid to return to the throne room, highlighting the odds that a new Nations League winner will be crowned at the end of third edition of the tournament.
England and Wales are no longer top-tier sides after their relegations to UEFA Nations League B. England didn’t win a single one of their six group games (0W-3D-3L) as Gareth Southgate’s side finished bottom of Group A3. Italy won at Hungary in their final game in Group 3 to reach the semifinal rounds, which won’t really make up for not making the World Cup but could give Roberto Mancini’s side some silverware.
France lost to Denmark and just remained in League A as Austria were relegated, with Croatia pipping the Danes to a place in the semifinal round by winning Group A1.
Group A4 is the opposite sort of fight, Belgium and the Netherlands have both played very well but the Dutch triumphed down the stretch (thanks to a 1-0 win as Virgil van Dijk scored the lone goal in Amsterdam) to advance to the semifinal round.
While all eyes went to Group A2 as Portugal hosted Spain on the final day and a win or a draw for Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. would’ve put him two wins from another trophy. Would Portugal join Croatia, Italy, and the Netherlands in the semis? That’s an unshiny nope for CR7 and Co., thanks to Alvaro Morata.
UEFA Nations League live: How to watch, stream links
When: June 1, 2022 – March 26, 2024
How to watch: Fox Sports Live, Fubo TV
UEFA Nations League A, Group 1
Croatia– 4-1-1, 13 pts [ADVANCED]
Denmark — 4-0-2, 12 pts
France — 1-2-3, 5 pts
Austria — 1-1-4, 4 pts [RELEGATED]
France 2-0 Austria
Croatia 2-1 Denmark
Denmark 2-0 France
Austria 1-3 Croatia
UEFA Nations League A, Group 2
Spain — 3-2-1, 11 pts [ADVANCED]
Portugal — 3-1-2, 10 pts
Switzerland — 3-0-3, 9 pts
Czech Republic — 1-1-4, 4 pts [RELEGATED]
Czech Republic 0-4 Portugal
Spain 1-2 Switzerland
Portugal 0-1 Spain
Switzerland 2-1 Czech Republic
UEFA Nations League A, Group 3
Italy — 3-2-1, 11 pts [ADVANCED]
Hungary — 3-1-2, 10 pts
Germany — 1-4-1, 7 pts
England — 0-3-3, 3 pts [RELEGATED]
Italy 1-0 England
Germany 0-1 Hungary
England 3-3 Germany
Hungary 0-2 Italy
UEFA Nations League A, Group 4
Netherlands — 5-1-0, 16 pts [ADVANCED]
Belgium — 3-1-2, 10 pts
Poland — 2-1-3, 7 pts
Wales — 0-1-5, 1 pt [RELEGATED]
Poland 0-2 Netherlands
Belgium 2-1 Wales
Netherlands 1-0 Belgium
Wales 0-1 Poland
Today’s the day we do it: We admit that it is no longer mentally sound to pretend the actual USMNT player pool rankings could match Gregg Berhalter’s preferences for the national team.
Whether you believe him when it comes to the importance of form, versatility, and performances in the shirt — as well as whether he adheres to those criteria, it’s virtually impossible to figure out what’s going on in his head.
Given two friendlies against fellow World Cup entrants to sort out his center backs and center forwards, let’s break down the minutes and starts handed out.
[ MORE: Saudi Arabia vs USMNT analysis, recap ]
At center back, Walker Zimmerman started both games as expected and went 180 minutes. Injuries to Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards cost Berhalter the chance to evaluate them during this camp, and the USMNT boss handed two starts to Aaron Long.
Long has neither been starter-level strong in his performances for the USMNT and hasn’t starred for Red Bulls, but he still chewed up 104 of a possible 180 minutes next to Zimmerman, doing things like this:
Is Aaron Long foreal right now pic.twitter.com/sHHiLh9i4Z
— BippittyBoppittyBryan (@brhall17) September 27, 2022
Mark McKenzie got all of the minutes in Long’s place, meaning Erik Palmer-Brown is either hurt or his club Troyes now hates the USMNT for bringing him out for the glory of training and warm-ups. To be fair, Berhalter only used one goalkeeper as well.
As for center forwards, they were starved this week. Berhalter handed a start to Jesus Ferreira against Japan and he had the best chance of the bunch, thudding a header over the goal on the States’ best scoring chance of either game. Josh Sargent got the second half of the game.
Ricardo Pepi only had 13 touches in a half-plus versus Saudi Arabia. Ferreira came in and got 10. Put that on the rest of the team, yes, but it only serves to accent Ferreira’s miss versus Japan while Jordan Pefok and Haji Wright just shrugged from their homes in Berlin and Antalya.
And so we’re in a place where what we see from players, whether in the USMNT shirt or from video and stats abroad, just doesn’t fit into the parameters set forth by the USMNT boss.
BUT… we’ve committed to weighing the top 25 players in the USMNT pool from time-to-time. We’ll do that now, but they are simply what we see. Below that we’ll make our best guess as to what Berhalter will do for his 26-man World Cup roster.
Top 26 players in the USMNT player pool right now
Before we go any further with this list, here’s a reminder of how we sort the talent with some ground rules:
- The ranking is meant to illustrate who would be most likely to positively affect a USMNT match, regardless of manager or teammates, right now.
- Health doesn’t matter to our rankings if a current injury isn’t one that could drastically alter the player’s skill set
moving forwardat the World Cup.
- Age/potential/experience doesn’t matter either, at least not much; It’s how likely you are to contribute to the team if put on the field right now. Obviously, Paxton Aaronson is a better long-term prospect than Jordan Morris, but the Seattle Sounders forward is currently better prepared for the stage than the Philadelphia Union youngster.
- Finally, if you’re breaking a tie between players… ask which you’d be more upset to hear was unavailable for a USMNT camp.
- Tyler Adams, Leeds United (2)
- Yunus Musah, Valencia (3)
- Christian Pulisic, Chelsea (4)
- Brenden Aaronson, Leeds United (5)
- Antonee Robinson, Fulham (7)
- Jordan Pefok, Union Berlin (6)
- Weston McKennie, Juventus (1)
- Walker Zimmerman, Nashville SC (9)
- Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund (8)
- Timothy Weah, Lille (14)
- Cameron Carter-Vickers, Celtic (16)
- Chris Richards, Crystal Palace (11)
- Sergino Dest, AC Milan (10)
- Tim Ream, Fulham (17)
- John Brooks, Benfica (NR)
- Josh Sargent, Norwich City (12)
- Joe Scally, Borussia Monchengladbach (18)
- Matt Turner, Arsenal (21)
- Luca de la Torre, Celta Vigo (22)
- Jesus Ferreira, FC Dallas (13)
- DeAndre Yedlin, Inter Miami (NR)
- Djordje Mihailovic, CF Montreal (23)
- Haji Wright, Antalyaspor (19)
- Gianluca Busio, Venezia (NR)
- Kellyn Acosta, LAFC (25)
- Erik Palmer-Brown, Troyes (15)
Predicting Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT roster for World Cup*
*if tournament started today
Goalkeepers (3): Zack Steffen, Middlesbrough; Matt Turner, Arsenal; Sean Johnson, NYCFC. Last man out: Ethan Horvath, Luton Town
Defenders (8): Sergino Dest, AC Milan; Antonee Robinson, Fulham; DeAndre Yedlin, Inter Miami; Joe Scally, Borussia Monchengladbach; Walker Zimmerman, Nashville SC; Aaron Long, New York Red Bulls; Cameron Carter-Vickers, Celtic; Chris Richards, Crystal Palace. Last man out: Tim Ream, Fulham
Midfielders (8): Tyler Adams, Leeds; Weston McKennie, Juventus; Luca de la Torre, Celta Vigo; Yunus Musah, Valencia; Kellyn Acosta, LAFC; Malik Tillman, Rangers; Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders; James Sands, Rangers.
Forwards (7): Christian Pulisic, Chelsea; Brenden Aaronson, Leeds; Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund; Timothy Weah, Lille; Paul Arriola, FC Dallas; Jesus Ferreira, FC Dallas; Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders.
The best thing we can say about the United States men’s national team’s performances in two final World Cup warmups this month?
Maybe Gregg Berhalter’s just trying not to show his hand to group foes?
A non-descript, sloppy, and unadjusted USMNT again looked poor and left fans with very little hope in a team less than two months from playing Wales, England, and Iran in Qatar.
The Yanks are now winless in seven-straight games on foreign soil, losing to Panama, Canada, Costa Rica, and Japan while drawing Jamaica, Mexico, El Salvador, and Saudi Arabia.
How has USMNT fared in final pre-World Cup matches before last three tournaments?
2006 – lost to Morocco 1-0, beat Venezuela 2-0, beat Latvia 1-0
Failed to advance from group stage
2010 – lost to Czechia 4-2, beat Turkey 2-1, beat Australia 3-1
Lost to Ghana in Round of 16
2014 – beat Azerbaijan 2-0, Turkey 2-1, Nigeria 2-1, and Ghana 2-1.
Lost to Belgium in Round of 16.
2018 – did not qualify
2020 – lost to Japan 2-0, drew Saudi Arabia 0-0
USMNT player ratings vs Saudi Arabia
Matt Turner: 6.5– A good if not great shot stopper, his footwork might be what costs him a starting spot to Zach Steffen.
Sergino Dest: 6 — A defensive liability at times, he was a bit better than usual in his own end but Saudi Arabia is not Roberto Carlos-era Brazil.
Aaron Long (Off 59′): 4.5 — Nothing against the player, but if he’s playing in Qatar the coach has different eyes, cameras, screens, and metrics than the rest of us.
Walker Zimmerman: 5.5 — Solving who to put next to the Nashville SC star is Mission No. 1. Left out to dry next to a similar but inferior CB in Long.
DeAndre Yedlin (Off 59′): 6.5 — Physical, bright, and savvy. Hopefully his injury isn’t too bad.
Tyler Adams: 6.5 — Asked to play out of his strength in a one-man holding role, but also takes too many risks with the ball. Got n
Kellyn Acosta: 5 — Too sloppy with his touch, consistently, to be a World Cup regular, but good for the squad.
Weston McKennie: 4 — A turnover machine for two games, often in the worst parts of the field for a man of his position.
Christian Pulisic( On 76′): 5 — Blanked.
Ricardo Pepi (Off 59′): 5 — Starved of touches.
Giovanni Reyna (Off 30′): 5 — Another incredibly frustrating early end to a first team appearance for one of the nation’s brightest prospects.
Paul Arriola (On 30′): 5.5 — Drew a foul or two.
Joe Scally (On 59′): 7 — Only a half-hour sample size, but looked the man best-equipped for his boss’ plan.
Jesus Ferreira (On 59′): 6 — Got a shot off and was an upgrade on Pepi.
Mark McKenzie (On 59′): 6 — Steady enough.
Malik Tillman (On 76′): N/A —
Brenden Aaronson (On 76′): N/A —