EXCLUSIVE: Bob Bradley eyes trophies in Norway with Stabaek, as pivotal stretch arrives

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Bob Bradley continues to work miracles as the first American to manage a club in the top-flight of European soccer.

His latest Houdiniesque act has seen Bradley, 57, take tiny Stabaek into a title challenge and the Norwegian Cup semifinals with two months of the 2015 Tippeligaen season to go. The former U.S. national team head coach exceeded everyone’s expectations in his debut season in Norway last year, leading his newly promoted side to a midtable finish and a semifinal spot in the cup. In Year Two, despite a huge turnover of players at the club with little resources, he’s bettered it, considerably.

[ LONGFORM: NBC Sportsworld on Bradley – “That’s Football” ]

With eight games to go in the Tippeligaen, Stabaek sit in second place and eight points behind Norwegian powerhouse Rosenborg. Stabaek face “The Troll Boys” twice in the next 10 days away from home in both the league and the cup, with the first match coming up in the league in Trondheim on Sunday. Stabaek is no flash in the pan. They’ve been in second since Week 6 of the current season, while Rosenborg have been top for all but one week. These two teams are on opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of finances, infrastructure and historical success, but tiny Stabaek, led by the only non-Nordic head coach in Norway’s top-flight, are capable of punching well above their weight.

In an extended interview with ProSoccerTalk, the former head coach of the U.S. from 2007 to 2011 revealed how he has built this Stabaek side for second-season success, their mindset going into a crucial 10-day period and Bradley also speaks about his future in Norway as his contract is up at the end of the current campaign.

After traveling to Norway last summer to write this longform piece for NBC Sportsworld, it’s been fun to watch Stabaek’s progress under the guidance of the former Princeton, Chicago Fire, USA and Egyptian national team coach.

I, JPW, am asking the questions below, Bradley is answering them.

Enjoy.

JPW: Bob, as always, pleasure to speak with you. Can you sum up what this second season has been like so far in Norway? How has the team progressed?

Bob Bradley: We couldn’t bring anybody in, we had to sell. So we went through most of preseason with some of the returning guys from last year but working to build on that result we had last year, trying to have a picture of what the team would look like but also thinking and trying really hard to make sure people knew we were going to push and improve on that season. We had to bring in some players, especially with some of the attacking players we had lost. Eventually we sold Franck Boli to a club in China and for Stabaek we made good money back and right at the end of the last transfer window we were able to bring in some interesting attacking players, including Adama Diomande who is Norwegian and had parents from the Ivory Coast. He had been at other Norwegian clubs like Stromsgodset and somehow had gone from Dinamo Minsk then he needed a version of rebuilding his career a little bit. He knew how good, in a similar situation, it had been for Kofi Adu’s career, and we were able to get Dio here.

I watched him a lot on tape and my first impression was that in the group here he was a good teammate, he made very hard runs, worked very hard for the team, good teammate. As a striker he had a physical dimension, something we didn’t have last year. We didn’t know in pure goalscoring how it would work. We told Dio in the beginning that he had a lot of good qualities and we didn’t want to lose any of what he had going for him. But we wanted to try and add to the package and push him. His response was great. In 21 league matches he scored 17 goals. He has been fantastic when you combine him with the other two players we brought in. Ernest Asante who is a fast winger from Ghana who was at Start. We ended up getting Yassine El Ghanassy who is a project as well. Most recently in the summer Muhamed Keita, who is a similar story to Dio. But we gave our team a different look. More athletic, more dangerous. We scored some great goals. Of course when you add it all up, people were again talking about our football, able to press a little bit higher. All this kind of stuff. The only thing that then happened is we lost Diomande to Hull.

How big of a blow was it to lose your top scorer, Diomande, right at the end of the transfer window to Hull City?

We have eight matches left, we are in second place and are in the semifinals of the cup. On one hand I certainly always understood that when I came to Stabaek the club, financially, had hit rock bottom and the work we had to do had to help the club rebuild financially. You can always get a mix between getting good football, results and good players, and then when all that happens it also means the possibility of getting players to the point where they are attractive to other clubs and bringing money back in. It all goes hand in hand. But to lose an important player like that is also hard for the team. It means that our challenge going forward is greater. He missed the game with Odd that we lost 2-1 last week, he had an injury at the end of the Sandefjord game so we already started working last week how we play without him. Lot of the same football ideas and how it’s not one guys responsibility but more a collective. Trying to be a little more mobile. We lost the physical presence but we still have some interesting attacking players.

Run me through how the second season has gone, how have you managed to continue the upward curve and challenge for a title just a year after returning to the top-flight?

The challenge for us now is on September 13 in Trondheim against Rosenborg. They are eight points ahead. To make this interesting we have to win. Then 10 days later we go back to Trondheim for the semifinal of the cup. There has been a lot of work this week both on the field and with video, and also just some meetings with the team to make sure everyone understands we are excited for Dio and proud of what he was able to do with us. But people are writing us off, they’ve done it before. It is our job to try and make things better and compete at a better level and make sure everyone understands if we go on the field and play our football, push games, then every single time we step on the field we can always win. Another challenge, it is not easy sometimes when a part of the message you are spreading with the players from the beginning… I said to this group after the end of preseason when we had finally brought in Dio and Asante and El Ghanassy, I said to our team ‘I think we have the chance to do something special this year. There is real talent. The personality of the team is different.’ We are more athletic than last year and to build something that was going in a strong way, part of that message every day was ‘how far can we go?’ Then when you get to a moment like this, then obviously the long-term good of the club, that doesn’t necessary go hand-in-hand with the message we’ve been trying to build on every day this season. That’s a challenge. You have to look at these players and make sure they understand that people have written us off before and I don’t buy it. They don’t see the way the work every day and the way we work with each other and the way we push the football. This is the next goal, this is the challenge.

I remember being in Trondheim and watching your side win at Rosenborg last year. How difficult will those two games (league game on Sept. 13 and cup semi on Sept. 23) be and this is the pivotal moment in your two-seasons in Norway, right?

When you win and you move forward as a team it gets exciting because you get bigger games. For us, within 10 days to play Rosenborg twice, and they’re having a fantastic season, they have been very strong and very good going forward. We lost a very disappointing 3-2 game against them at home earlier in the year when we went up 2-0. Somewhere around 35 minutes they got a corner, the referee ends up giving a PK on a soft handball. They score right before half, so it’s 2-2. Second half we turn the ball over and they score on the counter so its 3-2, then they have a man sent off and we push but lose 3-2. That was a very good game. We were very disappointed with ourselves. What happened that day, for 20 or 25 minutes we pushed the game pretty hard but when we went up 2-0, in some ways we backed off a little bit and that gave them a push and they’re a good team, so when they’re behind they are also going to respond. That led to them being in our end a little bit more… we remember that game. It was a game that we felt we didn’t finish off. We first get the chance to go there in the league and as I mentioned, when you’re eight points back with eight games to play, to give yourselves a chance you have to win. A tie does no good in the battle with Rosenborg. Obviously a point in terms of still getting a medal at the end of the year could come in handy but our mentality from the first game is to really go up there and try to throw everything we have at them and come away with three points. Then based on how that game goes we can look closely at everything and figure out 10 days later what is our best way for the cup.

Former USMNT head coach Bradley is making quite a name for himself in Norway.
Former USMNT head coach Bradley is making quite a name for himself in Norway.

With eight games to go you are in the Europa League spot. How big would that be for the club, to qualify for Europe?

For us now, we need to finish this season in a strong way. The starting points would be to win the league and to win the cup but the way things work in Europe is that the possibility of still getting a medal and still qualifying for the Europa League qualification, there is still a lot to play for at the end of the year. Even if you’re not in range for the Championship. But that is one step at a time. First and foremost, for us it’s been a week of dealing with things with Dio. Late on Monday someone in the club said ‘looks like you’ll keep everybody’ and I said ‘we’ll see’ because obviously the window in England shut a day later. We never heard anything from Hull until Tuesday morning, this thing came at the last second and I’ve said many times, there are different factors that need to be considered. Smaller clubs that rely on selling players, that means that at the end of windows there is usually a price. We have had some conversations with others clubs and they were not in the ballpark of what we had said. Then when Hull came in, it was the case. As I said before, in the two years here, first year everyone predicted we would go down, a team that came up from the second league and we finished in midtable and made the semifinals of the cup.

From the first half of the season last year to the second half of the season the team changed tremendously because we sold Morten Thorsby to Heerenveen last year and we lost Adu after a six month loan and went back to Brugge and then on to Malmo where he is playing in the UEFA Champions League. The second half of the year we had to come up with some new ideas. Andrew Jacobson was here on loan, Magne Hoseth came for the second half of the season. We had an interesting a different look in the second half of the season. At the end of the year, for a number of reasons, if you look at the team who started the games in the second half of the season, when we started this year seven or eight of those guys were not here. Fredrik Brustad and Franck Boli weren’t here and those two guys were our top goalscorers from last season. When we were in Portland in preseason and people saw us play and said ‘boy, you guys play good football’ but we were a young team and didn’t really have strikers at that time. But then we added some players and we’ve seen great development from a few others from last summer, a young Norwegian left back Birger Melling. He had come through Viking and Middlesbrough as a young player. He plays left back and when we go behind sometimes we push him forward to left wing and he has just been called into Norway’s U-21 squad. 

The fact is that you take Morten Thorsby and Franck Boli, then we sold the young midfielder Anders Trondsen to Sarpsborg and now Dio, we have sold four players in the last year and I think if you add all that up it is over $5 million. For Stabaek that is a big deal. That doesn’t always help in the fight for trophies so again you have to focus everybody on the job in hand. Everybody believes we can still do this.

How difficult is it to be creative with new signings and for a club like Stabaek to cast the net far and wide? 

Stabaek is a small club. Franck Boli, Luk Kassi and Mande Sayouba all are young players from the Ivory Coast that were here before I arrived and were part of a relationship with an academy in the Ivory Coast. Some of the other players are just in different situations. We have to be creative. Jan Peder Jalland and I certainly look at a lot of video. Inge Andre Olsen bring us names and does a magnificent job working with agents. We have to look in a lot of directions and be creative about how to bring players here because compared to most clubs our resources are not too great.

Crunch time has arrived for Bradley and his Stabaek squad.
Crunch time has arrived for Bradley and his Stabaek squad.

With Diomande leaving for Hull, is that the harsh reality the club faces? In the past Sporting director Inge Olsen told me that he hopes the players and coaches like you develop and then move onto bigger and better things. Are people taking notice of Stabaek?

I mentioned how Dio saw the way how things worked for Adu. I think that the word has gotten out a little bit. People see the way we play, have found out about the way we train. They see that guys have improved. We still  have an awful lot of games were players from opposing teams, after the game they say ‘I really like the way you guys play football.’ So I think there’s a positive vibe about the way we work. The players here, when they talk with other players they speak in a good way. There have been so many examples [of players moving onto bigger leagues] and when these guys now step up a level and improve, people see that and it will also help the word get out. As I told you last year we have a lot of scouts at every game and they see what’s going on in terms of the football. I will run into scouts and they say they enjoy watching the team and how certain guys have improved. So those are good things. When the word spreads in those areas that can help in terms of attracting other players. That doesn’t mean you now have the money to spend, we are still limited in terms of what we can spend, even with the money we’ve made.

The money gets used in other ways, there is already talk about one of the fields in the back that we use with the academy as well, it needs a new artificial surface. When the money comes in from Hull that will be one of the first things on the list. In a small club the money gets spread a lot of ways. Of course when the club financially had some trouble there is also some debt to paid off. Unfortunately it’s not like all of that money gets put back into player acquisition but it is part of the way it works. The football, developing players, helping the club rebuild itself where the word about the club, finances and everything has improved. Those of us who have been part of this project in the past two years feel good about that. But that doesn’t make everything perfect. There is still the part where you are competing for trophies and we want to feel like you have just as good a chance as everybody else. In this window for example, Rosenborg added a number of players and they are clearly in a position to do that. Everybody in Norway knows that financially Rosenborg is on one end and Stabaek is on the other. Again, I don’t say any of that as a complaint because I knew all of this before I got here. I’m not complaining about it. I knew.

With Molde and Rosenborg both qualifying for the Europa League group stage and the Norwegian national team doing well, what does that mean for Tippeligaen? Is the level rising?

It says that Rosenborg and Molde are both good teams and both played well and now can hopefully do well in the group stage. I think the potential in Norwegian football is great. Obviously everyone knows about Martin Odegaard but there are other talented young players and the federation they are trying to make sure the national team program here has a common philosophy. We have all of the national team coaches here watching our games and those of our younger teams. There is a lot going on in Norwegian football and like any place, you try to make the need for each club to do stuff at the highest level possible. Talent is being developed and pushed. That is no different than a small country like Norway or a big country like the United States.

Bob, what about your own situation: you are coming towards the end of your two-year project. Have there been talks about a new contract?

My contract is up at the end of the year. There has been way too much talk about it. It’s a daily topic over here in the media. We are at the start of a discussion here. Inge has said publicly over and over that they’ve seen the work here over the last year-and-a-half and he feels very strongly about that it is at the highest level and there needs to be an opportunity at a higher league. But you never know when and if and how that happens. When people have asked, I have simply said right now my focus is on this season and this group of players. That is the way I’ve always worked. When we get to the end of the year we will size up everything and figure it out.

Finally, what would winning a piece of silverware mean to you?

We feel very good with the way we’ve worked and the football we’ve played. The idea that we could top off all of that with a trophy this year, that would be an incredible achievement for everybody involved in this club in the last two years. Of course, we are not there yet. The idea that in both cases making it happen goes through Trondheim on a year when Rosenborg has been excellent, that’s quite a challenge. We’ve earned the right to go there and believe  in what we’re doing. Now, it’s up to us.

Japan vs USMNT: Alarming defeat for Berhalter’s boys

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The USMNT lost to Japan after a hugely underwhelming performance from Gregg Berhalter’s side just 59 days before they kick off their World Cup campaign.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

Dachai Kamada put Japan 1-0 up in the first half as the Samurai Blue were sharper throughout and the USMNT just couldn’t cope with their high-pressing, as Kaoru Mitoma curled home a beauty to make it 2-0 and seal the deserved win.

Berhalter’s USMNT had zero shots on goal, as they looked disjointed and befuddled throughout a very disappointing display in Dusseldorf, Germany.

With Christian Pulisic missing this game due to an injury, plus many other missing this camp, perhaps the USMNT can point to that having a huge impact on their performance.

However, there are now just 90 minutes of action separating the USMNT from the World Cup and unless they improve dramatically against Saudi Arabia next week, there will be a lot of pressure mounting on Berhalter’s young side.


What we learned from Japan vs USMNT

Huge number of giveaways a massive concern: In the first 35 minutes the USMNT gave the ball away 28 times in their own defensive third. 28. That rose to 39 times in a first half where they just couldn’t connect a pass and in defense and midfield they look so far off it. Weston McKennie’s horrible giveaway led to Japan’s opener and the USMNT never looked comfortable in possession. Yes, the pitch may have been bobbly but that didn’t impact Japan. Gregg Berhalter loves to play out of the back but Japan’s high-pressing befuddled the USMNT and they didn’t have a Plan B. On this showing  Wales, England and Iran press the U.S. high in November, they will have plenty of joy. Yes, the USMNT were missing Cameron Carter-Vickers, Antonee Robinson, Yunus Musah, Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah due to injury but there is no way this display should have been this disjointed.

Center back remains a big problem: Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman owe Matt Turner a beer, or three, as he made big stops to bail them out. Both of the USMNT’s center backs made huge mistakes in the first half and Turner came up with saves to stop Japan from making the most of it. With all the talk around who will partner Zimmerman at center back in Qatar, we have more questions than answers after this display. There is perhaps a feeling that Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards may actually be a better pairing and Long and even Mark McKenzie may have played themselves out of the World Cup squad.

Japan a clinical finisher away from being very good: Okay, so now is probably not the time to panic for the USMNT as Japan are a very good team. They have a very tough group in the World Cup as they face Spain, Germany and Costa Rica in Group E. On this showing, they will give the powerhouses of Spain and Germany a run for their money. If Japan had a clinical forward, they would cause huge problems for opponents in Qatar. In midfield they are so slick and tidy and cause massive problems with their high-pressing.

Matt Turner is the first-choice goalkeeper: The main positive (perhaps only positive) to come from this game is that Matt Turner is the clear starter for the USMNT. He has only played once for Arsenal so far this season but he looks very sharp, made three important saves and he is ahead of Zack Steffen in the pecking order. Turner will get plenty of minutes in the Europa League and League Cup before the World Cup so he will be ready to roll in November.


Tactical focus

Japan pressed high in a 4-4-2 formation and let Long and Zimmerman have the ball and they were tasked with building out from the back. That did not go well for the USMNT in the first half as the gave the ball away so many times and Japan pressed in numbers, kept the ball well and should have scored a few goals early on. In the second half Sam Vines was asked to push further forward by Gregg Berhalter when the U.S. had the ball and basically play as a left winger. That meant the USMNT played in a 3-4-2-1 formation and although it left them a bit exposed defensively it at least helped them get on the front foot a little more in the second half. Still, there was still no fluency in midfield and attack to sustain any kind of pressure. Japan stopped the USMNT building from the back and the U.S. really had no Plan B.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]


What’s next?

A trip to the Murcia, Spain on Tuesday, Sept. 27 as they face Saudi Arabia in a friendly, their final game before the World Cup kicks off in November.


How to watch Japan vs USMNT live, updates and start time

Date: Friday, September 23
Kick off time: 8:25am ET
Where: Dusseldorf Arena, Germany
How to watch: ESPN 2, UnimasTUDN


Japan vs USMNT live analysis! – By Joe Prince-Wright

FULL TIME: Japan 2-0 USMNT. A very disappointing defeat and Gregg Berhalter will have plenty of concerns after witnessing that.

GOALLL! Mitoma curls home a beauty. Game. Set. Match. Japan have been excellent.

Brenden Aaronson whips a shot just wide. That is the closest the USMNT have come in the second half.

20 minutes to go in Dusseldorf. Not much going on for the USMNT.

SAVE! Matt Turner with a fine low stop to deny Kamada. McKenzie with the mistake and Kamada cut inside Cannon but Turner tipped it away. Japan pushing for the second.

Japan have settled down again and are knocking it around nicely. The U.S. bench are screaming for their players to get up the field.

A bit better from the USMNT in the second half. Sam Vines is being asked to push further up on the left flank. The U.S. are exposed defensively but at least have a few more options in attack.

Sargent, Morris, McKenzie and Cannon on at HT for the USMNT. Ferreira, Reyna, Long and Dest subbed off. Big 45 minutes coming up for the USMNT to see if they can get into this game.

HALF TIME: That was very poor from the USMNT. Japan deservedly lead and they should be ahead by more. No attacking intent from the U.S. whatsoever and so many bad giveaways.

Japan are totally in control here. They are knocking it around nicely and the USMNT just can’t keep the ball.

GOALLLL! 1-0 to Japan. Daichi Kamada finishes after another poor giveaway in midfield from USMNT, this time from McKennie. VAR used to give the goal after it was initially ruled out for offside. Japan totally deserve this lead. USA have been absolutely all over the place and could be down by at least a couple of goals.

Japan look so slick on the ball in the final third. USMNT just can’t deal with the speed of passing and movement. Being stretched all over the place.

SAVE! Great stop by Matt Turner to deny Kamada after a terrible giveaway from Walker Zimmerman. Japan should be 1-0 up. USMNT’s center back duo of Aaron Long and Zimmerman have both given the ball away very cheaply already which has led to Japan’s best chances. Not great.

CHANCE! Big opportunity for the USMNT, as Sergino Dest surges down the right and clips in a lovely cross to Jesus Ferreira. Six yards out and unmarked but he heads over. That’s a great chance wasted.

Pretty slow tempo to start this game. The grass looks pretty long on this pitch.

Aaron Long with a bad giveaway and Japan get a shot on target. They should have made more of that.

KICK OFF: We are underway in Dusseldorf! Luca de la Torre surges down the right but his cross is blocked. There is quite a racket inside the stadium with lots of drums but there aren’t many fans.

An update on Pulisic sounds more positive and he could actually face Saudi Arabia next week.

In terms of the actual players who will be facing Japan, there aren’t really any surprises here.

Sergino Dest starts at right back, Walker Zimmerman captains the side at center back and Luca de la Torre starts in central midfield alongside McKennie and Adams. Gio Reyna and Brenden Aaronson start as they will support Jesus Ferreira.

BREAKING team news: This is not great news for the USMNT. Christian Pulisic has been injured in training and will play no part against Japan. U.S. Soccer released a statement saying that Pulisic would be monitored and his availability for the game against Saudi Arabia next Tuesday will be determined soon. More details below, but this is a blow for Berhalter.

Hello and good morning! Get that coffee pot fired up and strap in for a key World Cup warm-up game for the USMNT. Only 180 minutes separates Gregg Berhalter’s boys from the World Cup in Qatar in November and this game against Japan is a huge opportunity for plenty of players.


Key storylines

The big storylines swirling around the USMNT ahead of these friendlies seem to have been swirling around this young team for much of the last two years: who is going to play up front and who will be the second center back?

With red-hot Jordan Pefok surprisingly left off this roster despite his incredible start to the season for Bundesliga leaders Union Berlin, the duo of Ricardo Pepi and Josh Sargent have been given one final chance to prove themselves to Berhalter. Gio Reyna is back in the squad, which is a huge boost, and it gives Berhalter so many options in the attacking midfield areas. How will he squeeze Brenden Aaronson, Christian Pulisic and Reyna into the same starting lineup? Can he?

At center back things have been complicated by injuries to Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards, who were set to battle it out to see who starts alongside Walker Zimmerman at the World Cup. The likes of Aaron Long, Mark McKenzie and Erik Palmer-Brown will see this as a huge opportunity to make the roster as it seems unlikely Miles Robinson will make the squad following his Achilles injury. Yunus Musah being out with an injury is a blow as he was certain to start alongside Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie in midfield. In goal, Zack Steffen is out after being out injured and only just returning so Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson will battle it out for that third and final goalkeeping spot with Matt Turner now looking like the starter as he gets the nod to start against Japan.


Brenden Aaronson explains USMNT’s excitement

Leeds United playmaker Brenden Aaronson has had a fine start to his Premier League career over the last few months and the 21-year-old is fired up with the World Cup just two months away.

“It’s crazy to think how close the World Cup is, it’s at the back of your head,” Aaronson told reporters. “With Leeds at the moment I really haven’t had a chance to think about it but it’s really growing. Seeing the guys again and thinking ‘wow, this is the last two games before the World Cup comes.’ It comes as you fast. I think the preparation and what we’ve done over the last years, we’re all ready to go and we are all looking forward to it.”


Japan vs USMNT head-to-head record

This will be just the third meeting all-time between Japan and the USMNT, as the first meeting in 1993 in Tokyo saw the hosts run out 3-1 winners with Hugo Perez grabbing the USA’s only goal. The last time these teams met was in 2006 as the USMNT won 3-2 in San Francisco as goals from Eddie Pope, Clint Dempsey and Taylor Twellman put them 3-0 up and the U.S. held on for victory.


The lowdown on Japan

This is a very experienced side with captain Maya Yoshida (114 caps) marshalling the back line, plus full back Yuto Nagatoma (136 caps) and goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima (95 caps) also mainstays in this squad for at least a decade, plus Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu a key part of their defense. Daichi Kamada (Frankfurt), Ritsu Doan (Freiburg), Kyogo Furuhashi (Celtic) and Takumi Minamino (Monaco) are attacking talents to look out for. Japan and their boss Hajime Moriyasu know they have been handed a tough assessment at the World Cup but they’re usually very good at exceeding expectations and they breezed through qualifying in the Asian Football Confederation to reach their seventh-straight World Cup.


USMNT team news, injuries, lineup

With injuries in defense and midfield, opportunities have popped up all over the place for USMNT players to make one final statement before the World Cup roster is announced. Many expected  Erik Palmer-Brown and Mark McKenzie to get plenty of minutes at center back, but Aaron Long starts alongside Zimmerman. While there is a bit of a battle at left back with Antonee Robinson missing this squad with injury. Can Joe Scally and Sam Vines give Berhalter even more headaches in the full back area? Following his great start to the season with Antwerp, Vines starts at left back in this game against Japan.

Luca de la Torre starts in midfield alongside Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, while up top is where this will get really intriguing. Berhalter will try to give balance to his side but also get all of his top attacking talents in the game at the same time. Berhalter has mentioned both Reyna and Aaronson will be looked at in a deeper central midfield role but with Christian Pulisic being out with an injury, Reyna and Aaronson start out wide. Duo Josh Sargent and Ricardo Pepi haven’t grabbed the No. 9 jersey from Jesus Ferreira, for now, as the FC Dallas star gets the nod up top.


Player ratings: USMNT outclassed by Japan in every way

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The USMNT showed a number of worrying signs in a 2-0 defeat to Japan on Friday, in the Yanks’ second-to-last friendly before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

[ MORE: What we learned from Japan vs USA ]

To put it bluntly, it was a putrid performance from Gregg Berhalter’s side. With a couple of starters missing due to injury and a lack of quality options at other positions, these are increasingly worrying times for the USMNT.

Join our live Q&A over on NBC Sports’ YouTube channel following the Japan vs USMNT game on Friday, Sept. 23, as we will be live from around 10:30am ET to answer your questions!

Below are player ratings from the USMNT defeat to Japan…


USMNT player ratings vs Japan

GK – Matt Turner: 5 – As a shot-stopper, we know Turner is solid and more accomplished than Zack Steffen, the presumed no. 1b/2 goalkeeper (though currently injured), but the 28-year-old Arsenal backup was once again shaky in possession on Friday, giving the ball away either directly or indirectly on a handful of occasions during the disastrous first half.

RB – Sergiño Dest: 5 – Berhalter quite clearly wants the USMNT to progress the ball through the center of the field, which is a bit strange for someone who ascended to his current job by coaching a (heavily) wing-reliant system at Columbus Crew. In theory, that Berhalter should be great for Dest, who does his best work getting forward, but he’s effectively reduced to a stay-at-home right back in the current setup which, unsurprisingly, does not suit the 21-year-old at all.

CB – Walker Zimmerman: 5.5 – He’s probably fine as the complementary piece to a stalwart leader at center back, but he’s being asked to be that key figure.

CB – Aaron Long: 5 – It’s not Long’s fault (Berhalter is the one who keeps calling him up and starting him in a system that is terribly ill-fitted to his particular skill set, given the possession and passing demands placed upon center backs in the system), but it is his (and America’s) problem.

LB – Sam Vines: 4 – Look, Antonee Robinson is the unquestioned starter, but he’s currently injured. Vines is probably third-choice at left back (Dest is likeliest to slide across the field to deputize in a full-squad, tournament scenario), so it’s likely a moot point regarding the World Cup, but Vines was often beaten in behind while he offered nothing going forward.

DM – Tyler Adams: 5 – When you’re unable to keep and move the ball, any semblance of midfield balance is going to be destroyed. It looks like wave after wave of pressure after giving the ball away, completely overwhelmed and outnumbered as they sprint back toward their own goal.

CM – Luca de la Torre: 5.5 – Tasked with bringing such much-needed passing to a midfield missing Yunus Musah, the newly minted Celta Vigo man found himself under pressure and without much movement ahead of him. Not a great setup for a one-dimensional midfielder.

CM – Weston McKennie: 4 – It was tough to watch McKennie give the ball away (and then give it away again, and again) in the first half, whether the Japanese press was right in his face or nowhere near him. The below video of Daichi Kamada’s goal begins just after McKennie plays a perfect through ball (toward his own goal) to spring a Japanese counter-attack with plenty of numbers and momentum.

RW – Brenden Aaronson: 6 – It wasn’t pretty (or frequent), but most of what the USMNT managed to create (speculative shots either from distance or a crowd) came through/from Aaronson. His energy is a problem for opposing defensive units, but he’s the only one.

CF – Jesus Ferreira: 5.5 – Another anonymous performance from a USMNT center forward.

LW – Gio Reyna: 5.5 – Only played 45 minutes (he didn’t get hurt) and had a very limited impact due to not receiving the ball in the final third and a lack of combination play with Ferreira through the middle.

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USMNT reaction: Berhalter, Adams explain dismal display vs Japan

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The USMNT caused more new questions to be asked than they could answer in a 2-0 defeat to Japan on Friday, with head coach Gregg Berhalter and midfielder Tyler Adams left to explain their shortcomings after the game.

[ MORE: What we learned from Japan vs USA | Player ratings ]

Japan proved a difficult test just 59 days before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and the USMNT had very few, if any, correct answers. Chiefly, the Yanks’ inability to progress the ball up the field in a meaningful way, which resulted in just four shots (zero on target).

Clearly, there was much for Berhalter and Co., to explain…


Gregg Berhalter: “I didn’t see a lot of personality tonight”

“It was a really competitive match. I think we ended up hurting ourselves a little bit too much in the game with silly giveaways. And we want a little more personality in the match. Give Japan a lot of credit: Good team, competitive team, they pressed well, but we can do better.

“For some reason, I didn’t see a lot of personality with that performance tonight.”

“We’ve got work to do. We clearly need to improve, but overall really good experience for this team.”

On the reason for the struggles, and if the pressure is growing heavy on the USMNT already — via ESPN

I don’t know if the proximity of the World Cup has anything to do with it, but the guys didn’t look fresh, and from a physical output we just looked a step behind,” said Berhalter. “And then it’s difficult, a team like Japan will punish you.

“The adjustment in the second half helped give us more control of the game, gave us more passes between the lines. But in the first half, I think it was just the lack of comfort on the ball, silly giveaways.

“We built the opponent up after a decent start, but then it started snowballing and giving some balls away and it wasn’t what we envisioned.


Tyler Adams: “We didn’t reach our standard today … played into their hands”

On failing to meet expectations and perform in an important moment…

“It’s definitely a tough one to take. I mean, you come here wanting to treat it like a group-stage game at the World Cup, in preparation for the World Cup, and we didn’t reach our standard today.

“We faced a talented team but in the end, it felt like we almost played into their hands. We had a little bit of frustration seep in. And you could just tell the team was off, a little late to tackles, late receiving the ball, finding solutions, being dangerous and creating chances like we normally do so. It’s a learning experience at the end of the day, and something that we got to take on the chin for the next game.”

On the USMNT game plan, and why it didn’t work — via ESPN

“I think that some of the teams in CONCACAF — you know, the Mexicos and Hondurases — they’ve pressed us, and we found solutions. We just needed to find solutions earlier on. I think that we had a match plan and I think it would’ve been effective if we stuck to our game plan.

“But, sometimes I just felt that maybe we just started to search for individual solutions instead of sticking together, sticking to the match plan, staying disciplined in our game plan. And you saw Japan — they did that well. They had one game plan and it was effective.”

“In the beginning, it was: if the wingers were pressing narrow, then we were gonna find the solutions in the overlap; we would get Sergiño [Dest] and Sam [Vines] the ball and find the channel down the line. If they were pressing wide, then me and Weston [McKennie] and Luca [de la Torre] should have found space on the ball.

“We just didn’t find those solutions early on. I think we rushed things and forced things, and that caused a lot of turnovers in dangerous areas.”

On the USMNT facing a team of Japan’s quality ahead of the World Cup…

“You have to give credit to Japan, they’re such a talented team. I played against a bunch of those guys in the Bundesliga before and they have quality all over the field, and they showed it tonight.

“So credit to their game plan, it worked. But it didn’t feel like we executed our match plan going into the game. We can’t just start to waver and do our own things and allow individuality to creep into the team. We need to stick together as a team at the end of the day and we didn’t do that.”

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UEFA Nations League: Schedule, how to watch, stream, TV, standings

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UEFA Nations League champions France will not go back-to-back, and Portugal is behind 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, Wales, and Poland have also been eliminated from contention and are faced with the concept of relegation to UEFA Nations League B with just two matches left in the group stage.

France is also in early danger of not making it to back to League A, but can feel better by beating nearest combatant Austria on Thursday.

[ MORE: European Nations League hub — Scores, stats ]

Group A4 is the opposite sort of fight, Belgium and the Netherlands have both played very well and could see League A’s highest point total up for grabs in a meeting that could be for a semifinal place come Sunday.

UEFA Nations Leagues B, C, and D also have drama built into the final days as Ukraine and Scotland are jockeying for promotion in B1; Russia’s punishment has left B2 promotion open to Israel, Iceland, and Albania. B4 sees Erling Haaland, Martin Odegaard, and Norway fighting to join League A for the next cycle.

There’s also drama as Kazakhstan and Georgia currently lead their League C groups, with Latvia and Estonia in League D’s best spots.


UEFA Nations League live: How to watch, stream links

When: June 1, 2022 – March 26, 2024
TV rights: Fox Sports
Stream: Fox Sports Live, Fubo TV


UEFA Nations League A, Group 1

Croatia– 3-1-1, 10 pts
Denmark — 3-0-2, 9 pts
France — 1-2-2, 5 pts
Austria — 1-1-3, 4 pts

Next fixtures

Thursday
France 2-0 Austria
Croatia 2-1 Denmark

Sunday
Denmark vs France
Austria vs Croatia

UEFA Nations League A, Group 2

Spain — 2-2-0, 8 pts
Portugal — 2-1-1, 7 pts
Czech Republic — 1-1-2, 4 pts
Switzerland — 1-0-3, 3 pts

Next fixtures

Saturday
Czech Republic vs Portugal
Spain vs Switzerland

Wednesday
Portugal vs Spain
Switzerland vs Czech Republic

UEFA Nations League A, Group 3

Hungary — 3-1-1, 10 pts
Italy — 2-2-1, 8 pts
Germany — 1-3-1, 6 pts
England — 0-2-3, 2 pts [RELEGATED]

Next fixtures

Friday
Italy 1-0 England
Germany 0-1 Hungary

Tuesday
England vs Germany
Hungary vs Italy

UEFA Nations League A, Group 4

Netherlands — 4-1-0, 13 pts
Belgium — 3-1-1, 10 pts
Poland — 1-1-3, 4 pts
Wales — 0-1-4, 1 pt

Next fixtures

Thursday
Poland 0-2 Netherlands
Belgium 2-1 Wales

Sunday
Netherlands vs Belgium
Wales vs Poland