Premier League Playback: Is Diego Costa clever or a cheat?

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MASTER OF THE DARK ARTS DIVIDES OPINION

Technically, Diego Costa didn’t commit a single foul for Chelsea in their 2-0 win Arsenal on Saturday. Well, not one that was spotted by either Mike Dean or his officiating crew.

He is the ultimate master of “the dark arts” and although Dean didn’t spot Costa’s actions in initiating a battle with Arsenal — because Costa’s been there, done that and got the t-shirt — the TV cameras did and the Spanish striker has now been handed a violent conduct charge by the English FA which will likely see him given a retrospective ban of up to three games.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win ]

Many would argue that is fair, but with Costa using every trick in the book to circumnavigate the rules and get away with winding up the opposition time and time again, would everyone be this vocal about his actions if another player had acted in this manner?

[ MORE: Mourinho has dig at “crying” Wenger ]

Costa, 26, has divided opinion throughout most of the soccer world regarding his bullish forward play, although if you love or hate his combative style, everyone can surely agree that had Dean or the assistant referees seen either of the swings with his flailing arms which connected with Laurent Koscielny‘s face, Costa would have seen red and Chelsea, not Arsenal, would have been the team down to 10-men at a pivotal stage of the game.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Gabriel ended up being the man to get sent off, something Arsene Wenger accepted had to happen as the Brazilian center back tried to stand up for his center back partner and teammate, Koscielny, and was initially booked for his part in the scuffle with Costa. Gabriel and Costa have previous. They are old sparring partners from La Liga and often clashed during games between Atletico Madrid and Villarreal. As the duo walked to the halfway line to restart play after a lengthy delay, Gabriel stupidly kicked out at Costa right under Dean’s nose. The ref had to send Gabriel off, and Costa once again looked like the victim when everybody inside the stadium and watching on TV screens across the world could see he was the instigator.

In his post-match press conference Jose Mourinho was angry that the media focus had switched to Costa, instead of Gabriel’s naivety.

“I think you should speak about Gabriel Paulista,” bellowed Mourinho. “Good player, you should speak about him and his mistake. If you want to speak about Diego Costa with me, it is just to say he played like he has to play. That is why you have full stadiums, you sell to television stations all around the world for millions, because the game has to be played like that.

“That is why tomorrow, I go to [Rugby World Cup]. It is comparable in terms of dedication and passion, I go to New Zealand vs. Argentina. I love it. Diego… fantastic. For me, the man of the match.”

Arsene Wenger was far from impressed, calling Costa’s actions “disgusting” and then launched a scathing attacking in his press conference.

“He can do what he wants and he stays on and everybody else who responds to him, they have to be sent off,” Wenger sneered. “I think it is unacceptable, his behavior. If you look at the pictures of what he did to [Laurent] Koscielny before he pushes him down, he hits him in the face. He always gets away with it. It is surprising. I don’t understand Mike Dean’s decision at all. Why does Diego Costa stay on the pitch?”

So, what is it? Is Costa clever, or is he a cheat? Many old school types defended Costa and called for physical play to remain in the game, while his own teammate Kurt Zouma (even if it was a little lost ini translation) said “everyone knows Costa likes to cheat” in this interview. Soccer is a contact sport but, overall, you can’t excuse these actions even if Costa received a standing ovation from the home fans when he was substituted in the 82nd minute without committing a foul, technically. Every time he touched the ball in the second half he was booed by Arsenal’s 4,000 traveling fans and abusive chants were directed at him.

[ MORE: Premier League Standings | schedule | stats ] 

At one point, Costa lost the ball in front of the away section and turned around to the Gunners faithful who were berating him and gave an Eric Cantona-esque pose with his chest puffed out and a deadpan expression on his face. He enjoys playing the villain. He takes on the burden of being the nuisance and embraces it. He is the guy who has battled his way through the trials and tribulations of the pro game and made it all the way to the top. To stay there, he has to continue to be a lethal finisher (something which evaded him this season with just two goals so far) but also by mixing it up and never giving defenders an easy time. You know what you are going to get when Costa is around. So Arsenal should have been prepared and Gabriel should have kept his cool.

Arlo White, Graeme Le Saux and Lee Dixon were all on the call for NBC Sports at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Here’s what they made of it all.

The fallout has continued since the final whistle in West London as Chelsea grabbed a vital three points and are not just a victory behind Arsenal in the standings as Mourinho’s men look to clamber back into the top four and kick-start a proper defense of their title. They are only eight points behind Manchester City after their shock defeat to West Ham United, but with Costa likely to be missing for the next three games after his FA charge, Mourinho will have to rely on Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao to lead Chelsea’s attack. Sure, Costa has been nowhere near prolific since this time last year, but his impact in leading the line in an aggressive manner creates plenty of space for Chelsea’s other attackers to explore and his presence will be missed.

Call him the villain, call him “disgusting” and call him whatever you want. One thing is for sure: it wont faze him and when Costa’s ban is over, he’ll come powering back with his flailing arms and a multitude of subtle ways to get under the skin of opposition defenders. Referees always have an extra eye on Costa, and more so than ever after this episode he will be a marked man. Will he keep finding new ways to wind up opponents, or will he finally change his ways?

Premier League Schedule – Week 6

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-1 WBA Recap, watch here
B’mouth 2-0 S’land Recap, watch here
Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal Recap, watch here
Liverpool 1-1 Norwich Recap, watch here
Man City 1-2 West Ham Recap, watch here
Newcastle 1-2 Watford Recap, watch here
Saints 2-3 Man Utd Recap, watch here
Stoke 2-2 Leicester Recap, watch here
Swansea 0-0 Everton Recap, watch here
Tottenham 1-0 Palace Recap, watch here

MARTIAL LAW

Anthony Martial has arrived in the Premier League in some style.

Just 19, the French striker has scored three times in his first 110 minutes as a Manchester United player in the PL, and his two goals at St Mary’s against Southampton on Sunday grabbed all three points for the Red Devils in a thrilling 3-2 win.

Martial signed for United on Deadline Day in a $55 million move which caused the French media to spit out their espresso and croissants in shock. He had only scored a handful of goals for AS Monaco in Ligue 1 and United had made him the most expensive teenager in world soccer history, with the deal potentially rising above $80 million as several add-ons were included. Martial’s signing now looks more like a masterstroke than a gamble, as the man who is from the same Paris suburb as Thierry Henry has many similarities to one of the greatest strikers in PL history.

[ MORE: Can Martial be a United hero? ]

His movement on the shoulder of the last defender unnerves opponents. His pace means when he is in the clear, nobody will stop him. And the most impressive thing about Martial so far is his composure. The goals he scored against Liverpool and Southampton weren’t instinctive. He had bags of time to construct each one and composure reminiscent of Henry shone through in all three of his PL goals so far.

There is a lot of pressure on Martial’s shoulders to deliver early in his Old Trafford career as Wayne Rooney continues his goal drought (11 PL games and counting now), Memphis Depay is still settling in and that means Martial is Louis Van Gaal‘s biggest goal threat. After Sunday’s win against Saints, United moved up to second after four wins from their opening six games of the season. They now sit just two points behind crosstown rivals Manchester City and Van Gaal has said his team “can challenge for the title” this season. If they’re going to be successful, Martial will have to play a huge part as he looks like United’s biggest threat in attack, by a country mile. In defense, United look set with a settled back line (despite the horrific double fracture Luke Shaw suffered to his right leg last week) and David De Gea made two sensational saves to help United to victory on Sunday as the Spanish goalkeeper is once again proving why he’s regard among the top three goalkeepers on the planet. Now De Gea has signed a long-term deal at United and is focused on success with them after seeing his move to Real Madrid collapse on transfer deadline day.

What does LVG think about the teenage sensation he plucked from France?

“He is doing great – three matches in a row and three goals,” Van Gaal said. “When you are 19, you cannot expect consistency. Emotionally they shall have a lot of dips so that I expect also from him but that is not a big problem for me. He adapts to the system of how we want to play, that is also important. Not every player can but he shows he wants to do that. He scores goals. That is the most important thing, that as a striker he scores goals. He can improve I think but he has a high level of talent.”

LLORIS LEADING SPURS’ YOUNG GUNS

Speaking about youngsters, a fine crop of them are emerging at the same time at White Hart Lane.

Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino has a penchant for nurturing young talent and during Sunday’s win against Crystal Palace he fielded a team with the youngest average age (24 years, 118 days) in the PL in 2015-16. Son Heung-Min shone on his PL home debut, as the $30 million signing from Bayer Leverkusen has now scored three goals in two games at home (including his brace in the Europa League last Thursday) and looks likely to provide Harry Kane with the support he needs. When you look around the team, Eric Dier (21), Kane (22), Ryan Mason (24) and Dele Alli (19) are all English and are all key figures in Spurs’ squad after plenty of necessary trimming was performed over the summer.

On Sunday, just before Son netted the game’s only goal against a plucky Palace outfit, the joint-eldest Spurs player on the pitch kept the scores level with a wonderful save. Hugo Lloris, 28, is Tottenham’s captain for a reason. He leads by example on and off the pitch and the French national team skipper made a stunning save from Bakary Sako in the 66th minute as he sprung to his right and pushed Sako’s powerful drive onto the post. It was the kind of save we’ve all come to expect from Lloris as the former Lyon goalkeeper isn’t the tallest or most physically imposing goalkeeper out there, but his reflexes and ability to spring off his line are sensational.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Pochettino had the following to say to the BBC about Lloris after the game, as the goalkeeper who is entering his fourth season at Tottenham is rumored to be interesting Europe’s biggest teams. If Spurs’ young crop is to blossom and seriously challenge for a top four finish and for domestic trophies, Lloris needs to remain in North London.

“We need to recognize Lloris is one of the very best in the world. His performance was unbelievable, top class.”

EXPLAINING WEST HAM’S AWAY-DAY MAGIC

As we mentioned earlier, Man City were stunned at home by the Hammers on Saturday as their lead at the top of the PL has been cut to two points. They conceded their first goals and dropped their first points of the season.

In truth, it was a tired display from City as their exertions from playing Juventus on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League seemed to have taken its toll. The Hammers took full advantage of that and inside the first 30 minutes were 2-0 up as Victor Moses and Diafra Sakho scored. Making sense of Slaven Bilic’s 100 percent record away from home in his debut season as West Ham boss is difficult.

West Ham have now gone to Arsenal, Liverpool and Man City in their opening three road games of the season and have won all three. They are only the fourth team in PL history to win at all three of those away grounds in the same season.

The simplest way to sum up their away-day success is that they can defend and bunker in, but now, unlike seasons gone by in the Sam Allardyce era, they possess exciting attacking talents who will pick the right pass, finish off a chance and make the most of the three or four clear-cut chances they may get every game. Dmitri Payet, Moses and Manuel Lanzini have added class and Bilic’s boys sit in third and are three points off City at the top. In theory, they have two more tricky away games to come this season against Manchester United and Chelsea. After that, and especially after their fine start to the campaign away from home, the Hammers will fancy their chances against anyone on the road. In a season which will be all about the countdown to the East London club moving out of their famous Upton Park home and into the Olympic Stadium for the 2016-17 season, the focus is currently on success in other stadiums for the Hammers.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

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