New-look Stoke City ready to progress

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STOKE, England — These are heady days at the Britannia Stadium.

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Stoke City are in their ninth-straight season in the Premier League and the coaching staff, players and fans are optimistic this will be the best yet as they continue to progress on the pitch.

Ahead of their clash against Chelsea on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) ProSoccerTalk went along to Stoke’s Clayton Wood training ground to speak with U.S. national team defender Geoff Cameron, England goalkeeper Jack Butland and Spanish playmaker Bojan Krkic. Typically it was raining. Hard. It was cold. It was wet and windy. What else did we expect?

[ MORE: Bradley set for Le Havre ]

Since Mark Hughes arrived at Stoke as boss for the 2013-14 season the Potters have steadily been building a new philosophy, a new identity and playing style. Back-to-back ninth placed finishes, recording their highest points tally last season and attracting exciting talents from overseas has seen a new-look Stoke City take the Premier League by surprise.

USMNT center back Cameron is in his fourth season at Stoke, his third under Hughes, and has seen a big shift since the Tony Pulis era.

“It is definitely a new-look Stoke. From the staff to the way things are run day-to-day it has changed. Physios, fitness coaches, nutrition, everything. From top to bottom it has changed,” Cameron said. “Under Tony Pulis it was different. He was a good coach, different style, different ideas and we were successful so not taking credit away from him. But under Mark Hughes he has come in and changed the whole philosophy of the club, a different idea of playing the ball on the pitch and being creative, letting guys go into their own ability and I think with the players we have like Bojan, a player of that type of caliber has come in and you see that it took him a little while to adjust but he is now blossoming into a big player for us.”

The man Cameron singled out, Bojan, was a shock signing for Stoke as the Spanish playmaker arrived from Barcelona last summer and perhaps signifies just how Stoke’s image has altered over the last few years. The 25-year-old was dubbed “the new Messi” when he broke through at Barca at 17 years old but moves to AS Roma, AC Milan and Ajax saw his career at the Nou Camp stall. Bojan revealed why he was excited to join Stoke, even if he didn’t know too much about the club to start with.

Fulham v Stoke City - Capital One Cup Third Round

“I think when I came here I didn’t know the history about Stoke City and a lot of people say, ‘oh, why you go there because it’s a different style and a different style of football?’” Bojan said. “But when Mark Hughes called me, I spoke also with Marc Muniesa, he told me the philosophy of the club and what Mark wants to play. I said yes for that. When I come here and started to train and play I enjoyed it since the first day.”

It was clear from Hughes’ first day in charge of Stoke that the much talked about tactics under Pulis — direct, long balls and playing up to a target man with a reliance on long throws and set pieces consolidating them in the PL — would dissipate and they would play more attractive soccer. It’s been a case of steady progress but one of the players who was there on Hughes’ first day in charge was Butland and he believes the new philosophy is evident in the way his team plays.

“From the minute the manager came in and first day of preseason he said things are going to change,” Butland revealed. “There is a lot of talent in this room that isn’t being allowed to play at their full potential. From that moment we knew it was going to be exciting, a lot of changes, the balls came out quite early. We were getting into football quite early and what the manager wanted. As the years have progressed we have improved a great deal.”

Mark Hughes

One of the main reasons Stoke seem to be improving each season is the caliber of players Hughes is attracting to the Britannia Stadium. Last year Bojan joined Austrian international Marko Arnautovic to boost the attack and over the summer Hughes added another two star attackers in Ibrahim Afellay from Barcelona and Xherdan Shaqiri from Inter Milan, the latter for a club record $20 million.

“You can tell the pedigree that they bring, the caliber and skillset that they have, they are all unique in different ways,” Cameron, who has been a mainstay in Stoke’s defense since arriving from MLS in 2012, explains. “A guy like Shaqiri, it is going to take time for him to adjust, like it did for Bojan. It is difficult coming from different leagues which is something I experienced myself, you come in and everything is a little different. The Premier League is quicker, faster, it is more physical. It took a little while for Bojan to find his feet then a month or two into the season that’s when he started feeling the game coming to him and he was scoring goals for us but then unfortunately he went down with his injury. You can see already this season that he is back and things are starting to happen for him.

“It does take time and it is going to happen with Shaqiri. You know what he brings to the table, you see it on the training pitch every single day. The games are a little different and it will come. You have a guy like Afellay, he is clever, he is quick and he likes to dribble at guys, which is the same with Arnautovic. They have power and pace. We are a threat offensively. I think we are a little off right now, we are trying to find that final ball and it hasn’t been there but we are creating chances. It is just a matter of us finishing them and sharpening up in the final third. Once we all start clicking together as a team, I think we will be pushing for the top 10 for sure.”

A big reason why Stoke may not be gelling as quickly as they hoped was that over the summer 12 new players arrived. The Potters didn’t win any of their opening six games of the season. However, a three-game winning streak followed that and despite a blip against Watford last weekend, Stoke’s new boys are finding out what it’s all about in the Premier League.

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Butland believes the new flair players are adapting to chipping in defensively, a trait which is still very important at Stoke despite all the changes, as well as showing their attacking talents.

“They are adapting to that really well. The minute you do bring the more technical players in with flair, you are always going to veer a little bit away from what the team was but that’s kind of the sacrifice that we are making,” Butland said. “We want these players here because they are incredibly talented but with that they know and we know that we still have to work hard and be tough to beat as a team. Nothing changes on that side of things but as you do start to bring these players in, your team does become a little bit smaller, a little bit more technical and you have to try and play to that.”

Bojan, the hub of Stoke’s attack who says he is enjoying playing in the No. 10 role, believes the foreign players who have arrived know their responsibilities on both sides of the ball.

“It depends in what team you play but I think football changes every year,” Bojan said. “Before, the strikers they really don’t need to do a lot of defensive work but now yes and more if you play in a club like Stoke City. Everyone has to work 100 percent, offensively and defensively. We know that and we have to.”

Stoke City v Chelsea - Capital One Cup Fourth Round

The man leading this new approach at Stoke, former Manchester United and Barcelona forward Hughes, quietly goes about his business on the sidelines with a calm persona and with Stoke in the Capital One Cup quarterfinals at home to a Championship team, trying to push up the PL table and playing more attractive soccer, Cameron reveals that his boss is a real players’ coach. Even if he does explode in the heat of the battle.

“He definitely has that bit of a temper that he had when he was a player but at the same time he is very cool, calm and collected coach,” Cameron laughed. “He is a players’ coach. He is a guy you want to play for. You can tell that he wants to win and he wishes he could still go out there and play, which he can, but he wishes he could go out there every weekend. That shows his desire to do whatever it takes to win and do whatever it takes to help this club. He is a great guy to play for.”

Stoke City v Chelsea - Capital One Cup Fourth Round

With Chelsea rolling into town this weekend with six defeats in their opening 11 PL games, many would say this is a great time for Stoke to face the reigning champs. Butland, still only 22, became Stoke’s starting goalkeeper this season after Asmir Begovic left for Chelsea and is pushing Joe Hart to be England’s starting goalkeeper following his great start the campaign. Butland saved Eden Hazard‘s penalty kick in the League Cup shootout last week to hand Stoke victory over Chelsea but is expecting a completely different game this time around and believes his side can’t take anything for granted.

“It will be very different. Even though it was only just a week ago, a lot has happened since then with both clubs. Chelsea have had a hell of a lot more, a Champions League game which they managed to get through in the dying minutes which is going to give them a massive boost but then obviously Jose is not going to be in the stadium for the game at the weekend so there is still a lot going on with their side,” Butland said. “For us, if we apply ourselves like we did in the League Cup game and try and be hard to beat and prevent them from breaking us down, that’s when we need our players to step up going forward and try to get something for us. It will be a very different game but we still need to apply ourselves well and be difficult to beat and try to keep that clean sheet, then it’s about, ‘can we nick one going the other way?'”

[ MORE: 5 ways Mourinho can turn things around at Chelsea ]

Stoke’s players respect Jose Mourinho, despite the tough spot Chelsea is currently in, and believe he will turn things around. Bojan also believes that one of the players heavily criticized during their poor run, Hazard, can still deliver the goods.

“I saw Eden Hazard play here last week against us in the League Cup and he was amazing,” Bojan said. “I don’t see every game but I watched that game and he played amazing. I think Hazard is one of the best players in the world. Also, it can happen, you don’t play [well] some games. That is life. That is football. But he is an unbelievable footballer.”

With reaching the final four of the League Cup a real possibility and the club aiming for a good run in the FA Cup, Butland believes that Stoke should not lose focus on improving their PL finish from last season. When asked about qualifying for Europe, for now, he sees it as a long-term goal.

“No matter how successful we are in the cup, anything less than what we’ve produced in the league in the last two years won’t be acceptable,” Butland said. “We are normally a slow starting team. We did have a slow start to the season last year but we finish well. We have not had a bad start and anything less than a ninth place finish we won’t be very pleased with…

“[Getting into Europe] is the progression we are trying to make. We are not going to be able to turn it around and get in the top six or seven just like that. It is a process but hopefully with another positive season and hopefully a good run in either cup or finishing eighth this year, those kind of accolades are going to attract more players to the club. It is going to be a much more exciting team to be a part of. It is certainly something in the future that will be a target.”

Stoke City v Leicester City - Premier League

Bojan and Cameron both echo that sentiment of building slowly at Stoke but as new high-quality players continue to arrive for big money, expectations will soar.

“We have to go step by step. We have players to have a good season. Of course we want to be in the top 10 and we want to win a cup,” Bojan added. “For that we have to do better, we have to correct some things to have a chance to do that.”

Mistakes will be punished on Saturday, despite a struggling Chelsea arriving at the Britannia. Cameron is hoping Stoke can invoke a well known fact to get one over on Chelsea for the second time in 10 days.

“It’s what they always say, ‘can you do it on a cold, wet, rainy night in Stoke?’ … so hopefully it will be a cold, wet, rainy night in Stoke on Saturday!” Cameron laughed. “Then we will get after it and make it difficult for them to play.”

No matter how many things change at Stoke on the pitch, that old adage will always remain.

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