Perfect storm: This is why Leicester is top of Premier League

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Leicester City is on the cusp of clinching the Premier League title.

No matter how many times you hear that, it doesn’t get any easier to understand, does it?

[ VIDEO: Leicester story at warp speed

Leicester’s fans are pinching themselves as for the first time in their 132-year history they are about to become champions of England. Seven points ahead with five games to go. It’s a matter of when and not if… right?

A perfect storm has been created during the 2015-16 PL season as everything is falling in their favor and the Foxes have taken full advantage of it.

Here’s a look at the key factors in their remarkable rise to the top.


Direct, honest and realistic

One of the coolest things about this incredible rise is that the Foxes aren’t trying to be something they’re not. Every single player on the team knows his job and every single one of them knows they can do it. The synergy is sensational and like a well-oiled machine they just chug away game after game, each doing their individual jobs consistently at their highest level and the sum of their parts is a machine humming along without inconsistency. Six clean sheets in their last seven games (plus five shutouts on the spin) tells you they’re keyed in to grind out results when it matters most. That’s the sign of a champion. Winning at all costs and dispelling any defensive fragility which held them back at times earlier in the season. Now they invite teams to cross into the box and seem to clear everything. 

Leicester’s play, at least on the surface, is  massively direct and cuts through teams like a knife through butter. All season long teams know that N'Golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater and Riyad Mahrez love to chip the ball in-behind long and let Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki chase it down. Everyone knows it is coming, but yet nobody has been able to stop it. The simple yet effective formula has worked a treat. In 19 of Leicester’s 21 wins in the Premier League this season they’ve had less possession than their opponents. They wait for mistakes and pounce on them ruthlessly.

Whispers around the press lounges in England suggest Leicester’s performance analysts have found a formula, some kind of algorithm which allows them to recruit players good at winning the ball back quickly and then playing in the straightest lines possible. That’s what they do to get in-behind opponents and you rarely see them playing out wide if they don’t need to. They are direct, no-nonsense and know exactly what is expected.

I spoke with BBC Radio Leicester broadcaster Ian Stringer, a lifelong Leicester fan, before a recent home game — a 1-0 win (of course) over Southampton — and he summed up the simplicity of this team beautifully after watching them in every single game this season.

“Claudio made a very simple game very simple,” Stringer said. “Football is a very simple game complicated, isn’t it? Claudio has seen what his players are good at, are best at, he’s let them play to their strengths. He has said in press conferences all season ‘my players aren’t capable of playing possession football in midfield. So I’m not going to try and play possession football in midfield.’ And he said that his players, defensively, need to do a bit of work. I know what they are great at, they are great at counter-attacking football. Pressing, harrying, being horrible in their opponents face and that’s what he’s let them do. It isn’t rocket science.”

“They are playing two up front, who knew? Playing a 4-4-2, a good old-fashioned British 4-4-2 and they are pressing and it is working. It is simplicity. Press. Press. Press. Get the ball back and press and move. Get it up field as quickly as you can. Look around the stadium. Fearless. Those words are branded all around the stadium and they are… they are fearless.”


Peaking together

When you look at Leicester’s 18-man squad each week, you know each player is currently at the top of their game. Especially the starting XI.

Somehow these players have all hit peak form at exactly the same time. You look at every single one of them and say “well, this guy has never played this well in his life” and it is so true. Vardy, Mahrez and Kante have undoubtedly been the stars of the team and all three have been nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award. They are comfortable playing together and they have a collective drive and personality which means that if one player doesn’t pull his weight for a single second in a game, he knows about it. Uncompromising characters like Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Kasper Schmeichel and Vardy aren’t around to make friends.

Most of those guys mentioned aren’t spring chickens either. They are players who have been around the block, and back again, and have now entered the prime (or are even passing it) of their careers. This is their one big shot and they aren’t going to blow it. Total focus from everyone involved has led to incredible achievements and performances this season. Sure, these guys are good players and we knew that before this season, even when they were relegation candidates and at 5000-1 odds to win the title. However, because they all continue to peak together, it means we are witnessing something truly astonishing.

“That is the thing Spurs haven’t got for me. Tell me, who have Spurs got in the dressing room who will get hold of someone around the neck and say, ‘oi! You can go and win the Premier League here, I want you to show some bottle,'” Stringer said. “Wes [Morgan] will do that. Robert Huth will do that. Players in the middle of the park, Danny Drinkwater will do that. [Jamie] Vardy will do that, Kasper [Schmeichel] will do that. We’ve got characters. I think Wes Morgan is just a leader. I’d follow him. I’d follow him into battle. No doubt.”

When it comes to Vardy and Kante, they have both received international callups and scored their first goals for England and France respectively this season. Vardy setting a new PL record after scoring in 11 consecutive games earlier this season — remember, at the age of 29 he’s in just his second-ever PL season and spent most of his career in the semi-pro game — summed up the confidence flowing through this team.

Kante’s incredible destructive ability in midfield has been spotted by the world’s biggest teams and he looks destined to move on from Leicester after this season. The little central midfielder covers every blade of grass in every game he plays and if Vardy is the goals of this team, Kante is the heartbeat.

“From probably the first two minutes of football I saw him play… I would happily change my name to N’Golo Kante,” Stringer laughed. “Kante does everything you would teach a young footballer to do. If you are building the fundamentals of football, you learn how to tackle, you learn how to protect the ball, exploit the space, positional play. But also his mentality and discipline. He will do whatever his manager tells him. No airs or graces about him. I think he is the best player in the Premier League this season and I think N’Golo Kante would not only walk into any team in the Premier League, he would also dispossess whoever has the ball on that team and then walk into their team.”

Just look at these stats below for tackles and interceptions this season in the PL. He starts everything. Hard to believe he was playing in France’s fourth-tier a few years ago…

Opta Sports


Ranieri’s experience

When he arrived last summer, everyone was scratching their heads. Now, he’s applauded everywhere he goes. And rightly so. Ranieri, 64, has performed miracles and he’s done it with minimum fuss. His persona is the exact opposite of the abrasive, strict and sometimes strange Nigel Pearson who he succeeded. Leicester did a complete 360 in terms of manager personality and it has worked sensationally.

Keeping the backroom team led by assistants Steve Walsh and Craig Shakespeare in place was a masterstroke and Ranieri hardly changed anything last summer as he continued the good work which took place at the end of last season. After winning seven of their final nine games in 2014-15 to stay in the PL, momentum was with the Foxes and the Italian manager was right to not making sweeping changes and instead add his own small twists and ideas to the mix. Throughout the season he has stayed calm, polite and utterly human as he continued to repeat his wish to reach 40 points and stave off relegation as soon as possible.

He’s like a grandfather we all want, he seems to want to hug everyone and pass them a piece of boiled sweet and give you a pat on the head.

In true Italian fashion he has added defensive steel to Leicester and he doesn’t ask his players to do anything they can’t do. He has truly got the best out of the talent at his disposal. Ranieri’s career has taken him to some of the biggest clubs in the world over the past 25 years. Chelsea. Inter Milan. AS Roma. Monaco. Atletico Madrid. Valencia. Juventus. Napoli. But his biggest achievement is undoubtedly leading Leicester to the UEFA Champions League this season and to likely become the champions of England for the first-time in its 132-year history.

Comments such as “dilly-ding, dilly-dong” will live long in the memory and his tears of joy after the recent win at Sunderland epitomized just how much this managerial swansong means to him. He has already been named the Italian Manager of the Year back in his homeland, is being touted as Italy’s next national team coach and is nailed on to be named Manager of the Year in England. 18 months ago, Ranieri was being fired by the Greek national team after overseeing a disastrous start to their EURO 2016 qualifying campaign.

“He is experienced enough to not let all of the bells and whistles of football to get in the way with what he’s doing,” Stringer said. “And his Italian swagger and charm allows him to get away with certain things an English manager might not be able to. But he’s so calm, so level headed, Imagine working in your job and knowing what your good at and what you’re not so great at. The gaffer says to you ‘don’t worry about what you’re not great at it’ and instead tells you to go and do what you do best. That is what Claudio has done.”

Now he’s one of the hottest managerial properties on the planet and after all those years of pleasantness to the media, fans and everyone else in-between, it seems like one of the good guys is getting everything he deserves… And then some.


Injury free

Staying healthy has been a huge reason behind this success. Yes, you can say plenty of teams stay healthy and struggle (Aston Villa, ahem), but Leicester has named the same starting lineup time and time again and it is so easy to recite their best XI.

Continuity is one of the most underrated factors in any successful team. Look at the great Liverpool, Manchester United, Barcelona or Real Madrid teams in decades gone by. You can probably rattle off the starting XI of each of their European Cup or league winning teams. We will be able to do the same with Leicester in 10, 15, even 20 years time.

Schmeichel, Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs, Drinkwater, Kante, Albrighton, Mahrez, Vardy and Okazaki.

Those 11 names will be etched into our memories for the rest of time because of their exploits this season.


Down year for the big boys

The perfect storm we alluded to has seen Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and even Manchester City and Arsenal all endure sub-par seasons. The fact that Leicester’s players have timed their once-in-a-lifetime form to coincide with a down year for the big boys shows us that after a red-hot few months to start the season, they realized they could achieve something special and have seized the moment.

Like Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester knows they may never get a better chance to win the PL.

In fact, both Leicester and Spurs may not challenge for the title again seriously in the next 10 years and Spurs would have a better chance than Leicester, long-term, of becoming perennial title contenders. That’s not a slight on Leicester. It is just being realistic. The big boys, as they always do, will come back strong. Liverpool will fire under Jurgen Klopp after a full preseason and after bringing in new players. Manchester City under Pep Guardiola could sweep all before them. Chelsea’s new direction under Antonio Conte promises plenty and the powerhouses of Arsenal and Manchester United will battle again.

“In the City of Leicester, it feels like the middle of the sporting earth at the minute and who can argue?” Stringer said. “This will be the biggest team sporting achievement ever. I defy anybody else to tell me a bigger sporting achievement by a team. There has never been a 5000-1 shot. Where do you get a 5000-1 shot? Are they ever in their lifetime going to get a better chance of winning the Premier League? Probably not.”

Leicester and their fans know it is now or never and even though they’ve got lucky with how bad some of the top teams have been this season, fair play to them for taking full advantage of it.

Now, most importantly, can they get the job done?

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.”

Follow @AndyEdMLS

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