After incredible rise, Southampton determined to enjoy European adventure

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SOUTHAMPTON — Seven years ago this week Southampton were gearing up for a League One game against Yeovil Town as they sat on -5 points at the bottom of English soccer’s third-tier just months after being rescued from going out of business.

In July 2009 they were saved by Swiss billionaire Marks Liebherr and ever since Saints have been in safe hands. Still, they would never have dreamed about nights like this back then.

[ MORE: United lose to Feyenoord ]

On Thursday they beat Sparta Prague 3-0 in their first-ever foray into the Europa League group stage as Charlie Austin scored twice in the first half to put the game beyond doubt and Jay Rodriguez added a late clincher.

The victory was a moment to savor and was also time for reflection about the incredible journey the club has been on in the past seven years, with seven-straight seasons of finishing in a higher league positions than the last.

[ MORE: UCL Thursday roundup

Just like it did last season during their brief stint in the third qualifying and play-off rounds of the Europa League, this competition has captured the imagination of the people of Southampton and their supporters. Chatting with a few Saints fans in London last week after their 2-1 defeat to Arsenal, all the talk was about what the best hotels and bars in Prague and Milan were as they dream about seeing their team play at the San Siro as opposed to playing at Hartlepool’s Victoria Park not too long ago.

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In and around the city on Thursday there was a sense of optimism about the foreign clubs heading over and the new challenges ahead. The last time Saints were in this competition proper (not the qualifying rounds) was the first round against Steaua Bucharest in 2003. Before that they had four brief stints in the competition in 1971 and three times in the early 80s, never making it past the second round of the old format of straight knockout.

The city of around 300,000 people on England’s south coast had waited some time for European nights like this. They are determined to enjoy it.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15: Charlie Austin of Southampton celebrates scoing his second during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and AC Sparta Praha at St Mary's Stadium on September 15, 2016 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

As the late summer sun shone down on restaurants in Ocean Village marina, there was excited chatter among fans beforehand. The locals were ready for their first extended spell of European action.

“This is a phenomenal achievement for us. This is where we want to be,” Saints fan Derek Coles said outside the stadium before the game as a brass band played and home fans danced.

Drawn in Group K alongside Italian giants Inter Milan, Czech outfit Sparta Prague and Israeli champions Hapoel Be’er Sheva, this is an adventure to savor for Southampton’s fans, players and staff.

After finishing sixth in the Premier League last season following an incredible late season surge which saw only Leicester City pick up more points than them from January until May, Saints deserved the reward of being in the Europa League. Many clubs in the PL don’t see it as a reward. Bigger teams like Liverpool, Manchester United and even Tottenham Hotspur felt it was a drain on their chances of finishing in the top four and getting back into the Champions League.

Not Southampton. Nobody in Southampton’s squad knows that more than captain Jose Fonte.

After joining Saints in January 2010 in the third-tier, the veteran Portuguese defender is the only remaining player from their time in League One. This summer Fonte won EURO 2016 with Portugal as his form for Southampton saw him handed his national team debut just before the age of 31. He hasn’t looked back since and he intends to make sure Southampton continue their rise.

“We want to improve on last year. Already we improved by getting to the group stages but we want to get to the knockouts and get as far as we can. Everyone is excited,” Fonte said. “It is just another chapter in our history together. A very, very proud moment. In 10 years when we look back on everything we achieved together, it is going to be great but now we need to do the job.”

So far this season there have been plenty of moans and groans from some sections of Southampton’s supporters. Maybe they are feeling a bit hard done by with Ronald Koeman leaving for Everton over the summer plus star names Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle and Victor Wanyama also moving on. With two draws and two defeats from their opening four Premier League games, new manager Claude Puel finally secured his first win in charge but there is cause for optimism with new signings Nathan Redmond and Pierre Emile-Hojbjerg impressing, plus club-record signing Sofiane Boufal will be ready to play in the coming weeks as he returns from injury.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15: Charlie Austin of Southampton scores his sides second goal during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and AC Sparta Praha at St Mary's Stadium on September 15, 2016 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Following higher positions each season since 2010, there perhaps need to be a small reality check among Southampton’s fans about what is achievable this season.

Terry Brewer was stood outside St Mary’s eating fish and chips from a bag as he soaked up the atmosphere of a European night down on the banks of the River Itchen. Brewer didn’t get to see Saints in Europe last season with his wife falling ill and sadly passing away.

This season he has a season ticket and he knows Saints may not be seeing many more nights like this with the perennial giants of English soccer sorting themselves out over the summer.

“All of Southampton’s fans want European football every season but we keeping losing managers and players and we keep on getting away with it. We can’t keep on getting away with it,” Brewer said. “This is a reward and a celebration for last season but if we finished in the bottom of the Premier League table this year, it won’t be much of a celebration, will it?”

Speaking to many fans around the city, they agree a top 10 finish, plus a good run in the Europa League and the domestic cups would be more than adequate this season. Of course everyone at the club wants to continue the upward trajectory but last season’s sixth-place finish was about more than a late season surge, it was also about perennial powerhouses such as Liverpool and Chelsea having down years so Saints could jump ahead of them.

Saints made the most of their opportunity to secure Europa League action and this European adventure is a bonus. One their fans intend to soak up and enjoy.

“Every fan will be celebrating the fact that this could be their only European journey for maybe the next 10 years,” Coles said. “You can’t keep selling all of your players every season and expect to remain in the top flight.”

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15: Charlie Austin of Southampton celebrates scoring his teams opener with teammate Maya Yoshida during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and AC Sparta Praha at St Mary's Stadium on September 15, 2016 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

On nights like Thursday, you’ll find many Saints fans casting their minds back to those bleak days in League One. Some would even have shed a tear when they saw their club walk out to compete in the group stages of a European club competition for the first time in history.

“As a club it is amazing to be in this competition and Southampton have come far to be in this competition,” Southampton’s defender Virgil Van Dijk said before the game. “We need to enjoy it, but still we have a lot of opportunities coming to hopefully progress in the group, too.”

In the aftermath of Liebherr’s takeover in 2009 it was hard to imagine the initial five-year plan to get them back to the Premier League was achievable after their rapid spiral into administration and to the brink of the abyss. It was, in truth, the best thing that ever happened to the club. They rebuilt the entire structure and worked their way back up through the leagues after being a founding member of the Premier League in 1992-93 then relegated in 2005 after a 12-year stay in the top-flight.

Their savior, Markus Liebherr, passed away in 2010, just over a year after purchasing Saints, but his legacy lives on everywhere you look.

His daughter Katharina is now the owner and she intends to fulfill her father’s legacy. Despite a slow start to the current PL season, Saints have to remember where they’ve come from. The majority do and walking around Southampton there’s a painted mural of Liebherr’s face on a bridge over a train line leading to the stadium, plus the main building at the club’s pride and joy, the $50 million Staplewood training base which is home to their world famous academy, is called the Markus Liebherr pavilion.

After Saints went 2-0 up against Sparta Prague and some of the early tension in the stadium dissipated, the home fans immediately sung about one man: “There’s only one Markus Liebherr!”

Southampton is a club who is enjoying their European adventure and after working so hard to get there, they don’t intend to leave in a hurry with Thursday Night Lights a welcome sight on the south coast. There is a sense of “now what?” among most fans, now that Saints have achieved everything they wanted and more. There’s also a sense of realism that finishing in the PL’s top four may be out of the question, for now.

With the squad Southampton has, should they be prioritize making a deep run in Europe over pushing for another top six finish in the Premier League?

“With the squad we’ve got at the moment, I don’t think it makes much of a difference if we rotate the team around for these games,” Brewer said. “But I’m glad we’ve got this.”

Brewer speaks for the masses. Southampton’s fans are glad they have the Europa League and are determined to enjoy and savor their rare European adventure.

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