State of the USMNT: Focusing on the players

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After the first batch of the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifiers ended in two defeats for the U.S. national team, plus their final game of 2016 in the books, now seems like a good time to discuss where the USMNT is at.

[ MORE: Klinsmann to stay or go?

In a two-part series, ProSoccerTalk’s writers will discuss the players and the coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, and assess the current state of the USMNT.

[ MORE: 3 things | Player ratings

Here, we focus on the players.

What is the biggest problem area for the USMNT after these two defeats?

Joe Prince-Wright: The coaching area is obviously a concern. Anybody who has watched this team closely in the past 12 months can see there’s been a steady decline, irrespective of a few good results. However, the big concern for me is defensively. The USMNT looked so solid this summer in defense but losing Geoff Cameron through injury and then deciding not to start DeAndre Yedlin has completely ruined any of the defensive stability which was being built. There are so many issues right now but my main concern is rebuilding that solid defensive base.

Nick Mendola: It’s almost all mental. Not to say Tahiti or San Marino would be a world power simply with better relationships — the Americans still aren’t at an elite level with talent — but there’s a clear disconnect between the coach’s intentions and the players’ desires. Putting it on either side is a major mistake. We’ve all seen talent fail because of relationships, see Jose Mourinho’s final season at Chelsea. But which is easier to fix? The reason I now would accept a Klinsmann firing is that the Americans are far too talented to be outclassed and out-efforted by Costa Rica, and the points left on the table by the poor start against Mexico could come back to haunt them. My fear isn’t changing coaches, though, it’s who they line up to replace him. If someone comes in and dismisses foreign-born players, the Americans won’t be back on their feet until qualifying for 2022. Yay, Qatar.

Andy Edwards: I struggle to find a ton of fault in the players this morning. Here’s why: every one of them, to a man, are playing better for their club team than the national team. If this were a new development, I’d be happy to look past it and write it off as an uncharacteristically bad camp for a number of guys. But it’s been the case for years now. Were a number of key players extremely poor over the 180 minutes of qualifiers this round? Absolutely, but consider this: if they were poor enough against Mexico to publicly criticize after the game (John Brooks, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley), which Klinsmann did, then don’t turn around and pick them against three days later. He’s frustrated by them turning in quality performances for their club teams, then “letting him down” with the USMNT, failing to realize and/ or accept that he’s the one at fault for that.

Matt Reed: The central midfield has been so overrun in these two games, and considering the U.S. will have to face both Mexico and Costa Rica again that doesn’t bode well for them. Michael Bradly and Jermaine Jones simply don’t mesh well anymore, and I’m not sure if you can chalk that up to age but changes certainly need to be made in the heart of the midfield.

Kyle Bonn: The biggest problem areas are man-marking and link-up between defense and attack, but that’s just two of a host of things.

Which players, if any, came out of the last week with any pride intact?

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 11: Bobby Wood #7 of the United States celebrates with teammate Fabian Johnson #23 after scoring a second half goal against Mexico during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier at MAPFRE Stadium on November 11, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Joe: I would say Christian Pulisic, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore. I don’t think you can put much blame on a rusty Brad Guzan either. There will be little to no pride shown by any player over the last two games. They will want to move on as quickly as possible. Unfortunately for them, these results and performances will linger until March…

Nick: Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, and probably Fabian Johnson.

Andy: Christian Pulisic is already a star. On Pulisic: Imagine the shock to the system he must feel every time he departs from Borussia Dortmund, where he’s guided and deployed by the brilliant Thomas Tuchel, for USMNT camp, where he’s now under the instruction of a tactical caveman. It’ll be great to see him instantly back to his best this weekend.

Matt: Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood each provided strong displays in the attack, but neither really had the opportunity to affect the match consistently because of the fact that Costa Rica clogged the midfield and made it difficult for the USMNT to distribute the ball up front.

Kyle: The two attackers. Bobby Wood had the best moment in an otherwise bleak international break, and Jozy Altidore put in a good defensive shift despite few chances up front. Christian Pulisic also proved his worth, although he wasn’t utilized enough or properly.

Do we expect too much from this group of U.S. players? 

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 11: The United States stand for the playing of the National Anthem prior to the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier against Mexico at MAPFRE Stadium on November 11, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Joe: I expect this U.S. team to easily get out of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Easily. Right now they’ve put themselves under immense pressure and another defeat either against Honduras at home or on the road to Panama will leave them in a perilous situation. With the players they have I expect the U.S. to get out of their group at the World Cup, then anything else is a bonus. I don’t think that’s too much to asking but obviously something is going wrongs.

Nick: That depends on the expectations. I expect the USMNT to consistently qualify for the World Cup as a top three team in CONCACAF. Given the potential from a golden generation from any smaller side in the confederation, as we’ve seen with Honduras or Costa Rica in the past decade, it shouldn’t be too much to expect. However, those who expect this crop of players to consistently emerge from World Cup “groups of death” as a given, well, that’s a lot for me to digest.

Andy: Absolutely not, at least not personally. My expectations have dropped significantly from, say, 2012 to present day. In Klinsmann’s first 12 months in charge, I was hopeful he could deliver on the grand ideas he sold everyone. Once it became quite clear to me, sometime in 2013, that he couldn’t/wouldn’t be “taking the USMNT to a new level” (i.e. a World Cup semifinal, or even a return to the quarterfinals), it was about damage limitation. Between the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 Gold Cup, my expectations became “please don’t embarrass the program any further.” That’s not asking too much, from the players or from Klinsmann. The players care immensely, which is quite clear to see in their giving of everything on the field.

Matt: In a way, yes. I think that we’re all used to the USMNT qualifying for the World Cup by now that we sort of take it for granted. That being said, CONCACAF isn’t the most overwhelming region to play in but it’s absolutely a difficult one. Mexico and Costa Rica look to be shoe-ins for Russia 2018, which essentially leaves 1 and a half spots available for the U.S. I do believe the USMNT will make the World Cup but this cycle has shown that nothing is a certainty and that we still have a long way to go before joining the likes of a Brazil, Germany, etc.

Kyle: No, absolutely not. This is a quality group of players overall and they need to have high expectations. Beating Mexico in Columbus clearly isn’t too much to ask, and getting points against a team they beat 4-0 just three months ago is also a normal expectation.

For you, who is the biggest name USMNT player who should not start in the next batch of World Cup qualifiers in early 2017?

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 11: Giovani Dos Santos #10 of Mexico battles for the ball against Jermaine Jones #13 and Christian Pulisic #10 of the United States in the first half during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier at MAPFRE Stadium on November 11, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Joe: I’m going to say Jermaine Jones’ international career is coming to an end. I’m just not sure what he adds to this team and his penchant for hacking opponents isn’t helpful. He leaves Michael Bradley often trying to face two central midfielders on his own.

Nick: Well, Jermaine Jones is suspended, so we’ll skip him. I don’t think there’s another truly big name player who won’t be starting come March, since it will be interesting to see how Bradley looks without Jones (again). Perhaps with Geoff Cameron.

Matt: Jermaine Jones. I think when you look at how productive Sacha Kljestan has been in MLS both as a distributor and defender, he has to not only be in the 23-man roster but in the starting XI as well.Take it as what you will, but Kljestan and Pulisic were really gelling in some of the previous friendlies, and I want to see how the Red Bulls man orchestrates the midfield against good competition.

Kyle: Jermaine Jones. My goodness he was awful. Fitness aside, he had zero usefulness to this team anymore.

With the USMNT clearly needing a clear out in defense, who would be your back four to start against Honduras next March?

Joe: My back four would be: Yedlin, Cameron, Brooks, Johnson. Only one of those started in defense against Costa Rica and we could see that Brooks, who was sublime in the Copa America in the summer, looked lost and nervous. Cameron provides experience to Brooks and Yedlin and you can’t underestimate how much his injury hurt the U.S. national team. Overall, the U.S. must go to a flat back four and use those four guys. If any are missing, why not try Cameron Carter-Vickers, Steve Birnbaum or Kellyn Acosta? The rest have shown they aren’t up to scratch.

Nick: Three remain the same, with DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, and Geoff Cameron. I’d really like to see Eric Lichaj or a new option at left back. Keep Fabian Johnson advanced and spare us Chandler, Michael Orozco, and the Klinsmann old guard.

Andy: I’m not sure I agree with that premise. Just about everyone along the backline was poor at some point or another in these two games, but I think we have to ask ourselves why/how that was. Individual mistakes occurred, without a doubt, but the tactics didn’t exactly do the defense any favors. A strong defense doesn’t consists of four (or three, or five) defenders; it’s a product of quality defenders, of course, but also a midfield that protects it from the front, and a game plan that provides avenues through which to relieve pressure on the defense. The USMNT had none of those in these two games, and the defense was left hanging again and again and again. Once more, every defender Klinsmann picked to start over these two games is playing extremely well for his club team at the moment.

Matt: You have to go with what works. I’ve heard a lot of people say that the Copa America Centenario was a tournament without much meaning, but I saw a lot from that backline in the competition. For me, DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson is still your best bet.

Kyle: I don’t think they need a clear out at all, I think they need better tactical direction. They are good players who were put in positions to fail. The back four should be: Johnson, Cameron, Brooks, Yedlin. Yes, Fabian Johnson is really a midfielder, but he’s the best we got at LB at the moment. If Timmy Chandler continues to play well at his club, he should continue to get a spot in the squad, but Yedlin right now is the best option after he’s improved defensively.

The central midfield balance just isn’t right. Is that Jones and Bradley’s fault? Just one of them? Or just the formation they’re asked to play in?

Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones

Joe: Jones is the bigger issue here. As I mentioned above, Bradley spends half this time fighting fires on his own. In the past a true holding midfielder has looked better alongside Bradley and that allows him to roam forward when necessary and link up with Altidore and the other attackers. Right now, Jones is the one doing that and he had no defensive discipline. I think Bradley has been getting a rough deal.

Nick: It’s the players more than the formation, and I have a hard time choosing one over the other. As it stands, Bradley’s status as one of the most complete USMNT players ever means I’d sit Jones before bailing on Bradley.

Andy: Bradley/Jones has never worked, so of course it’s not working right now either. Sometimes, picking your 11 best players doesn’t equal the best 11-man lineup. Bradley/Jones especially doesn’t work as a midfield-two when the coach says things like “they need to get into more one-on-one duels,” which is just factually incorrect of the Mexico game. The only thing that would have managed to do is to create even more space through the heart of midfield, but I shouldn’t have to explain that to the manager of the USMNT.

Matt: I think Bradley will always do the defensive work necessary, however, his passing at times is so far off. I think the bigger issue between the two is definitely Jones. He was beaten left and right in both the Mexico and Costa Rica matches and doesn’t possess the pace to get back. There’s moments when he can create in the attack, but Jones just doesn’t look like the player he was two years ago. Given the problems the U.S. has had in the back recently, I’d even go with a deep lying midfielder in a 4-1-3-2 come March. Perhaps a Danny Williams, Perry Kitchen or even Bradley to simply sit in front of the backline and help break up attacks.

Kyle: Jones has no use. He’s slow, lumbering, clumsy, and inaccurate. I’d like to see Bradley’s on-field response to new coaching before tossing him under the bus, however. Put Bradley with Kljestan and see what happens.

Are you concerned with Michael Bradley’s recent displays?

Joe: No. As I mentioned, he has had an inept partner in midfield. If you look at the defensive work he brings there are few who can match that. He may have gone through a slight slump in form but with his experience and quality, I expect him to come out the other side and lead this team.

Nick: Very. Even on his worst days, Bradley was capable of those mind-blowing diagonal balls and touch passes. At worst his service on free kicks and corner kicks was still passable. It’s all screwy now, and simple passes are also an issue at times. It feels counterintuitive to criticize him, but displays don’t lie.

Matt: I think it’s been a steady decline for Bradley since Brazil in 2014. He’s done well for the most part in MLS but that form hasn’t carried over to the national team. He’s simply been outplayed by the Mexican and Costa Rican midfields and just looks slow in his decision-making.

Kyle: Not yet. Again, I’d like to see him respond to new coaching. He is clearly lost under Klinsmann, unsure how to proceed tactically. I’m not ready to indict him to a failed product yet.

Is it time to go with youth for Klinsmann? Should Green, Gooch, Morris, Pulisic all become starters?

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29: Christian Pulisic #11 of the United States Men's National Team controls the ball against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Joe: I would say Pulisic should be a starter and go as far as asking for both Lynden Gooch and Jordan Morris to have big roles off the bench and work their way into the starting lineup. Right now, Gooch’s energy alongside Bradley in midfield could be exactly what this team needs. Sure, they’re young, but the experienced players have shown me over the last week they can’t get past Mexico and Costa Rica isn’t there. Klinsmann is always preaching about youth development. Now it is time to back it up and play them.

Nick: Pulisic — 100 percent. The others? No. I’d like to see Green get a look and Morris/Gooch to continue to get time and spots on the bench, but Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore are both going to be factors in Russia. No reason to sit them.

Andy: We’ve still got to qualify for this thing, and we’ve only got eight games to do it. Now’s not the time to scrap everything and start over. There was a time for that: it was the end of the 2014 World Cup, but guys like Kyle Beckerman, Michael Orzoco and Chris Wondolowski, among others, kept getting called up for whatever reason. As I’ve clearly outlined in the above rants, the talent is presently there to qualify for Russia and make another round-of-16 run.

Matt: The problem with the U.S. at the moment is that they have youth in very few positions. When you talk about Green, Pulisic and Gooch there is some flexibility in terms of where they can play but typically they’re best used on the flanks. If there’s a way to get them all involved I don’t think there’s much to lose at this point but I think Pulisic is the only guarantee to start at this stage. The Morris injury was definitely a blow coming into these two matches though because he’s had a fantastic first season in MLS and I really wanted to see what he could off the bench.

Kyle: No. Pulisic is clearly ready, but the others are not. This team needs new direction, but a complete clear-out is not healthy to the squad.

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


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


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


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

France 2-0 Austria
Croatia 2-1 Denmark

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

Czech Republic vs Portugal
Spain vs Switzerland

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

Italy 1-0 England
Germany 0-1 Hungary

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

Poland 0-2 Netherlands
Belgium 2-1 Wales

Netherlands vs Belgium
Wales vs Poland