Any United States men’s national team fans who had forgotten the intensity that comes with every gripping moment of the World Cup will have been deeply reminded of those highs and lows in a 1-1 draw with Wales on Monday in Qatar.
The Yanks took a deserved lead through Timothy Weah but couldn’t escape a dodgy second half as Walker Zimmerman gave a penalty away to Gareth Bale and the Welsh legend delivered an equalizer.
How did Gregg Berhalter do, who stepped up, and what does the 1-1 draw mean for the Yanks at this month’s tournament in Qatar?
Read on for what we learned from the USMNT vs Wales.
Gregg Berhalter avoids cute calls, gets favorites’ status right
USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter left a Leeds and Borussia Dortmund starter on the bench for the start of his first World Cup game, but it wasn’t for an out-of-form favorite or two.
No, Berhalter used the biggest game of his life — for at least four days — to run Tim Weah at right wing and Josh Sargent at center forward, and the Lille man and his Norwich target both featured in the opening goal.
But it wasn’t just about the goal, of course, as Berhalter’s USMNT controlled proceedings in the first 45 minutes. About 30 minutes into the game, the Yanks back line had only missed on one pass attempt from the marauding Sergino Dest.
Walker Zimmerman, Antonee Robinson, and Tim Ream joined Dest — a clear magnet for the ball both tactically and via the flow of play — in looking very comfortable in possession.
Berhalter raised questions about Ream’s ability to defend behind and in the air, but had always pointed out that the Fulham man was excellent reading the game and having the ball at his feet.
And Ream was, indeed, excellent as the U.S. bossed the first half with the only dangerous chances, nearly two-thirds of the ball, and the all-important goal.
Wales snaps to life, Bale still quiet, Turner makes big save
Maybe the Rob Page’s Welsh watched the same USMNT matches we’ve watched over the past six months and felt this game would be a walkover, but the first 45 minutes showed it was anything but that.
So Page inserted Kieffer Moore for an ineffective Daniel James and it was Wales on the front foot for the first quarter-hour of the second half.
USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner was suddenly under duress and the Yanks electric midfield suddenly looked its young age while Ream and Walker Zimmerman looked a little bit more like their more senior status on the team.
Wales star Gareth Bale is now 33 and no longer than the player who caught the world’s eye with Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid, but he still carries an element of danger for the opposition (as MLS fans saw when he delivered the goods for LAFC in the MLS Cup Final).
But if Bale was anywhere near form, it might’ve been 1-1 before Berhalter had a chance to ring in second-half changes.
And it still might’ve been when Moore forced an incredible save out of Matt Turner to keep it scoreless.
Subs for dubs: Berhalter makes right moves but Bale wins penalty
Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest were not going to go 90 minutes and first-half yellow cards meant that subs were going to happen for the Juventus and AC Milan men.
Berhalter plugged in Brenden Aaronson as an all-action midfielder in the 66th minute and readied a number of other subs shortly thereafter.
Sargent, Dest, and Musah left the game — the last perhaps through injury, so keep an eye out for updates — for Haji Wright, DeAndre Yedlin, and Kellyn Acosta.
Yedlin is the only American on the roster with World Cup experience and Acosta’s the second-most capped player on the roster. This hardly seems a coincidence as the young Yanks were under pressure.
But it was an error from Zimmerman, needlessly lunging into the back of Bale, that sent the Welshman to the penalty spot. And Turner could not supply the heroics despite reading the forward correctly and maybe even getting a piece of the ball.
And each team will feel relief and grievance over a wild and haphazard final 15 minutes that could’ve seen a winner from Europe or North America (Thank you, very very very much, Kellyn Acosta).
What’s it all mean?
Well, the United States will almost certainly go into the final matchday with serious stress on its shoulders.
The Yanks were better than Wales
Berhalter is also going to have to decide whether to keep his center back duo together knowing he doesn’t feel Ream is the right foil for fast and aerially-strong sides like England and that Zimmerman gave away the penalty.
Ream, for what it’s worth was magnificent on the day. And that’s as good a lesson as you could gather from the USMNT’s opening day in Qatar.