USMNT 0, Japan 2 (FT)
The United States men's national team's World Cup tune-up match against Japan on Friday did not go as planned as the Americans suffered an uninspiring 2-0 defeat in Germany. The USMNT now turn the page and will aim to respond on Tuesday when they face Saudi Arabia in another international friendly in their last scheduled match before the World Cup begins.
The U.S. were without Christian Pulisic, who picked up a late knock and missed the match, and the Chelsea winger was missed. Gregg Berhalter's team failed to record a single shot on goal, registering just four total compared to Japan's 16, eight of which were on goal.
It was a 24th-minute goal from Daichi Kamada that gave the Asian nation the victory. Kamada was wide open in the box thanks to Sergino Dest pushing high and Weston McKennie's turnover in the middle as he made the team pay with a well-take finish. Kaoru Mitoma added the second in the final moments.
For the U.S., it was a concerning performance that will only raise even more questions under two months out from the start of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Boy was that a poor showing from that backline. With so many questions and injuries at the center back position, there remain more questions than answers. Aaron Long did not look sharp, he was sloppy in clearances and slow to react. Walker Zimmerman remains one of the main constants, though that doesn't mean he has been overly impressive.
This performance was good news for the likes of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards, who hope to get healthy and compete for a starting spot in Qatar. The loss of Miles Robinson to a long-term injury continues to have a massive impact.
But it wasn't just the center back position as the winning goal was as a result of a bad pass from Weston McKennie but also a lack of shape from Sergino Dest. The latter, better in attack than in defense, was caught up the field when McKennie turned the ball over in his own half.
That resulted on a four-on-three with Kamada being left wide open at the far side of the box. The fault can't be all on Dest as he's instructed to get forward, but if the passing is sloppy in the middle, you leave yourself open to being exposed.
When you record just four shots and have zero on goal despite 58% of possession, you have to be alarmed. Who in the world is the creative player here? Nobody took command of the ball in the middle, and you can't just attribute it to the formation or to the style. This is the most glaring issue for me with this team, even above center back. Personally, I believe Gio Reyna is the best talent on this team and needs to be in that No. 10 role, where he can get the ball played to his feet quickly and look to get the ball wide or to a striker who can hold their own, but that's a whole other question to begin with.
The reality is that this team lacks identity all over the pitch when facing top-level competition. I don't care how this team performs against Granada, Morocco or Martinique. You can play with 10 men against them and still be ok.
But when it comes to teams that are realistic contenders to make the World Cup knockout stage, you have to show up. And they U.S. haven't been able to show up with just one goal in three friendlies against top-level competition:
With Wales, England and Iran on the schedule at the World Cup, performances like this will see them fail to even sniff the group stage.
It is just a friendly. Results don't mean anything, but the performances do. And they haven't been good enough. Beating up on teams in Concacaf, aside from Canada, is the soccer equivalent of Billy Madison dominating elementary school kids on the basketball court. You are supposed to win those rather easily.
So, forget the results, really. But remember the performances, because Berhalter surely will. There is a lot of film to look at, and a lot of instruction and training that remains. Taking it as doom and gloom would be the wrong approach, but there are certainly reasons to be concerned.
Tuesday they have an opportunity to build a bit more momentum, and you can expect some significant changes. Having Pulisic back potentially would give us all a better idea of what this team could look like in Qatar when it comes to the attack, and even just a couple shots on goal would provide a better feeling than what we just witnessed.
USMNT 0, Japan 2 (FT)
Japan hit the United States on the counter again and Cannon couldn't stop Mitoma from dribbling at him and then scoring. Disappointing all around from the USMNT
75 minutes into the match and the USMNT have only taken three shots putting 0 on target. Matt Turner has made six saves so far and is the only thing keeping this game from being lopsided.
The Arsenal goalkeeper has made some good saves here, the latest tipping a powerful shot over the frame with a fingertip save. While there hasn't been a lot of good in this match, Turner has largely been sharp aside from one very poor pass from the back. It feels like this starting goalkeeper job is his to lose.
But it hasn't led to a shot on target so far. More changes are coming as Cardoso and Tillman have entered for McKennie and de la Torre. A poor showing for de la Torre so it's quite an opportunity for Cardoso to impress.
Ito has been everywhere during the match and forced turner into a good save but the space between center backs is still being exploited.
Still room for improvement but the ball is moving faster as the USMNT are getting into the final third and pressing Japan to win the ball back.
The U.S. is getting the ball a bit deeper now and passing with a bit more sharpness, but it's still not good enough yet. Japan are defending well and remaining organized.
Reggie Cannon, Mark McKenzie, Jordan Morris and Josh Sargent have all entered the match and Dest, Long, Reya and Ferreira have all exited. Vines and de la Torre will get more time to steady their performances.
Japan held strong but it's better as the team has had no chances in the attacking third. The USMNT lost possession 28 times in their defensive third according to the ESPN broadcast which is telling of how the match has gone so far.
It's been a bad first half. Very little shape, the passing has been largely sloppy, and they are deservedly down 1-0 at the break. Some changes needed. I'd expect to see Paul Arriola, Josh Sargent and Jordan Morris in the second half, but somebody needs to be a bit more creative. We could also see Ricardo Pepi too as he offers some creative features in attack.
Sam Vines and Luca de la Torre have looked especially off the pace which is to be expected but is still a concern. Vines has a defensive role in the match but Japan are still finding ways past him while de la Torre hasn't brought his usual dynamism in midfield. These are key areas where they need to improve or a halftime hook could be coming from Berhalter.
It's not great defending for the Americans. Dest pushes so high to help in attack, and then once Japan go on the counter, they have a huge advantage against a three-man backline. Punished.
Will it be enough to kick the USMNT's performance up a notch? Walker Zimmerman was just holding Kamada on.
Ito plays in Kamada but he's ruled offsides by the slimmest of margins. It will go to VAR in a friendly to see if this will be given.
The defense has held strong but that's more of a credit to Turner than praise for their performance so far. The midfield hasn't been able to move the ball quickly and are being outworked consistently. The United states are a team that is able to string passes together but it's not something that we've seen so far 20 mintues into this game. An important note is that with them playing top opposition, the match is still 0-0 so there's plenty of time to turn things around.
He pulls out quite the save as Kamada creates a chance following a breakdown between Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long.
The Americans are getting down the right regularly through de la Torre and Sergino Dest as Jesus Ferreira misses a tough yet wide open header in front of goal. But the passing has been fairly sharp early down the right, and that was a fine ball from Dest.
It has been a rough time for progressing the ball as Japan has already taken two shots despite having 38 percent of the ball. Walker Zimmerman has been trying to play the ball over the top but Serginio Dest created the best chance for Ferreira after slipping by Japan's high line.
Ito intercepts a pass and tests Matt Turner within the first minute. A great warning for the USMNT to be on their game as Japan's press can cause problems.
It's almost time for an important test for the USMNT.
This U.S. defense will deal with plenty of chances. Japan are disciplined, and consistent, and they have some really creative players in attack. I expect the U.S. defense to have some issues in this match, and it won't surprise me if Japan find the back of the net more than once.
With all of the injury issues he's dealt with, Gio Reyna is finally healthy again and gets the start here. He is, in my mind and without a doubt, the most talented player on this team and the most important. His creativity and understanding of the game will be critical to success of the strikers. Let's see what his comfort level is and how the chemistry is at the moment with this group.
A look into what hewith Steffen not in the squad.
When asked how his lack of playing time would impact his sharpness, Turner said that "it depends on how you look at your situation and view your comfort levels. And for me, I want to continue to get better. I know that my ceiling has not yet been reached and it's going to take some hard work and some risky career moves at the end of the day.
"But if I want to get to where I want to get to, I need to get outside of my comfort zone a little bit, and that's going to help my sharpness every single day and my approach to the game in general."
This is when it comes back to the competition for places at Arsenal. While Turner may have to shake off some rust as a result of not playing regularly, being able to step up when called upon is important too. Even when Steffen has been available for Middlesbrough, he has made mistakes of his own that have given Turner this opportunity with the World Cup looming and this international break will also set him up well when he returns to Arsenal.
After taking a knock, he is day to day which will see Brenden Aaronson and Gio Reyna man the wings. Berhalter also opts to go with Luca de la Torre in midfield to put together what is a strong team for this match.
Starters: 1-Matt Turner, 2-Sergiño Dest, 3-Walker Zimmerman (capt.), 4-Tyler Adams, 5-Aaron Long, 6-Sam Vines, 8-Weston McKennie, 9-Jesús Ferreira, 11-Brenden Aaronson, 14-Luca de la Torre, 21-Gio Reyna
Substitutes: 18-Ethan Horvath, 25-Sean Johnson, 7-Paul Arriola, 12-Erik Palmer-Brown, 13-Jordan Morris, 15-Johnny Cardoso, 16-Mark McKenzie, 17-Malik Tillman, 19-Ricardo Pepi, 20-Reggie Cannon, 22-DeAndre Yedlin, 23-Kellyn Acosta, 24-Josh Sargent, 26-Joe Scally
It's a strong lineup for Japan but Minamino will start the match on the bench.
Starters: Gonda, Tomiyasu, Nakayama, Yoshida, Sakai, Kubo, Endo, Morita, Ito, Kamada, Maeda
Reserves: Yamane, Taniguchi, Nagatomo, Shibasaki, Haraguchi, Furuhashi, Minamino, Tanaka, Mitoma, Doan, Schmidt, Soma, Ito, Machino, Tani
GOALKEEPERS (4): Eiji Kawashima (Strasbourg/FRA; 95/0); Shuichi Gonda (Shimizu S-Pulse; 32/0); Daniel Schmidt (Sint-Truidense/BEL; 9/0); Kosei Tani (Shonan Bellmare; 1/0)
DEFENDERS (9): Hiroki Ito (Stuttgart/GER; 3/0); Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo; 136/4); Yuta Nakayama (Huddersfield Town/ENG; 16/0); Hiroki Sakai (Urawa Red Diamonds; 70/1); Ayumu Seko (Grasshopper Club Zurich/SUI; 0/0); Shogo Taniguchi (Kawasaki Frontale; 12/0); Takehiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal/ENG; 28/1); Miki Yamane (Kawasaki Frontale; 13/2); Maya Yoshida (Schalke/GER; 119/12)
MIDFIELDERS (13): Ritsu Doan (Freiburg/GER; 26/3); Wataru Endo (Stuttgart/GER; 41/2); Genki Haraguchi (1.FC Union Berlin/GER; 73/11); Reo Hatate (Celtic/SCO; 1/0); Junya Ito (Reims/FRA; 36/9); Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER; 19/5); Takefusa Kubo (Real Sociedad/ESP; 18/1); Takumi Minamino (Monaco/MCO; 42/17); Kaoru Mitoma (Brighton & Hove Albion/ENG; 7/4); Hidemasa Morita (Sporting CP/POR; 16/2); Gaku Shibasaki (Leganes/ESP; 58/3); Yuki Soma (Nagoya Grampus; 6/3); Ao Tanaka (Fortuna Düsseldorf/GER; 13/2)
FORWARDS (4): Kyogo Furuhashi (Celtic/SCO; 15/3); Shuto Machino (Shonan Bellmare; 3/3); Daizen Maeda (Celtic/SCO; 7/1); Ayase Ueda (Cercle Brugge/BEL; 9/0)
This is the third meeting between the USMNT and Japan as the record is 1-1-0 in favor of the United States. The nations last met on Feb. 10, 2006, in San Francisco, a 3-2 win for the USA. Forward Taylor Twellman scored one and assisted the two other goals, boosting the U.S. to a 3-0 lead before Japan pulled two back.