USMNT vs. Japan score: Gregg Berhalter’s side struggles in loss, fails to record a single shot on goal

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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. 

The defense was horrendous

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.

No creative engine

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:

  • 2-0 loss to Japan
  • 0-0 draw with Uruguay in June 2022
  • 2-1 loss to Switzerland in May 2021

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.

Just remember … 

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. 

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