DUSSELDORF, Germany — With the World Cup less than two months away, the United States men’s national team hoped to improve its game against Japan, but at least it was the Samurai Blue that seemed more ready for the showpiece, riding goals either side of halftime from Daichi Kamada and Kaoru Mitoma to a 2-0 win.
The score flattered the sad performance of the American team, as the Americans seemed completely out of sync throughout the game. It is clear that even at this late stage, American manager Gregg Berhalter still has some work to do.
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1. US has no answer for the Japanese press
Berhalter often wants his side to play on the front foot, and that starts with pushing teams high on the pitch. But on this day, Japan gave the Americans a taste of their own medicine, and it worked to perfection. A prime example of this was Japan’s goal in the 24th minute, when a turnover from Weston McKennie led to a transition opportunity in which Hidemasa found Morita Kamada wide open to sidestep Matt Turner in the US goal.
The US was also slow to respond to seemingly everything, playing timidly at times, and no American was immune from turning the ball around. Could it be nerves or a case of playing it safe with the approaching World Cup? That seems unlikely.
The effectiveness of the Japanese pressure meant that the US rarely got into the sort of places where it could threaten Shuichi Gonda in Japan’s goal, and only had five hits in the Japanese penalty area during the first half – the least of the USMNT in a friendly. game since 2019. Sergino Dest delivered an inviting cross for Jesus Ferreira in the eighth minute, but the FC Dallas attacker could only blow his header over the crossbar. Ferreira’s lack of physical presence at the top, combined with Christian Pulisic’s absence due to a knock, only exacerbated the US team’s struggle with the ball. The US looked a little more menacing in the second half with Joshua Sargent on top, but not much.
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Given the difficulty the US had in playing from behind — and this was both a midfield problem and a problem in the rear — it’s obvious that the Americans’ group stage opponents will take a lot of notes in conditions to join the US defense.
2. Did Turner Claim the US’s Number 1 Shirt?
The USA owed it to Turner that he went into halftime just one goal behind. His save from Kamada when he clearly went through goal in the 13th minute after a giveaway from Walker Zimmerman was particularly impressive. He also commanded his box well and made the routine saves he needed to make.
The only complaint was Turner’s distribution in some instances, with his contact and accuracy with the ball being subpar. He will have to tighten that up in the remaining weeks before the World Cup.
Was it enough to push his nose forward in the battle for the starting goalkeeper spot? You should think so, but Berhalter has long had a soft spot for Zack Steffen. It will probably not be until November that we will know for sure.
3. Edge players make little impression
On a day when the opportunity presented itself for players competing for the last few roster spots, there wasn’t much movement. Both Reggie Cannon and Mark McKenzie acquitted themselves well in replacement roles, but there wasn’t much else that stood out. In terms of starters, Sam Vines didn’t improve his stock at all, and neither did Aaron Long, as neither player looked up to the pace of the match.
In fact, this was a day when the absence of some injured players was significant. Pulisic in attack, Yunus Musah in midfield and Chris Richards in centre-back all need to recover as quickly as possible.
United States: Matt Turner 8, Sam Vines 4, Aaron Long 4, Walker Zimmerman 5, Sergino Dest 5, Luca de la Torre 4, Tyler Adams 4, Weston McKennie 3, Giovanni Reyna 5, Jesus Ferreira 4, Brenden Aaronson 5
Subs: Jordan Morris 5, Mark McKenzie 6, Josh Sargent 5, Reggie Cannon 6, Malik Tillman 5, Johnny Cardoso 5
Japan: Shuichi Gonda 5, Takehiro Tomiyasu 6, Hiroki Sakai 7, Yuta Nakayama 7, Maya Yoshida 6, Wataru Endo 8, Takefusa Kubo 7, Midemasa Morita 6, Junya Ito 6, Daichi Kamada 7, Daizen Maeda 6
Subs: Daniel Schmidt 5, Shuto Machino 5, Hiroki Ito 5, Kaoru Mitoma 7, Ritsu Doan 5, Genki Haraguchi N/R
Best and worst artists
BEST: Daichi Kamada, Japan. There were a few players to choose from. Endo led the show in midfield and Sakai and Nakayama’s central defender was composed the entire time, but Kamada grabbed his goal well and was involved in some other smooth build-ups.
The US looked decidedly second in a dismal defeat to Japan on Friday. Christof Koepsel/Getty Images
WORST: Weston McKennie, USA The same was true at the other end of the spectrum, but McKennie’s giveaway leading up to the streak that led to Kamada’s goal and that he only completed 69.2% of his passes stood out from the crowd.
Highlights and notable moments
The numbers and accompanying charts told the story of the US’s inability to face Japan.
Passes completed in the offensive third so far:
Japan 35#USMNT 4
— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) September 23, 2022
#USMNT first half hits…
?? The Pulisic-shaped hole is back!
?? Japan had 82 offensive third touches, up to 42 for US pic.twitter.com/DTtOvq56SA
— Paul Carr (@PaulCarr) September 23, 2022
USMNT managed ZERO shots on target vs. Japan ? pic.twitter.com/LxshxQMRAG
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) September 23, 2022
Japan 2-0 USA
No shots on target is a problem, but it wasn’t the only problem for the #USMNT. pic.twitter.com/kzUZuC0xcR
— The Analyst USA (@OptaAnalystUS) September 23, 2022
Japan put the icing on the cake with a well-taken goal from Mitoma after it wiped out Cannon and the rest of the American defense.
Japan takes a 2-0 win over the USMNT to kick off the international break ? pic.twitter.com/shduF3c28J
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) September 23, 2022 After the game: what the players and managers said
Berhalter: “We have work to do. We clearly have to improve.
“We have to play with personality, we have to play relaxed, we have to play with intensity, and if we do these things we are a really good team. But if we don’t, we are an average team.”
Adams: “I felt like we were just playing into Japan’s hand. We could have pretty easily imagined that they were pushing us high, and the solution, I think at the beginning of the game, was probably to get a to play a little more direct, a little behind to manage that pressure, take off a little and create a little more space, a little more calm on the ball. But it was difficult. We didn’t find solutions early and, yes, as As the game progressed, we started to find some more solutions, but we didn’t create any clear chances.
“I think some of the teams in Concacaf, you know, the Mexicos and the Honduras, they put pressure on us and we found solutions. We had to find solutions earlier. I think we had a game plan and I think that it would have been effective if we kept to the game plan, but sometimes I just felt like maybe we just started looking for individual solutions instead of sticking together, sticking to the game plan, staying disciplined in our game plan And you saw Japan, they did it well. They had one game plan and it was effective.”
Key Stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– The US now faces 1-3-2 against teams that qualified for the November World Cup this year.
Friday marked the first time since a 1-0 defeat in World Cup qualifiers to Panama in October 2021 that the USMNT was held to zero shots on target.
Turner’s six saves were the second most by an American goalkeeper under Berhalter, who took over in January 2019. (Turner also has the most saves in a game under Berhalter, eight, against Morocco on June 1)
United States: The USMNT heads to Spain for a friendly against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in Murcia. It will be the last game for the US before the opening game of the World Cup group stage on November 21 against Wales.
Japan: Two more friendly matches scheduled. First up is Ecuador on Tuesday, also in Düsseldorf. Then against Canada on November 17 in Dubai, just a week before the November 23 showdown against Germany at the World Cup.