Friday, December 2 2022

The United States Men’s National Team has a long way to go and a short time to get there.

With eight weeks to go until the World Cup kicks off, the scale of the USMNT’s challenge has been revealed after two lackluster performances in its final tune-up matches.

The USMNT was a disaster against Japan Friday. Tuesday was only marginally better in a 0-0 draw against Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain.

Facing intense Japanese press, the United States were forced into several turnovers in Friday’s 2-0 loss. Facing a Saudi side that fell further, the United States failed to break through the defense of a team that expects to be among the worst in the World Cup.

The problems for the USMNT were myriad and constant in both games: centre-backs unable to avoid turnovers, a midfield unable to move the ball forward, forwards and wingers unable to get on the ball in dangerous positions.

The United States improved against Saudi Arabia – an admittedly low bar after a match in which Gregg Berhalter has admitted his team got “the ass kicked”. There were a few solutions to the press on display with more long balls, changes of play and forward runs from midfield.

But after generating zero shots against Japan, the United States managed two against the Saudis. At the World Cup, that just won’t be enough.

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The performance of the USMNT in these two games highlighted the importance of a few players absent due to injury.

Yunus Musah in particular was a big miss as the United failed to advance the ball frequently under pressure from midfield – which happens to be one of Musah’s best qualities.

Another absolutely vital player for the USMNT is Antonee Robinson, who hasn’t got enough of Sam Vines or Sergiño Dest at left back to suggest the team can afford to rest a healthy Robinson for a while. single minute in Qatar.

Tim Weah’s ability to stretch defenses was also badly missed. Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna play much further back on the wings which can be effective if balanced by an outfield expander like Weah.

If – and it’s obviously a huge if – Berhalter has a full arsenal of players at his disposal in Qatar, this USMNT has the ability to do some damage.

USMNT's Gio Reyna (bottom) battles for the ball with Saudi Arabia's Saud Abdullah Abdulhamid.

But right now, it seems like there are too many needles to thread for the USMNT to even reach the knockout stage. The goaltending situation is still up in the air, and neither Matt Turner nor Zack Steffen are on the same level as the great USMNT goaltenders of the past. No central defender stepped in to fill the void left by Miles Robinson. The midfield has too many piano movers and not enough pianists. There is still no ideal solution at Striker.

What if there are injuries among key players? It could be fatal.

Time is running out for Berhalter. He has some real work to do, but the time for making wholesale changes is over. He has the team and the system he wants, and now he can only hope that a healthy and motivated USMNT can perform when the lights shine brightest.

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