That On Friday, Japan lost 2-0 The results in the German city of Dusseldorf were not as good as suggested, raising alarm over the team’s readiness for the sport’s biggest tournament.
After Tuesday’s friendly, all that remains of coach Gregg Berhalter’s four-year rebuild is finalizing roster work ahead of the Nov. 9 announcement. There are no more full-team camps, regional tournaments or FIFA match windows to gauge tactics and evaluate prospects.
Berhelter should see a marked improvement in Spain’s Murcia as the show winds down.
“It was a poor performance,” he said Monday, reflecting on the loss. “We’ve beaten our bread, and we’re not proud of it. … We want to play this game better. It starts together – we play together, we work together more – and if we do that, we’ll be good.
On Friday, the team was broken up, and none of the 16 players who entered the game except for goaltender Matt Turner stood out. Was that performance unusual over a two-year period or a sign of a brewing problem?
“It’s better now than the first game in Qatar,” Turner said after Friday’s shootout. “He really doesn’t care about me.”
As a starting point, Berhelter’s concern Friday is that the team won’t be able to solve problems and play high-level football. From a technical perspective, the Americans made unforced defensive errors, turned the ball over carelessly, failed to adapt to Japan’s pressing tactics and struggled to create many quality chances.
On Tuesday, Berhelter missed the Japan game with an undisclosed injury and will be bolstered by the return of star forward Christian Pulisic. Berhelter says Pulisic will start.
A part-time starter at Chelsea, Pulisic has not had the chance to shine in either the Premier League or the Champions League this season. “I just let a Christian be a Christian,” Berhelter said.
“He does a great job of changing the game in an instant,” Berhalter said. “And that’s all he has to do. He doesn’t need to do anything more than he did before. He just needs to be himself.
DeAndre Yedlin, the main candidate to start at right-back, said the team was excited to see Pulisic back on the field.
“Christian is always a motivated guy – he always wants to play,” Yedlin said. It would be great to have him back, and when he does well, it’s better for us.
Berhelter said he would start Ricardo Pepi in attack on Friday, replacing Jesus Ferrera, who missed a golden opportunity in the opening moments. Josh Sargent at half-time against Japan and Jordan Pefok, who was not invited to this camp, are in a precarious position as the World Cup approaches.
“I don’t need it. [Pepi] to score five goals,” Berhalter said. Hopefully he’ll play as a forward in our system and get opportunities – and hopefully take opportunities. That’s what he’s done for us before.”
Not for long though. He last scored for the United States in October 2021 and has scored one league goal since moving to Europe from MLS last summer.
To score Tuesday, he’ll need service — something the U.S. midfield failed to provide Friday for Ferreira in the first half and Sargent in the second. The Japanese press stymied America’s attempts to attack. No doubt, the Saudis took note.
Berhelter reiterated on Monday that he thinks the upcoming roster decisions are reaching the players on the young team. The United States is expected to have the smallest World Cup roster.
“There is stress, and there are external factors that affect performance,” he said. “At least we have to acknowledge that and say that the people were stressed [vs. Japan]. It’s our coach’s job to calm them down.”
It wasn’t just the players on the bubble who stumbled on Friday.
“Naturally guys are nervous. Naturally, guys know what’s at stake,” said Yedlin, a 2014 World Cup veteran. “We all love each other here and we’re all obviously trying to make this team, so time is running out.”
Note: Software executive JT BatsonHe has deep ties to soccer programs and has served on two U.S. Soccer Federation boards, serving as the USSF’s CEO and Secretary General. Batson, 40, will start immediately. He replaces Wilson, who announced in June that he would be leaving this fall after 2½ years on the job. Batson, a Stanford graduate, has held positions on the USSF Finance Committee and Development Fund.