Japan Just Showed the World How to Knock USMNT out of the 2022 World Cup
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar starts in under 60 days, and the USMNT only has one more fixture on the books (Tuesday, 2 pm ET vs. Saudi Arabia) before the tournament begins. In the penultimate tune-up match, Japan dominated the USMNT in such a way that it gave the teams in the U.S.’s group — England, Iran, and Wales — a blueprint for how to beat the stars and stripes and knock them out of the world’s biggest soccer tournament.
Japan pressed the USMNT into submission
Japan beat the USMNT 2-0 in the second-to-last friendly scheduled before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The fact that the USMNT lost isn’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. How they lost, though, is a problem.
Japan took the U.S. down with an intense but simple 4-4-2 press. The Japanese strikers went after the USMNT defenders hard when they had the ball and forced them — especially center-backs Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long — into turnovers that led to chances or even goals.
The midfield of Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, and Luca del la Torre didn’t fare much better, which surprised Leeds United star Adams.
“I think that some of the teams in CONCACAF, you know, the Mexicos and the Hondurases, they’ve pressed us, and we found solutions,” Adams told ESPN.
That statement illustrates the problem for the USMNT.
Heading to the World Cup for the first time in eight years and with the youngest squad in the entire tournament, the U.S. could be in for a rude awakening playing against the best teams from Europe, Asia, and South America. All those regions are better, overall, than the CONCACAF teams they’re used to competing against for (nearly) the last decade.
The Japan forwards who pressed the USMNT into submission were Daichi Kamada and Daizen Maeda. With all due respect to the Eintracht Frankfurt and Celtic forwards, they are a far cry from players like Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, and Gareth Bale, who the USMNT defenders will see in their face during the group stages of the World Cup.
Despite the worrying performance, there are a few silver linings for the USMNT vs. Japan if you want to look for them.
Gregg Berhalter’s team wasn’t at full-strength
The biggest thing USMNT fans can hang their hats on against Japan is that the team wasn’t at full strength.
Chelsea star and U.S. team captain Christian Pulisic picked up a knock prior to the match and sat out, as did Fulham full-back Antonee Robinson, Lille forward Tim Weah, and Valencia midfielder Yunus Musah. With these players in the lineup, the team should be more explosive.
Also, the poor defense had the positive effect of getting Arsenal backup goalkeeper Matt Turner some work after only playing one game so far this season. The American keeper stood up as well as he could have under so much duress vs. Japan.
The only issue that doesn’t have any positive spins is the CB debacle. Walker Zimmerman, the lock to start, didn’t look good and Aaron Long, one of the options to start next to him, was even worse.
Look for Troyes CB Erik Palmer to get the start vs. Saudi Arabia to try and earn some playing time in the team’s opening World Cup fixture vs. Wales on November 21 at 2:00 pm ET.