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Wake up, USMNT! Winners and losers as Japan expose U.S. with World Cup looming

16:00 BST 23/09/2022
Zimmerman McKennie USMNT 2022
The U.S. were exposed by Japan as the World Cup looms large

If this is what the U.S. men's national team will look like at the World Cup, their stay in Qatar will be a short one.

Friday's match against Japan served as a much-needed wakeup call for the young USMNT, who were thoroughly outplayed in a 2-0 loss in Germany. Goals from Daichi Kamada and Kaoru Mitoma were deserved, as was the whooping the U.S. received in what was likely their worst performance of 2022.

You could argue that there isn't a better time to have that performance. Japan, by all accounts, is a good team and offered the U.S. the test Gregg Berhalter desired. The problem was how miserable the U.S. failed that test in a lethargic, uninspiring display that saw them fail to register a single shot on goal.

Japan is good, no doubt, but this wasn't France on the other side. This was the type of team that the U.S. should be, at the very least, competing with and battling. They did neither.

This camp, and these friendlies, are all about finding those final few answers before heading to Qatar. But this game will provide more questions than answers as the U.S. remain a work in progress just weeks before the World Cup kicks off.

Friday's performance, quite simply, wasn't good enough but, fortunately for the USMNT, there's still time to prove that this was a lesson and not a glimpse into what would be a very frustrating future.

  • Turner USMNT 2022

    The Winners

    Matt Turner:

    Another day, another performance that shows why Turner probably should be the starter in Qatar.

    The Arsenal goalkeeper bailed out the backline after several bad giveaways, making several big saves to keep Japan off the board early. Eventually, of course, the goal did come, but it was no fault of Turner, who was left out to dry by a bad giveaway and equally bad defending.

    Are there concerns with Turner on the road to the World Cup? Yes, namely his playing time. But there are still plenty of games for Turner to play before hopping on the plane to Qatar as Arsenal continue on in the Europa League.

    The fact is that Turner is the USMNT's most consistent goalkeeper, and he showed it once again even in a game where many of his teammates didn't show up.

    Jordan Pefok:

    There are two theories as to why Pefok isn't in camp.

    The first is that Berhalter knows what he has with him and didn't feel it was neccesary to see him again before bringing him to the World Cup.

    The other? That Berhalter simply doesn't rate him or think he fits in with the system.

    We're going to talk about that second theory here because, after what we saw on Friday, does fitting the system matter if that system can't produce any chances?

    For all of the good things that Jesus Ferreira, Josh Sargent and Ricardo Pepi can do, none are scoring goals at the level Pefok is. He has his team atop the Bundesliga, for goodness sake. That's an achievement.

    And his exclusion looked even worse on Friday as the U.S. attack struggled. Does Pefok score the chance Ferreira missed? Maybe, maybe not. But he would have at least offered somethign different than what we saw, which would be a welcome sight considering how the U.S. attack looked as a whole.

    Chris Richards and Cameron Carter-Vickers:

    Another example of players seeing their stock rise simply by not playing.

    Walker Zimmerman is locked in as that No.1 centerback, even if he was far from his best against Japan. That second spot, though, is up for grabs after Miles Robinson's injury.

    On Friday, it was Aaron Long's chance to prove himself. He fell flat. As a result of that, those looking on should feel a bit better by their chances.

    Richards and Carter-Vickers were both knocked out of camp with injuries, unfortunately for them, but Friday's performance showed why they still have a chance at starting in Qatar.

    We didn't get any good answers in that position on Friday, and that's good news for the two that won't get a chance to take the field during this camp

  • The Losers

    Christian Pulisic:

    All things considered, the decision to keep Pulisic out of this one was an easy one.

    At this point in the cycle, there's no reason to risk turning a knock into something more. And so, with Pulisic dealing with what has been described as a minor injury, the decision was made to leave him out.

    In most ways, that's fine. Pulisic is a known quantity, and seeing him against Japan almost certainly wouldn't confirm anything we don't already know. It also opened the door for Aaronson to start, which is usually a good thing.

    But for Pulisic's own confidence, a game against Japan would have been nice. Having struggled for minutes recently, Pulisic likely would have appreciated an extended runout to both find his footing and flex a little bit for new manager Graham Potter.

    Pulisic always seems to shine a bit brighter in a USMNT shirt, and he always seems to really relish the moments where he gets to lead his team.

    He didn't get that chance on Friday, unfortunately, for him.

    USMNT midfield:

    A bad, bad day for the midfield three.

    The trio of Weston McKennie, Luca de la Torre and Tyler Adams were flat as can be and were, at times, overrun despite having the numbers in the center of the field. They struggled to deal with Japan's press and were totally unable to progress the ball into the attack.

    Part of that will be down to the absence of Yunus Musah, who is the USMNT's best ball advancer. De la Torre has generally looked like a good fill-in, but he was well off the pace here in what was his worst performance since his USMNT resurgence.

    As for McKennie, he looked nothing like the player that has so often changed games for the U.S. in big moments. His giveaway led to Japan's goal and he never really recovered as he stumbled through.

    Adams, meanwhile, was passable, but with the two next to him struggling, had few options to move the ball forward every time it did come to his feet.

    Players pushing for spots:

    If you're a player looking to use this camp as a springboard towards the World Cup, today wasn't your day.

    Sam Vines, given the chance to seal a spot as Antonee Robinson's backup, struggled again. Having appeared overmatched in his initial USMNT appearances, he was essentially glued to the centerbacks in the first half, offering little going forward. The second half was better, but not enough.

    Long, starting at centerback, was nowhere near good enough with his distribution as he and Zimmerman were an easy trigger for Japan's press.

    Ferreira, meanwhile, missed his one and only chance at striker while Sargent was largely invisible once he came on.

    It wasn't a good day for those that still had something to fight for.

  • Zimmerman USMNT 2022

    USMNT Ratings: Defense

    Matt Turner (7/10):

    The clear Man of the Match for the USMNT and the only player that looked any good.

    Sam Vines (5/10):

    Too defensive in the first half, offering very little in a game where he needed a big performance.

    Aaron Long (4/10):

    Sloppy on the ball. Not the performance he needed.

    Walker Zimmerman (4/10):

    A rare off day for the Nashville star.

    Sergino Dest (5/10):

    Created one chance, but was caught super high on Japan's opening goal.

  • Adams Japan USMNT 2022

    Midfield

    Weston McKennie (3/10):

    Bad giveaway on Japan's goal. Was lethargic and sluggish throughout.

    Tyler Adams (5/10):

    Didn't do much wrong, but didn't do much right either.

    Luca de la Torre(4/10):

    Looked nothing like the player we saw earlier this year. Lack of club minutes catching up to him?

  • Aaronson USMNT 2022

    Attack

    Brenden Aaronson (6/10):

    All effort, but not much result. Got absolutely beat up, but kept fighting through it.

    Gio Reyna (5/10):

    Didn't get to do much during his 45-minute run. Fitness the main concern, though.

    Jesus Ferriera (4/10):

    Squandered his only chance: a point-blank header that should have made it 1-0.

  • Berhalter USMNT 2022

    Subs & Manager

    Josh Sargent (5/10):

    Slightly better than Ferreira was, but probably not enough to reorganize the depth chart.

    Mark McKenzie (6/10):

    Solid enough after coming on in the second half.

    Jordan Morris (5/10):

    Hardly noticeable as he fights for a World Cup spot.

    Reggie Cannon (5/10)

    Not great on Japan's second goal.

    Johnny Cardoso (N/A):

    Didn't make much of an impact as he came on for 25 minutes or so.

    Malik Tillman (N/A):

    Will be glad to get minutes as he pushes for a spot.

    Gregg Berhalter (5/10):

    Rolled with what he thought was the best lineup but got steamrolled. Adjustments were solid, but players simply struggled.