9/22/22  US vs Japan Fri 8 am ESPN2, Nations League games, Big TV Games, #1 CHS Boys & #5 Girls in Action, NWSL San Diego breaks attendance Record

US Men

So the roster is set and most of the key players will be on hand as the US enters the last phase before the World Cup with the friendlies vs Japan on Friday morning (ESPN2 8 am) and Tuesday afternoon vs Saudi Arabia (Fox Sports 1 2 pm).  While I have enjoyed watching Nations League games in Europe – the fact that blocks the US from EVER playing European Teams really stinks.  For the US the injuries and those missing might be just as big a thing and those who are playing.  Ricardo Pepi at the #9 along with Josh Stewart over the top scoring American Forward Jordan Pfok who has his Union Berlin atop the Bundesliga (above Bayern Munich) is perplexing.  Perhaps Berhalter is giving Pepi one last chance to make the plane to Qatar while Pfok has already proved his worth and is in.  Not sure – but if GB leaves Pfok off the plane and doesn’t get out of the group stage he’ll be fired before the plane gets home from the World Cup.  My hopes are Stewart and Pepi play well – but I doubt Pepi will get it done.  I think Pfok is on the plane.  As for midfielders – the MMA will perhaps be replaced with the MAA – as Musah is out injured.  I think Aaronson fills that #8 slot alongside McKinney and Adams (because Aaronson simply has to start).  That’s if Gio Reyna is healthy enough to start on the right wing of course.  Turner is the GK of course with Horvath deserving a look perhaps in game 2. Now for defense – I would like to see Joe Scally start on the right with Dest on the left covering for the injured Jedi Robinson along with Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long (stinks that Richards and CCV are not here to fight for that spot – but they are both on the plane to Qatar if healthy. As for Predictions – listen this Japan team is a good team – I think we are looking at 1-0 US win in a close one.  (assuming Turner plays all game).  On a lighter note –  My goodness these US Uniforms are horrible, of course Alex Morgan makes them look a little better.  Also awesome to see Tad Lasso win best comedy again – and AFC Richmond is going to be in FIFA 23 – that’s Lasso’s Team!

Here’s my line-up  Friday AM

Pulisic, Sargent, Aaronson

Musah, Adams, De La Tore

Sands, Long, Zimmerman, Dest or Scally

Turner

USMNT September roster (caps/goals)

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Luton Town/ENG; 8/0), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 10/0), Matt Turner (Arsenal/ENG; 18/0)

DEFENDERS (9): Reggie Cannon (Boavista/POR; 27/1), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic/SCO; 11/0), Sergiño Dest (AC Milan/ITA; 17/2), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 27/3), Chris Richards (Crystal Palace/ENG; 8/0), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER; 2/0), Sam Vines (Royal Antwerp/BEL; 8/1), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami; 74/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 31/3), Mark McKensie, Palmer-Brown

MIDFIELDERS (6): Kellyn Acosta (LAFC; 52/2), Tyler Adams (Leeds United/ENG; 30/1), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo/ESP; 11/0), Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA; 35/9), Malik Tillman (Rangers/SCO; 2/0),

FORWARDS (8): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United/ENG; 22/6), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas; 47/10), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas; 13/7), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 48/11), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen/NED; 11/3), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 51/21), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 12/4), Josh Sargent (Norwich City/ENG; 19/3)

Indy 11 Home Sun 5 pm Hispanic Heritage Night

Indy Eleven saw its four-game unbeaten streak come to a halt last Sat evening against Monterey Bay F.C. side in a 5-0 defeat to Monterey Bay. The defeat, coupled with other results from around the Eastern Conference, officially eliminated Indiana’s Team from playoff contention. The Boys in Blue return to the Mike on Sun, when they play host to Loudoun United FC for a special 5 pm ET kickoff. Details on the club’s annual Hispanic Heritage Night festivities –can be found at indyeleven.com/promotions, and tickets are just $15 at indyeleven.com/tickets,

NWSL Attendance Record of 32,000 fans Broken

A packed house watched the first-year San Diego Wave defeat Angel City FC on Saturday night at Snapdragon Stadium. There’s reason to believe the best may be yet to come –
How San Diego smashed the NWSL attendance record with 32,000 fans. My daughter Courtney was in attendance and said it was awesome !!

High School–CHS Boys Move into 1st Place host Guerin Fri, #3 CHS Girls host #4 Zionsville Sat 11:30 am

The Carmel High School boys have moved into 1st place in the state heading into their final 2 home games at Murray vs #16 Guerin Catholic Fri at 7 pm and Tues vs Harison at 7 pm.  The #3 CHS ladies wrapped up Senior Night last night and host #4 Zionsville on Sat at 11:30 am at Murray before closing out the year at #15 Westfield Mon. 

Carmel High Seniors – love those GK’s former FC’ers Aubry Empie and Bethany Ducat. CFC GKU!

BIG GAMES ON TV

Wed, Sept 21

7 pm ESPN2                        Cincy vs Guadalajara   NA League cup

9 pm ESPN2                        Nashville vs America   NA League cup

Thur Sept 21

12 noon FS2                        Latvia vs Moldova

2:45 pm FS1                        Belgium vs Wales

2:45 pm Fox Soccer         Poland vs Netherlands

11 pm ESPN+                     Real Salt Lake vs Atlas  NA League cup

Fri, Sept 23

8 am ESPN2                USMNT vs Japan in Germany

12noon FS2                         Georgia vs North Macedonia

2:45 pm FS1                        Germany vs Hungary

2:45 pm fubo TV               Italy vs England

Sat Sept 24

9  am FS2                             Armenia vs Ukraine

12noon FS2                         Slovinia vs Norway

2:45 pm FS2                        Czech Republic vs Portugal

7 pm Para+                         NC Courage vs NY Gotham FC NWSL

8:30 pm Para+                   Houston Dash vs Seattle Reign (Lavelle, Rapinoe, Huerta)

10 pm ESPN+                     San Jose vs LA Galaxy

Sun, Sept 25

9  am FS2                             Armenia vs Ukraine

12noon FS2                         Azerbajan vs Kakahstan

2:45 pm FS2                        Denmark vs France 

2:45 pm ??                          Netherlands vs Belgium

5 pm Para+                         KC Current vs Washington Spirit

5:30 pm TV 23            Indy 11 vs Loundon United (the Mike)

7 pm Para+                         Orlando Pride vs San Diego Wave (Morgan)

8 pm Para+                         Angel City vs Racing Louisville

Mon, Sept 26

2:45 pm FS1                        England vs Germany  

Tues, Sept 27

2 pm Fox Sports1             USMNT vs Saudi Arabia in Spain

2:45 pm FS2                        Switzerland vs Czech Republic

Fri, Sept 30

2:30 pm ESPN+              Bayern Munich vs Bayer Leverkusen

Sat, Oct 1

7:30 am USA               Arsenal vs Tottenham

9:30 am ESPN+                       Dortmund (Reyna) vs Koln

9:30 am ESPN+                       Frankfurt vs Union Berlin (Pefok)

10 am USA                  Crystal Palace vs Chelsea (Pulisic)

10 am Peacock                        Fulham (Ream, Jedi) vs New Castle United

12 noon ESPN+                       Roma vs Inter Milan

6 pm Para +                 NY Gothem vs Portland Thorns NWSL

7:30 pm ESPN+                       Chicago Fire vs Cincy

10 pm Para+                Seattle Reign vs Orlando Pride NWSL

Sun, Oct 2

9 am USA                    Man City vs Man United

10 am USA                  Leeds United (Aaronson, Adams) vs Aston Villa  

10 am Peacock                        Fulham (Ream, Jedi) vs New Castle United

2:$5 pm ESPN+                       Juve vs Bologna  

3 pm ABC                   Portland Timbers vs LAFC

5 pm FS1                     Sporting KC vs Seattle Sounders

6 pm Para +                 Chicago Red Stars vs Angel City NWSL

Mon, Oct 3

3 pm USA                    Leicester City vs Nottingham’s Forest

Tues, Oct 4                 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

3 pm Para+                  Inter Milan vs Barcelona

3 pm Para+                  Club Brugge vs Atletico Madrid

Wed, Oct 5

3 pm Para+                  Chelsea (Pulisic) vs AC Milan

3 pm Para+                  Sevilla (Musah) vs Dortmund (Reyna)

Fri, Oct 7

3 pm FOX                             US Women  vs England in London

Tues, Oct 11

2:30 pm ESPN2                  US Women  vs Spain (Pamplona)

Sat, Oct 29

8 pm CBS                             NWSL Championship Game

Indy 11 Schedule

NWSL Women’s Schedule

MLS National TV Schedule

World Cup Schedule

Soccer Saturday’s are every Sat 9-10 am on 93.5 and 107.5 FM with Greg Rakestraw

Great shot at the Carmel High Girls Pack the House night – look at all those Carmel FC jerseys in the house! I even see some CFC GKU members.

US Men

Berhalter reveals 4 USMNT starters vs. Japan

Analysis: Thoughts and takeaways from Berhalter’s media call

Creditor: Bracing for Roster Change Is USMNT’s Only Constant

Big questions before USMNT’s pre-World Cup friendlies: Can Pepi nail down spot? Is Turner too rusty?

Sargent riding Norwich confidence to stake claim to USMNT’s No. 9 shirt 1dJeff Carlisle

What the players missing from the USMNT September friendlies roster says about the team

USMNT roster for World Cup tune-ups – Latest injury news, call-ups, 
USMNT, European review: Pefok scores for leaders Union Berlin; McKennie’s Juve lose

Siebatcheu, Becker fire ‘dominant’ Union Berlin top of Bundesliga

Walker Zimmerman “eager to prove” USMNT’s qualities despite key absences

Creditor: How the USMNT’s Three World Cup Foes Are Shaping Up

World Cup  

Big questions before Mexico’s pre-World Cup friendlies: Injuries, leadership, and the ‘quinto partido’
Why we need to change the debate over who gets picked for England

Allen injury a worry for Wales ahead of World Cup

Republic of Ireland’s Brady eager to repeat France 2016 heroics

 World

Gabriel Jesus goal celebration ‘for Vinicius Jr’; Racist attacks ‘need to stop’
Real Madrid triumph at rivals Atletico in spiky derby

Racist chants aimed at Vinicius Junior by Atletico Madrid fans

Barcelona climb top in Spain after Lewandowski double

Villarreal battle back to keep pressure on Sevilla and Lopetegui

Napoli make title statement at Milan to hold Serie A lead

US Ladies/NWSL

How San Diego smashed the NWSL attendance record with 32,000 fans

Angel City loses at San Diego’s new stadium, a venue that’s a sign of hope for NWSL
NWSL Boom, Global Growth Usher in New Goals for Women’s Soccer

15 Spanish Women’s Players Quit blaming the Coach

Funny Alex Morgan wears the new kit fairly well – the 4 stars over the logo does help !

Big questions before USMNT’s pre-World Cup friendlies – Can Pepi nail down spot? Is Turner too rusty?

12:24 PM ET  Bill Connelly  ESPN Staff Writer

In less than two months, the 3,065-day wait between World Cup matches for the United States men’s national team will come to an end. Only tuneups against Japan in Germany (Friday, 8:25 am ET on ESPN2/ESPN+) and Saudi Arabia (on Tuesday in Spain) remain before the Nov. 21 group-stage opener against Wales in Qatar.

hese two friendlies are, for all intents and purposes, the last chance for players to make direct impressions on U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter before he makes his World Cup selections. Berhalter insists other players could still end up on the team beyond those invited to camp this week, and he will prove how true that is when he makes his final 26-man selection in early November.But there are indeed roster spots still to be decided, and we’ll see who takes the greatest advantage of this week’s opportunities. Here are five questions to ask as we, too, get our final pre-Qatar look at the national team.

Nine (or so) USMNT World Cup roster spots are left. Who takes them?

Figuring out a national team manager’s preferences can be pretty tricky due to the disjointed nature of the international calendar. Who’s healthy and/or in form when the matches show up on the calendar? Who isn’t? It can make a huge difference on selection.

Still, we can make some pretty educated guesses. We know who Berhalter has played the most over the year or so since World Cup qualification began: Timothy WeahChristian PulisicBrenden AaronsonJesus Ferreira and Ricardo Pepi in attack; Tyler AdamsYunus MusahWeston McKennie and Kellyn Acosta in midfield; Walker Zimmerman and Miles Robinson in central defense; Antonee RobinsonDeAndre Yedlin and Sergino Dest (when healthy) at fullback; Matt Turner and Zack Steffen in goal.Weah, Musah, Steffen and Antonee Robinson have battled minor injuries of late and are not involved in this window of matches, but one assumes their spots on the plane to Qatar are secure if healthy. Miles Robinson will certainly miss the World Cup due to a long-term Achilles injury suffered in May, and even though he was selected for these two matches, Pepi could also miss out despite being healthy as he has battled major form issues this calendar year.So that’s 15 players we can loosely assume are involved.We know that Giovanni Reyna would have been in heavy rotation had he not been injured for most of 2021-22, and we know that midfielder Luca de la Torre enjoyed some fantastic and super-active moments as he was given more minutes late in qualification and over the summer. That’s probably 17.That still leaves nine spots or so that are undecided — maybe 10 or 11 if Berhalter gives up on Pepi for the time being, or if Steffen’s combination of health and form issues continue. One extra spot will go to a third goalkeeper, and one to two spots will go to backup midfielders. But at least a couple more forwards will come to Qatar, and there are quite a few spots to be decided in defense.

Outside of the names already mentioned above, here are the players in each position group who were invited to camp in this international window:

Those are the players to pay closest attention to against Japan and Saudi Arabia.

Is Zimmerman-Long as effective as Zimmerman-Robinson?

With Miles Robinson out, the biggest question for Berhalter to answer regarding the team’s starting XI is who lines up next to Zimmerman in central defense in Qatar. Evidently Aaron Long will get the first crack, as he will start alongside Zimmerman against Japan.

McKenzie and Palmer-Brown were last-second additions after both Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic) and Chris Richards (Crystal Palace) had to withdraw with minor injuries. (Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan likely would have been involved here if not for injury, as well.) All of this has further clouded what was already the cloudiest position on the roster.None of the primary options have logged the same amount of time next to Zimmerman as Robinson had. Richards and Zimmerman have played in the same U.S. match four times, Long twice — he’s coming off of his own Achilles recovery — and McKenzie and Palmer-Brown once each. If Carter-Vickers were to end up starting next to Zimmerman against Wales, it would be their first match together. That’s a bad time to get to know each other.Richards started four qualification matches and seemed reasonably likely to be the new first-choice option here, but minor injuries (and the poor timing of said injuries) have limited his time in various camps. So Long gets the first shot.Herculez Gomez gives his opinion on the new USMNT kits for the World Cup in Qatar.Berhalter leaned heavily on the combination of Zimmerman and Robinson in World Cup qualification — they were two of the four players who topped 800 minutes — and the United States‘ defense was rock solid most of the way. In the seven matches in which this duo played, the U.S. allowed just four goals (from shots worth 4.3 xG) and amassed 16 points. In the seven they didn’t: six goals allowed (from 5.6 xG) and nine points. In terms of output, that’s not an enormous difference, but it’s a difference.Neither Japan nor Saudi Arabia is heavy in terms of attack or length-of-the-pitch pressure. We certainly won’t learn everything we need to know in two matches, but if one of either Long, McKenzie or Palmer-Brown were to stand out from the others, it would likely make a strong impression.


Will Pepi, Sargent capitalize amid Pefok snub?

Jordan Pefok and his Union Berlin side have been a revelation since the start of the current Bundesliga season. The counter-attacking partnership of Pefok (three goals and two assists from 10 chances created) and club teammate Sheraldo Becker (six goals and three assists from 12 chances) has been a huge reason why Die Eisernen sit top of the German league table.

As for his performance for the USMNT, Pefok hasn’t really done much. The 26-year old has made nine appearances with the national team and has scored once on eight shots worth 1.2 xG in 307 minutes. Granted, no one has really stood out consistently in center-forward, but of those who have played at least 200 minutes for the national team over the last two years, Nicholas Gioacchini (1.23), Ferreira (1.13), Daryl Dike (0.55), Pepi (0.44) and Gyasi Zardes (0.41) have all averaged more xG created per 90 minutes than Pefok’s 0.35, and Sargent (0.34) and Matthew Hoppe (0.30) aren’t exactly far behind.

The U.S. seems to be at its best when it is giving the other team the ball and opening space for counters. That has been true historically, and it still seems true now. In the four World Cup qualification matches in which the U.S. had under 50% possession, they averaged 2.5 points and 2.8 goals scored per match; in 10 matches over 50%, they averaged 1.5 points and 1.0 goals. It’s true that game state had a role to play here — when the U.S. is leading, it is much less likely to be dominating the ball or trying to play with a high defensive line — but one could make a pretty easy case that Pefok (one of the strongest counter-attackers in Europe at the moment) should have a spot on the roster, even if just as a substitute.

Maybe that will come to pass. Maybe Berhalter was serious when he said last week, “We’re pretty confident we know Jordan’s profile, we know what he can do… we didn’t feel like we needed to see him in this camp to determine whether he could be on the [World Cup] roster or not.”left for attackers and now Pepi, Sargent and Arriola get chances to make last-minute impressions, hopefully swaying Berhalter’s thinking. Will they take advantage?Sargent has certainly taken advantage of a drop in competition levels. Still only 22, he spent the last two seasons with moribund teams. Werder Bremen was relegated in 2020-21 after a terrible season in the Bundesliga, and he moved to Norwich City, which finished last in the Premier League in 2021-22.

Over those two seasons, he managed to score just seven goals in 58 matches and while he was in no way the primary reason for those teams’ dreadful performances, he obviously didn’t help that much either. Predictably, his form with the national team suffered, too. After scoring five goals in his first 12 appearances, he failed to score in his last seven matches; in the first three matches of World Cup qualification, he attempted four shots in 116 minutes, put none of them on target, and wasn’t included in further matches.This season in the English Championship, Sargent already has six goals and an assist in 10 matches for Norwich. Because of an injury to veteran Teemu Pukki, he’s put in nearly half of his minutes at center-forward, too, which hasn’t hurt his cause. He’s put 42% of his shots on target, and his body language has improved immensely. He’s doing this in the second division, yes, but he desperately needed confidence and form, and he’s found both.

Pepi… is still searching, as the last year or so has turned him into a prime example of “too much, too soon.”

Still only 19, Pepi rode a hot streak to a 13-goal, two-assist season for FC Dallas in 2021 — he scored three times for the U.S., too — and he parlayed that success into a transfer to the Bundesliga to play for FC Augsburg.

Over the course of about seven months, he made just 16 appearances for 587 minutes (equivalent to just 6.5 full 90s) and scored zero goals with zero assists. He was solid from a ball-pressure perspective, but as a forward, you’re hired to score at least a few goals. He is spending 2022-23 on loan with the Eredivisie’s FC Groningen, and in two matches and 110 minutes he’s already produced a goal and an assist.

Maybe a lower level of competition will coax the same improvement we’ve seen from Sargent, but he’s only just started there.

Will the shots be on target?

For obvious reasons, the players themselves — their individual performances and where they fit in the team — are what we will be primarily focused on in these two matches. In fact, we’ll return to that line of thinking shortly. But there’s still something to be gleaned from the team’s play, especially as it pertains to the attack.Berhalter has made clear through the years that he prefers slow buildup and quality possession numbers; this made it kind of awkward when, as mentioned above, the U.S. turned out to be far more potent with less of the ball.Against a set of CONCACAF opponents that were typically happy to play with a low defensive line and give more talented teams all the aimless possession they wanted, the U.S. obliged. They were inconsistent in breaking these defenses down to any major degree, and it created some blemishes.In seven qualification wins, the U.S. averaged 15.3 shots per match, attempted at least 12 in every match and put 40% of shots on goal. In six meaningful qualification draws and losses (not including the final loss to Costa Rica, when they had already clinched qualification), they averaged 10.0 shots per match, managed fewer than 12 in four of six and put just 25% of shots on goal.With Iran in their World Cup group, the U.S. will play at least one match against a low-line, low-possession team — one that is very good at that system, no less. And as preparation, you could do a lot worse than playing Japan and Saudi Arabia. In friendlies and World Cup qualification matches over the last two years, Saudi Arabia has allowed just 8.2 shot attempts per match (37% on target), Japan 6.8 (31%). Was there a lot of weak opposition in that sample? Absolutely. But there was quite a bit of raw quality, too, especially from Japan.When Japan played a loaded Brazil team in a June friendly — one that started NeymarVinicius Junior and Raphinha in attack and brought Gabriel Jesus and Richarlison off the bench — they did allow 21 shot attempts. But only two of the shots were worth more than 0.2 xG, only 24% of them were on target and Brazil’s lone goal came from a 77th-minute penalty.Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu has a sound defense to lean on, one that includes veterans like captain Maya Yoshida (Schalke 04) and Hiroki Sakai (formerly of Marseille) and exciting younger players like Hiroki Ito (VfB Stuttgart) and Takehiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal). Further up the pitch, Japan has both proven players like Takumi Minamino (AS Monaco), Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt) and Kyogo Furuhashi (Celtic) and up-and-comers like Takefusa Kubo (Real Sociedad) and Ritsu Doan (SC Freiburg). This squad will test the U.S. from front to back, but how the Americans fare in attack might be the most telling. And against Saudi Arabia in particular, they should get plenty of reps against a packed-in defense.

How sharp is Turner (and will he play both games)?

According to data recorded by StatsPerform, Matt Turner — who will get the start on Friday against Japan — played 43 matches and a total of 3,869 minutes for club and country in 2021.In 2022, he’s played 14 matches and 1,193 minutes. In 2021, he registered an excellent 14.1 goals prevented (a StatsPerform measure comparing the post-shot xG value of shots on goal to actual goals scored or allowed). In 2022, that figure is minus-0.3. It could be a correlation — or merely a coincidence.The 28-year old Turner missed a large portion of the spring to injury, then moved from the New England Revolution to Arsenal over the summer. Professionally, it was an obviously exciting move for him to make. He’s been regarded as the best pure shot-stopper in the U.S. player pool for a while, and now he gets to ply his trade for one of England’s biggest clubs.He did see a little bit of push-back to the move from those thinking more about the national team than about Turner himself. Would his form be affected by the fact that he wouldn’t be playing as much — he’s now Aaron Ramsdale‘s backup — especially after coming off of an injury?

Indeed, he’s played in only one match for the club, along with three recorded friendlies. He was shaky against Germany’s Nurnberg in a July friendly, but the only goal he allowed in his Europa League debut came from a penalty. He has said all the right and predictable things about the move, pointing out that things are so fast in practice that he feels more prepared than ever for a World Cup-level challenge.We’ll get a fleeting glimpse of Turner’s sharpness over the next week, but it will be interesting to see if Berhalter also starts him against Saudi Arabia, knowing that it will be his last chance to get a look at potential backups like Horvath and Johnson as well.

Will De la Torre be rested or rusty?

We’re going to get quite a look at how club form affects country form this week and, perhaps, at the World Cup. Turner is one case study, and De la Torre is another.De la Torre, 24, emerged as a bolt of lightning and phenomenal at ball recoveries for the U.S. this spring and summer. Over seven 2022 matches with the U.S., and in just a 275-minute sample, he recorded 38 ball recoveries, completed 90% of his passes and created six chances with two assists. He was a wrecking ball with Heracles Almelo in the Dutch Eredivisie, too: He was one of only three players to combine at least 230 ball recoveries with at least 40 chances created.He moved from Heracles to LaLiga’s Celta Vigo in the offseason, however, and has proceeded to play 17 total minutes in 2022-23. The odds are good that he will land on the 26-man World Cup roster regardless, but now’s a good chance for him to prove his sharpness — to prove he’s rested, not rusty — after sitting the bench for most of the last six to eight weeks.

National Writer: Charles BoehmUS Men’s National TeamWorld Cup

Team approach

Their hope is that even when key faces are missing or unavailable, or the team finds itself up against a wall, as is quite likely to be the case for significant stretches in Qatar against the likes of Group B foes Wales, England and Iran, that the journey to this point has created a collective much greater than the sum of its parts.

Which would be no small sum, considering that this is widely considered both the youngest and possibly most talented group the United States has ever sent to a men’s World Cup. And several of them have known one another since middle school or thereabouts.

“One of the things, as far as me and Tyler, have learned about each other is that he does all the running and I do all the playing. No, I’m just kidding!” said McKennie, flashing another trademark smile. “But I think just us being together for as long as we have and knowing each other for so long, we’ve, I think, developed a relationship that we know each other’s tendencies, we know each other’s abilities, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how to cover for one another.

“Many of the guys that are coming in that may have not been with the group so long, we’ve played with them or against them at some point in our lives, in our careers. Say for instance, Luca de la Torre, [who] maybe came on a little bit later into the national team, me and Tyler have been playing with him since we were 14, 15 years old. So I think whoever comes in, we have some sort of familiarity with each player.”

Evaluation time

Understandably, fans and pundits are already debating decisions like leaving out Pefok, or whether to start Jesus Ferreira vs. Josh Sargent up top instead. Or if Brenden Aaronson should be slotted into a No. 8 role alongside McKennie instead of on the right wing, to make sure the Leeds United standout is on the pitch given other flank options like Gio Reyna, Malik Tillman or Paul Arriola. Or whether anyone else in the player pool can replicate what Antonee “Jedi” Robinson has brought to the left back position, with Sam Vines looking to impress.

As important as those finer points of Berhalter’s roster and lineup selection are, Adams suggested that Berhalter’s overarching concepts reduce the extent of adaptation when changes become inevitable, as they already are.

“One of the keys to our team is our depth. You already see, based off of the players that are here, all of them can play at any given moment, they can really offer something different,” said the holding midfielder. “We have a system, and although, yeah, we have individual quality all over the field and [roster spots] one through 26, there’s all different types of qualities, when you come into the system, you have to know your role and you have to know your job on the day and for who we’re playing against.”One of Asia’s elite sides for a quarter-century and counting, Japan have qualified for seven consecutive World Cups and this autumn must chart a course out of a ferocious Group E alongside Germany, Spain and Costa Rica. Their technical, up-tempo blend of possession and pressing will undoubtedly ask difficult questions of the USMNT on both sides of the ball.That leads to useful lessons for the players, and data points for Berhalter as he mulls his final roster decisions.“We’re trying to put together the best possible team that can perform at our best levels at the World Cup. And for that, we pick players that fit the way we want to play and the way we are, and our team culture. And so there’s not one easy answer for that,” said the coach.“We take the decisions very seriously. We deliberate continuously. And we feel bad for guys and happy for other guys. It’s an emotional process where we care for each and every one of our players in our player pool. Every player that’s ever stepped on the field or stepped on a training field for us since we’ve been involved in 2019, we care for. And they’re never easy conversations. But in the end, we’re trying to do what we feel is best for the team – and the team is always going to be the most important thing.”

USMNT to start GK Turner, defenders Long, Zimmerman in friendly vs. Japan – Berhalter

11:36 AM ET  Jeff CarlisleU.S. soccer correspondent

COLOGNE, Germany — United States manager Gregg Berhalter has said Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner will start in Friday’s friendly against Japan, and he will be joined by center backs Aaron Long of the New York Red Bulls and Nashville SC’s Walker Zimmerman.

“Aaron and Walker are going to play, going to start, and we’ll probably make a sub at half-time, or maybe after that and get another center back in. And then next game, take a look at another one,” Berhalter said during a roundtable with reporters.Berhalter later confirmed during a virtual media availability that Antwerp left back Sam Vines would also start against Japan.The center back position has been hit by injuries in recent months. Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson suffered a ruptured achilles tendon back in May, while Crystal Palace’s Chris Richards and Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers were ruled out of this international break due to minor injuries. That left Berhalter to call in RKC Genk’s Mark McKenzie and Troyes’ Erik Palmer-Brown.The absences have led to concerns that some chemistry will be lost, but Berhalter said Long, McKenzie and Zimmerman were all part of his first national team camp back in 2019.”Mark’s played in some big games, Aaron and Walker played together for three and a half years now, so I think there is familiarity with this group,” Berhalter said. “And then for Eric, it’s a good opportunity. He’s playing in Ligue 1. He’s playing against [Kylian] Mbappe and [Lionel] Messi and the quality strikers there.”Berhalter said that he is making some tactical modifications, even at this late stage before the start of the World Cup in November, where the U.S. will square off against WalesEngland and Iran. In addition to Japan on Friday, the U.S. will play their final preparation match against Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain on Sept. 27.”I think it’s beneficial for us to put tweaks into what we’re doing because opponents come in all shapes and sizes and forms and formations in the World Cup,” Berhalter said. “So I think this will help prepare us. There’s probably a little bit in it over the course of two games, for sure.”Midfielder Weston McKennie said the U.S. will try to handle playing in transition better, which was something the team struggled with in friendlies last June against Morocco and Uruguay.”When the ball gets switched to the other side or our press gets broken down, just to track back and get behind the ball again,” he said.”That’s one of the things that we’re concentrating on in training, and just building out, playing and having a confidence to find those balls that maybe aren’t the easiest to find, but most effective. And in general, just I guess making sure our chemistry is intact, which I don’t think that’s ever been a real problem, but always good to have the guys in.”

Ricardo Pepi, Josh Sargent, Jesus Ferreria are the 3 Strikers called in for the final 2 games before the World Cup.

A Glimpse Into USMNT’s Forward Thinking

Fit or form? That appears to be the key question up top for the U.S. as it braces for the World Cup. Brian Straus SI 

Maybe the Bundesliga just wanted to find a novel way to remind everybody that it has a title race to promote in late September. Union Berlin is, after all, the surprising leader of a league that’s often already in Bayern Munich’s hands by now. But this was an interesting way to do it—essentially criticizing a foreign national team coach for his roster selection.“Jordan [Pefok] has contributed to more goals in the early part of 2022-23 than any U.S. international playing their club football in a top European league,” the Bundesliga website proclaimed, adding that the 26-year-old striker “deserves a USMNT recall in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”The German league’s editorial was unorthodox, but it’s an indication of just how contentious and confounding the U.S. striker conversation has become—at least outside the program. The World Cup is two months away, and there’s just one camp and two friendlies left to play before coach Gregg Berhalter has to choose his 26-man team (and then the 11 men who’ll start against Wales in Al Rayyan, Qatar).There are other roster concerns, including at goal and center back. But none is attracting more attention and opinion than the puzzle up front. There, no one but 21-year-old FC Dallas forward Jesús Ferreira, who scored one goal in six World Cup qualifying appearances before netting four against tiny Grenada in June, appears to be a November shoo-in. As of last week, the likes of Pefok, Ricardo Pepi, Josh Sargent, Haji Wright and Brandon Vazquez were considered contenders for the remaining two or maybe three slots.Berhalter has said time and again that this month’s camp in western Germany (where the U.S. faces Japan on Friday in Düsseldorf) and Murcia, Spain (where the Americans play Saudi Arabia on Sept. 27) is not a World Cup dress rehearsal. It can’t be. Too many important pieces, such as Antonee Robinson, Tim Weah and Yunus Musah, among others, are missing. Nevertheless, a message has been sent about the race for the No. 9 role: fit may trump form. There’s no other way to reconcile the inclusion of Pepi, who hadn’t found the net in the 11 months that preceded last week’s roster announcement (he then scored for Groningen over the weekend), over Pefok, who’s been the most consistent American scorer in Europe. The Washington, D.C. native had tallied 21 goals between Pepi’s last marker and last week’s unveiling, and now has four in eight games for first-place Union.Ferreira and Sargent, who hasn’t scored for the U.S. in two years, are the other strikers now in camp. Wright, who spent June with the national team and has five goals in seven matches for Turkey’s Antalyaspor, was left out. So was Vazquez, whose bid for an inaugural senior cap has been fueled by a brilliant 16-goal, five-assist campaign for resurgent FC Cincinnati.“I don’t think there’s a case where there’s a huge talent discrepancy, and we went with the guy who has experience or has a body of work over that talent. You’re talking about minor differences,” Berhalter explained.“We’re not going to be the most talented team at the World Cup and we’re going to have to compensate for that by being a cohesive unit, by working for each other, fighting for each other and having a great team spirit,” the coach continued. “So part of it is leaning on guys that have been there before and been around the group before, and understand the team culture and understand their teammates really well.”Form is typically temporary, especially up top. Strikers can be streaky, for better or worse. What seems to matter more to Berhalter is profile—attributes, qualities, abilities and instincts that transcend a given stat. How the player fits into the group tactically, physically and personally is a priority.“It’s no secret. We use [strikers] in a number of different ways,” Berhalter said when asked what he was looking for from his No. 9. “One of them is to drop in and help us give us an extra man in midfield. One of the ways is to run behind the back line and then arriving in the penalty box, making good runs inside the penalty box, and then finally starting our defensive pressure. We want to be a high pressing team. We need forwards that understand the press, know how to use triggers to initiate the press and then actually execute the press well.” https://f458671a9cbecd1c50adad69622ac743.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html That combination of qualities is why Ferreira is atop the U.S. depth chart. “When you look at a guy like Jesús, he checks all those boxes in terms of what his skill set is,” Berhalter said. “So that’s how we’ve been evaluating a lot of these guys, and I think that it’s a complicated position. But there are guys out there, even not in this camp, that we believe can get the job done. We said that all along, that we believe we have forwards that can do the job.”Ferreira is smaller than his compatriots, but he’s mobile, smart and comfortable on both sides of the ball. Speaking from U.S. camp this week, he detailed how focusing on those foundational qualities can help a player produce an end product. He said he’s even been meeting with a sports psychologist to help embrace that cause and effect.“[I’ve been] working with a guy that has helped me understand that in games, I need to focus more on having a good touch, making sure that my press is good, making sure that my runs are good, making sure that I can come down and help with my first touch for buildout, just making sure that I have a good game before I think about the final product,” Ferreira said. “Thinking about having a good game will lead me to having the final product, which is the goal.”Berhalter has expressed confidence in Pepi and Sargent despite their recent struggles. Pepi’s transfer to Augsburg has been a disaster, and he’s now on loan in the Netherlands. Sargent has been revitalized by Norwich’s relegation from the Premier League, a positional adjustment and an offseason weight training program.“Pepi has also had some good history with us. He’s started really important games, and we just weren’t willing to give all that up right now on Pepi. We still think there’s a big upside with him,” Berhalter said. “Let’s not forget in our last qualifying window, he started two of the three games in a crucial qualifying window. So he’s a guy that we’ve counted on in the past, and we want to give him an opportunity in this window.” Berhalter said regarding Sargent, “We wanted to take a look at Josh due to his hot start and he’s been with the [national] team for a while as well.”Norwich uses a 4-3-3 formation that’s similar to the the Berhalter’s, and Sargent earned some time up top in the absence of the injured Teemu Pukki. Sargent then returned to a right-wing role that affords him more opportunity to drift inside, he said. The 22-year-old has six goals in 11 games this season.”I haven’t really had a season like this,” Sargent told media Wednesday in Cologne. “I would say in terms of getting a lot of scoring chances, getting minutes at striker like I have this season so far, confidence is at an all-time high at the moment. I’m just trying to keep that momentum going as long as possible, keep scoring goals.”Wright and Pefok have fewer caps than the men called in (but not by much in Pefok’s case—he’s just two behind Pepi). Pefok also plays in a 3-5-2 at Union that’s quite different from Berhalter’s set-up. Vazquez, meanwhile, has no time with the U.S. at all, and integrating a player into the side this close to the World Cup just doesn’t seem like a task the coaching staff is eager to take on.

Pefok seemed like the bigger snub.“We’re pretty confident we know Jordan’s profile,” Berhalter said last week. “We know what he can do, and we didn’t feel like we needed to see him in this camp to determine whether he could be on the [World Cup] roster or not. … He’s been working hard. He’s been a handful to play against, and he’s doing a lot of things right.“We’ve been consistent in saying it may not be the best forward that is in the group,” he added. “It’s a guy that fits what we’re doing the best and again, we’re pretty confident we know what Jordan can do.”So is Pefok.”In the big competitions you need experience, but you also need desire and to apply yourself,” he said in that Bundesliga piece. ”In a cup competition anything can happen. Why shouldn’t performances at the highest level in club football be reflected in the national team?”Perhaps Pefok already is considered a World Cup squad member unless Pepi and/or Sargent flourish this month. Or maybe his profile just isn’t right. Either way, the scoreboard will tell the story. First up is the 24th-ranked Samurai Blue, who are headed to their seventh straight World Cup following a qualifying campaign in which they won 15 of 18 games, scored 58 goals and yielded just six.”They don’t give much up at all,” Berhalter said of Japan. “They don’t give many goal scoring opportunities up. They play teams very tight—very good work rate. Everyone gets behind the ball when they lose the ball. So I think that’s going be an interesting opponent.”It sounds like a good test for a striker. It’s one that somebody will have to pass, or else questions will continue as time grows short.

Bracing for Roster Change Is the USMNT’s Only Constant

Injuries have shaped the makeup of the U.S.’s last squad before the World Cup team is chosen, but in the national team’s universe, that’s par for the course.

Gregg Berhalter saw it coming. But then again, anyone who has been closely following the U.S. men’s national team for the last few years probably should have, too.“A lot can change,” Berhalter prophetically said regarding his penultimate squad choice before the World Cup begins, specifically about those who were and were not selected. “We have to be monitoring these players, we are monitoring these players, we’re having ongoing conversations with guys in the camp and not in the camp, because we know things can change really quickly.”And so it has. In the time since Berhalter made those comments, last Wednesday, three of his 26 initial choices for the last U.S. camp—Yunus MusahChris Richards and Cameron Carter-Vickers—have withdrawn with fresh injuries. Another handful wasn’t available to be called on in the first place due to either lingering or recent injury issues. Such is what resembles “normal” for the USMNT.It bears repeating that the U.S. has never had what most would consider its optimal lineup together for a single game in the four years leading into the 2022 World Cup. Injuries, COVID-19, form, discipline … you name the circumstance, and it has prevented the U.S. from truly being at full strength even once in Berhalter’s time as coach. So it should be no surprise, then, that the U.S., which has commenced its last camp before the World Cup, is again braced for change. It’s been the only real constant for a group that has achieved plenty as an extended unit and goes into its World Cup group against Wales, England and Iran feeling optimistic about its chances, regardless of who makes the final cut. A camp that spans time and a pair of matches against World Cup–bound foes in Germany and Spain, is the next checkpoint on the road to Qatar, but it’s not the end-all for those hoping to reach the World Cup stage. Berhalter made sure to stress that point repeatedly, with it extending both ways—just because someone was called into camp doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a shoo-in for Qatar, and, conversely, just because someone wasn’t included doesn’t mean his World Cup hopes are toast. But there is going to be the expectation for the next men up to rise to the occasion if called upon. In this case, it’s the three replacements: Brazil-based midfielder Johnny Cardoso, and Europe-based center backs Mark McKenzie and Erik Palmer-Brown. “This isn’t something where we need to lock in the [World Cup] roster right now. If we’re 80% done now, or we think we’re 80% done, still things can change from there,” Berhalter said. “They’re playing up until the last weekend before the World Cup. Think about how many guys pulled out of [USMNT World Cup] qualifiers at the last weekend. “It’s important to keep in mind that this is not the final roster. It’s not the final roster for the World Cup. A lot can happen between now and Nov. 9 [when the U.S.’s squad will be revealed]. A lot can happen between the ninth and the 14th [when FIFA’s roster deadline actually is]. So just keep that in mind. That was the conversation I had with the players not selected in this camp, is that a lot can happen in some of the positions where we’re looking to evaluate certain guys that we don’t have enough information on and other players just weren’t selected.”So that’s the position in which the U.S. finds itself with one week and two games left before any undecided places—that 20% or so that Berhalter referenced—come down to remaining club performances (Berhalter did add that a separate, off-calendar camp for MLS-based players whose teams don’t make the playoffs will be held next month). In addition to the three aforementioned injuries, winger Tim Weah, left back Antonee Robinson and goalkeeper Zack Steffen, three players whom most would call core fixtures for a team familiar with flux, all were held out as well. Steffen’s absence is made a bit more confusing considering he returned from a knee injury for Middlesbrough over the weekend, but it opens the door for Matt Turner to make his claim for the No. 1 job.“We’re waiting to see how [Steffen] recovers and gets back on the training field and then a game field,” Berhalter had said last week.Nevertheless, he remains out. Weah is also in a waiting game, with his ankle injury preventing him from playing for Lille at all so far this season. At the very least, Robinson’s injury does not appear to be prohibitive. The instrumental fullback injured his ankle against Tottenham earlier this month, but Berhalter appeared to play down the severity when giving his assessment last week, and that was backed by subsequent words from Fulham manager Marco Silva.“It’s not really serious, and because of that we are testing every day how he feels,” Silva said late last week, before Fulham’s match vs. Nottingham Forest. “It’s something that could be one or two days, [that’s] the feedback that I received from the medical staff. We need to check again, because he doesn’t feel really comfortable yet, but I think soon we will have Robinson again.”

That’s a breath of fresh air for the U.S., which has options, but not ones that would be characterized as fully secure, behind Robinson in the pecking order.The roster churn over the last few days doesn’t account for all of the pressing story lines with the current U.S. squad. The chief focus is on the center forwards, which, at this camp, are Jesús Ferreira, Josh Sargent and Ricardo Pepi. Ferreira’s form with FC Dallas and most recent contributions with the U.S. made him an automatic call, while Sargent has been on a scorching scoring run—at last—for Norwich City and has a deep history with this player pool. Berhalter said he didn’t want to bring four players at the position to camp when getting game time for all would have been a tough task, leaving the final call, presumably, down to Pepi and Jordan Pefok.Whereas Pepi, who finally broke his scoring drought for club and country after more than 11 months with a goal in the Netherlands for Groningen, made the squad, Pefok, who has scored regularly for Bundesliga-leading Union Berlin, including another goal Sunday, did not. Both players’ goals were scored on headers, with Pefok’s of a higher degree of difficulty, in a better league—the same league where Pepi struggled to find a foothold. Even so, the thought process is not that simple. Pepi is getting another look, perhaps owing to what he meant to the group during qualifying, with his three goals last fall helping propel the U.S. during a turning point. Berhalter was also quick to point out that Pepi was a starter in the final qualifying window. It’s not as if he hasn’t been more involved in key moments, and when contemplating what a team will look like in Qatar, more than stats go into it. Pefok’s goals speak for themselves, and he’s done just about everything he can to show he should not only go to Qatar but perhaps play a significant role, but he won’t get that last audition. And he might not need it, anyway.“We’re pretty confident we know Jordan’s profile, we know what he can do,” Berhalter said. “And we didn’t feel like we needed to see him in this camp to determine whether he can be on the roster [for the World Cup] or not.”If there’s one thing that can ease Pefok’s mind, and that of anyone else who is on the fringe but wasn’t called in for this camp and matches against Japan and Saudi Arabia, it’s Berhalter’s four words that represent what’s possible in a small time window.“A lot can change.” 

FC Dallas alumni shine, Pefok scores again, Ream wins at LB, Yanks struggle in Italy, & more Americans abroad analysis
 

Unless you were in Italy, it was generally a fun weekend for Americans in Europe. Jordan Pefok helped keep Union Berlin atop the Bundesliga with another goal. Tim Ream played out of position and helped Fulham gut out another win. The FC Dallas alumni trio of Bryan Reynolds, Reggie Cannon, and Ricardo Pepi all stood out. ASN’s Brian Sciaretta covers all the good and bad while putting a lot of context with the U.S. national team. 

BY BRIAN SCIARETTA  SEPTEMBER 18, 2022   11:00 PM

THE WEEKEND FOR Americans abroad is over and that ushers in the final international break before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. It was a far better weekend than the previous weekend and there is a lot more to talk about – both good and bad.We had significant news from just about every of the major European countries.So, let’s start with breaking it all down and giving you some of my thoughts 

FC DALLAS HOMEGROWN ALUMNI SHINE

 

Players who came up through the FC Dallas system, signed homegrown deals, made it to the first team all had good weekends – with the exception of Justin Che who is trapped in the abyss at Hoffenheim.  First you had Ricardo Pepi, who was somewhat controversially selected to the national team last week despite not having scored for club or country since last October. His run at Augsburg was poor and he was shipped to the midtable Eredivisie with FC Groningen to jump start his career. He made a strong debut last weekend when he assisted in a 1-0 win over Cambuur. On Saturday, he earned his first start with Groningen against Sparta Rotterdam and initially it went extremely well with Pepi ending his scoreless skid with a very nice header.  The magnifying glass will still be on Pepi as he remains the most unconvincing forward right now in the player pool and Jordan Pefok’s surge continues to have many fans asking “why not Pefok? He’s scoring for the Bundesliga’s top team.” It’s a fair question. While Berhalter keeps stressing the style of the team and fitting into the system, for a lot of fans that is overcomplicating things.  Mike Tyson once had a famous line: “everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face.” When you get into battle, the style and the system are great but there comes a time when that will break down. When that breaks down, becomes a matter of raw talent.This doesn’t mean that Pepi doesn’t have the talent. But this one Eredivisie goal needs to be the start of a huge upward trend or else it’s going to only raise more questions.  One important note here is that Pepi was not having a particularly solid game until his 62nd minute goal. The goal does distract from everything but maybe it provides a spark. It has to start from somewhere.  

Staying with the FC Dallas alumni, Bryan Reynolds has not had a great time since getting sold from FC Dallas to AS Roma in January 2021. He rarely played at Roma and his first loan this past January to Kortrijk wasn’t great. He didn’t standout as that team tanked.

Now at Westerlo, he is on a newly promoted team but one with a little more promise. After weeks of being glued to the bench, Reynolds is now a starter. On Saturday against Sporting Charleroi, he scored his first goal when his 4th minute strike gave Westerlo 1-0 lead. That proved to be a valuable goal in a 3-2 away win over Sporting.

Reynolds is finally in a place where he can build his game and the club should be a midtable finisher. It’s not glamours, but this is where he should have been at initially. The level of play is the same as Dallas but there he can work free of the hype and get acclimated to a different country and culture.  

His national team prospects aren’t great – either now or in the future. If he’s a right back, Sergino Dest and Joe Scally are also young and are clearly ahead of him. With the emergence of other left backs after Antonee Robinson (such as Sam Vines, who is higher up the ladder in Belgium), it doesn’t seem likely Dest or Scally get switched to left back.

Reynolds might in in time find his way into a backup role with the U.S. team but that is a long way off. He should put all his focus into his club career to improve his standing once his Westerlo loan ends and then maybe push for an Olympic team spot. He’s a long term project but is finally showing the possibility of a nice ceiling if he continues to work hard.

Finally, completing the FC Dallas homegrown hat trick of good news this weekend was Reggie Cannon. While he isn’t playing as a right back, he is playing as a right sided central defender for Boavista on a weekly basis. On Saturday, he went the distance in a very good defensive outing as Boavista defeated one of Portugal’s traditional powers in Sporting CP. It was a gritty and hard-fought defensive battle and showed the value for Cannon in being able to help his team defend its way to an upset. Gregg Berhalter surely took note of that too.

Boavista are in a surprising fifth place in Portugal through seven games to start the season. It’s been a steady climb up since Cannon joined and this is their best season with him.

 PEFOK & BOYD: CRUSHING IT IN GERMANY

 

There were some impressive displays from the forward position in Germany – one which is sure to raise the most angst among U.S. national team fans and the other, while no longer in contention for the U.S. team, is just a positive and feel-good story.

Let’s start with the angst.Jordan Pefok scored his third goal of the Bundesliga season on Sunday for Union Berlin when he opened the scoring of what would turn out to be a 2-0 win over Wolfsburg. His 54th minute header was truly a display of individual class. On top of it all, Union Berlin sits atop the Bundesliga table with 17 points from seven games.We all know the reason why Pefok is not in the U.S.team. He doesn’t fit the profile of how Berhalter wants his forwards to play. But this then draws links with Pepi who broke his 11+ month scoreless drought with a goal that looked like it would have been scored by Pefok. Josh Sargent struggled for years in the Bundesliga trying to do what Pepi did.It doesn’t dismiss Berhalter’s concerns either. I remember the 2008 U.S. Olympic team. As one of the three overage picks, Peter Nowak selected Brian McBride who was coming off another season in the Premier League. Jozy Altidore was still a very young forward on the Red Bulls and Charlie Davies was still in Sweden. McBride, despite having the best resume at the time, looked completely out of step for how the team wanted to play. Altidore and Davies looked better.But as I mentioned above, “everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the face,” and when the system is breaking down, where are the goals going to come from against the run of play? The 2008 U.S. Olympic team over-relied on McBride. I think the concern with leaving Pefok off is that he doesn’t have to start, but it is very easy to see a situation arise where he’d be useful. Yes, he doesn’t get a lot of touches on the ball, he doesn’t press much, he might not get behind the lines very often, and he has yet to show a good working chemistry with the U.S. wingers, but when the U.S. trailing late and looking for an equalizer, he seems like the guy you want to be in the box for crosses.As for the club situation, he’s in a great spot. He has great chemistry with Sheraldo Becker (a chemistry which would be nearly impossible to replicate at on the U.S. team, to be honest). Holding off Bayern Munich is unlikely but they’re a team in transition with Lewandowski gone but Union Berlin looks like the team to really go for it.In this game, Kevin Paredes came off the bench and played the final 11 minutes for Wolfsburg. Once again, he wasn’t a game changer, but he was a positive for Wolfsburg. It seems as if the U.S. U-20 winger is building towards his first ever Bundesliga start.

In the German 2.Bundesliga, Terrence Boyd scored two goals for Kaiserslautern in a 2-2 draw with FC Heidenheim. In this game, his second goal was an equalizer with his team down to 10 men. His first goal, was a very impressive header.

Boyd, 31, now has five goals on the season and is just one off the pace for the 2.Bundesliga scoring lead. That’s not easy on a newly promoted team. Boyd never scored in repeated opportunities with the U.S. team and he never scored in an ill-fated move to Toronto. But he remains one of the most likable and easy to root for American players in the game. Now he is looking to end his career with a string of successful seasons.

Also in this game, Lennard Maloney went 75 minutes for Heidenheim in the draw. It was a tough outing in what has otherwise been a nice start to the season for the German-American central defender who earned two U.S. U-20 caps in 2018. Heidenheim looks like a contender for promotion. 

MCKENZIE & EPB IMPRESS

 As everyone knows by now, Erik Palmer-Brown and Mark McKenzie were added to the U.S. national team roster on Sunday to replace the injured Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards. Both are listed as out with minor injuries.But in getting added, both players will arrive in camp on the heels of good performances.

Erik Palmer-Brown once again played the full 90 for Troyes in a 3-1 away win over Clermont Foot on Sunday. After a tough start, Troyes is playing like an upper-mid table Ligue 1 team. Palmer-Brown is in a position where he must battle week-in and week-out and things are starting to really fall into place for him. Here, he had eight clearances, two blocked shots, and won 4/6 of his duels.
Mark McKenzie, meanwhile, had his best outing for Genk since assuming the starting job after the club sold Jhon Lucumi to Bologna. In the weeks since that sale, McKenzie had been performing well against smaller Belgian clubs but in this game he faced a good Gent team and he helped preserve a very nice 1-0 cleansheet victory.

Both players will like where they stand heading into the international break. Both players have a chance to sneak firmly on the inside of the World Cup bubble. Among the central defense pool, I see Walker Zimmerman as the team’s only lock. Aaron Long has had a decent season for the Red Bulls but isn’t spectacular.Then there should also be questions about why Richards is considered a lock as well given 582 minutes of club minutes in 2022 and his last U.S. appearances were in January. Richards has a lot of talent but he’s not at the level of Pulisic where he is an automatic selection if healthy.Carter-Vickers has done very well for Celtic but is not much further ahead of Palmer-Brown or McKenzie on talent. A good camp from McKenzie or Palmer-Brown could swing the balance. Especially for Palmer-Brown who is playing in the challenging Ligue 1. 

REALLY TOUGH WEEKEND IN ITALY

 

With the sole exception of Andrija Novakovich, this weekend was a terrible stretch for the Americans in Italy.We will start with Weston McKennie and Juventus who dropped a 1-0 decision on the road to Monza. Not long ago, this would have been an unimaginable upset (as it was Monza’s first Serie A win). But in a sign about how far things have fallen for Juve, no one who has paid attention to the club is surprised by the result.McKennie played the full 90 – which is good. While he didn’t play well, it’s fair to say no one on Juventus played well. It’s also fair to say that the biggest culprit for Juve’s losing effort was Angel Di Mario who was sent off in the 40th minute.McKennie played on the right side of the midfield and while he worked hard defensively, wasn’t able to provide much to help his team offensively. He did have a very nice cross in the second half that could have been put away, but in terms of how he played the previous two season (when healthy) for Juventus – it is a step down.The team was booed loudly by its own supporters and Max Allegri could be in a position where his hot seat eventually caves. The blame must also shift to the players. Allegri is a successful coach and he has a long history with Juve. If he can’t win with these players, who can?

AC Milan dropped a 2-1 decision to Napoli at home. Of all the Americans in Europe this weekend, Sergino Dest is top of the list of players who had a weekend he’d like to forget.Dest came into the game to start the second half with the score 0-0. He was asked to provide some defense, but instead conceded a 55th minute penalty. While Milan equalized in the 69th via a goal Dest was not involved, Giovanni Simeone found a 79th minute winner for Napoli in a 2-1 victory.Dest is getting criticism from Milan fans, which is to be expected from them, but Dest has been put in a tough situation. He was publicly forced out the door at Barcelona and he rarely played in preseason. Now he is being thrown right into the mix at Milan. The good news for the U.S. team is that he is making his mistakes now, not on international duty.But that raises two concerns. What is his confidence level after getting forced out at Barca and now a mishap in Milan when he is pushing for regular minutes? Second, will this see his minutes reduced?

Unfortunately, we don’t know. Dest won’t arrive into U.S. camp in a confident manner. But can he compartmentalize it and separate himself when he’s with Milan or the U.S team?

In Serie B, Venezia played to a disappointing 1-1 draw with Pisa on Saturday. Andrija Novakovich and Gianluca Busio started for Venezia. Americans Patrick Leal and Jack DeVries were on the bench and did not play. Tanner Tessmann was suspended.  
As mentioned earlier, Novakovich was the lone American to play well in Italy and the Wisconsin native scored Venezia’s only goal. It was his first for Venezia. But a 1-1 draw against a newly promoted team from Serie C who went down to 10 men in the 71st is a very poor result. Busio played a full 90 and played relatively well but this was a game Venezia needs to dominate if it wants to be in contention for another promotion.Finally, in Serie B, Anthony Fontana continues to ride the bench as an unused substitute for Ascoli Calico. He didn’t play again on Saturday in a 3-1 home loss to Parma.Italy was a horrible place for Americans this weekend.

REAM GETS IT DONE AT LEFT BACK

 

On Friday, Fulham travelled north to face Nottingham Forest in a batle of newly promoted Premier League teams. This was a huge challenge for Fulham captain Tm Ream who was forced to play left back given a wave of injuries at the club, including one to Antonee Robinson.Ream, 34, held his own and helped Fulham to a big 3-2 win which now has them sixth in the Premier League table. While Ream won’t be pushing Robinson for the job, he was quietly competent and made no real mistakes.His effort did not go unnoticed. Fulham head coach Marco Silva does not like to mention players by name in postgame media, but he couldn’t resist talking about his captain – who will do anything for his club.“I don’t like mentioning individual players but I have to mention Tim Ream,” Silva said. “34 years old, he’s probably been our best centerback, so far. And with the problems that we had on our left side without Robinson or Kurzawa, I didn’t have doubts to adapt him there.”It makes you reflect on Ream’s terrific career at the Red Bulls, Bolton, and now Fulham. He’s been part of three promotions and this is the best he’s looked in the Premier League. That much is widely talked about, but consider how many managers he has impressed over the years? Every club manager sees a ton of value in him, both on the field and off the field.This is what Robinson told me just before the start of the season on Ream.“Since Tom Cairney was injured a lot last season, Tim was pretty much the captain most of the season,” Robinson said. “He started every game which – for someone his age to start every game in the Championship and perform as well as he did – it’s nothing short of incredible, to be honest. He has a real calmness on the ball and a warrior spirit. He was fighting, throwing his head into tackles, getting cut every week. To have that as one of your baseline players, it really does lift the team.”
“Off the pitch, he was basically taking on the duties of being co-captain almost with Tom,” he added. “When it came to speaking to the management, staff and things like that, trying to organize stuff off the field and making sure that all the lads were happy and all the coaching staff were happy, and that we were working in unison – he was huge for us.

As everyone knows, Ream is not on the U.S. roster despite two additions to central defense which saw Palmer-Brown and McKenzie added instead. Berhalter said last week that what he’s looking for in central defense doesn’t match Ream’s strengths. Few would expect Ream to start in central defense, but the concern many seem to stress is that Ream’s leadership and veteran calmness seem as if they should count more than ever with a U.S. team which should be the youngest in Qatar.

 STEFFEN & HORVATH GET CLEAN SHEETS

 

Zack Steffen retuned from injury on Saturday to start for Middlesbrough in what turned out to be a 0-0 draw with Rotherham United.

Ethan Horvath, meanwhile, was in net for Luton Town on Saturday in a 2-0 win over Blackburn.

What can be made of these wins? Not much, unfortunately. Neither goalkeeper was forced to make a single save. Horvath in particular has only made 15 saves in 10 games as Luton Town’s defense does not concede many shots.Both goalkeepers are tough to read after mostly sitting on the bench for the past several years. Neither yet this season have been forced into a match where they’ve truly been a difference maker.

GIO & SCALLY IMPRESS IN GERMANY

 

Gio Reyna and Joe Scally are long-time friends who grew up in the New York area and came up through the NYCFC academy. Gio bailed before he signed a homegrown deal. Scally signed the homegrown deal but left after his first season when Borussia Monchengladbach made a big offer.  Joe Scally has turned into a very consistent performer for Borussia Monchengladbach and has now appeared in 32 Bundesliga games. His effort on Saturday in a 3-0 win over RB Leipzig was one of his best so far. He was so consistently solid at right back and he was instrumental in the build-up to the first goal. On the play he beat his man to the endline with a nice move. His cross was perfect and it forced a shot which was saved, but then hit home from close range.  Scally remains a top prospect not because dynamic offensive plays but more because he rarely makes serious mistakes. He doesn’t swing wildly between excellent and bad; he just is consistently good. For a teenager, that is rather remarkable.

As for Gio Reyna, Borussia Dortmund continues to manage his minutes wisely. On Saturday, he was on the bench for the return of the Riverederby against Schalke. But an injury to Marco Reus in just the 32nd minute brought the American into the game earlier than expected. He played until the 84th minute, five minutes after Dortmund took a 1-0 lead. That would end up the final score.Reyna was very sharp in his 52 minutes and his substitution reflects the need for managed minutes. After the game, it was also announced that Dortmund would continue to work with the United States national team staff to continue his minute regulation during this window.In his 52 minutes, Reyna had 47 touches and was 26/30 in passing. He created one very dangerous chance in the second half and had two shots inside the box. On the ball he looked very smooth. His consistency might still be lacking, but that’s simply a matter of him needing more reps. Dortmund knows what he can do and the care they are showing him reflects how highly they rate him.As for this window, I doubt he will go a full 90 for the U.S. team in either of these games but he could play a half in either one. Just seeing him on the field will be a big boost for the U.S. team.

VINES & ANTWERP REMAIN PERFECT

 

Sam Vines and Royal Antwerp defeated RFC Seraing 2-1 on Friday to keep up its perfect 27 points from nine games to start the Belgian season. Vines has been a steady starter for Antwerp but he took on a much bigger role in this one.

Over 90 minutes, Vines had 119 touches which is the most I can ever recall him having. He was also 80/91 in his passing and he won 5/6 of his ground duels. This was a big effort.

Vines will have a big opportunity to prove himself to the U.S team in this camp and a ticket to Qatar is within reach. He is the only true left back on the roster and the other options are right-footed right backs. Vines simply needs to play well.

But even beyond this World Cup, moving forward Vines is in a great position. At the club level, Royal Antwerp’s terrific start now has more scouting eyes upon them. With left backs always in demand, Vines will have opportunities sooner rather than later.

 NOTES AROUND EUROPE

 

Without touching upon every single game, here are some other stories and performances that caught my eye from the weekend.

According to this Dutch report, Cole Bassett has a “minutes threshold” on his loan from Colorado to Fortuna Sittard. If he is not meeting that threshold, Colorado can recall him this January. Even if they recall him, Feyenoord (who originally had him on loan) would continue to hold his option to buy. Even if he continues to play for Colorado, Feyenoord could then buy him.

Will he return to Colorado? Whatever gets him on the field. He was an unused substitute again under the new manager on Sunday for its 1-0 win over Excelsior.

But at least there is a way out for him and a place he can go to play. Things aren’t that great for Taylor Booth who again went as an unused substitute for Utrecht in a 0-0 draw with Nijmegen.

In Portugal, John Brooks made his Benfica debut in a 5-0 win over Maritimo. He came on in the 89th minute to close out the win. That was his first game (including friendlies) since May 14. Joel Sonora, meanwhile did not get off the bench for a Maritimo team that has lost all of its games to start the season. Once Benfica’s injured centerbacks return, can Brooks be expected to play at all?

Staying in Portugal, it was a tough game for Vizela and both of its American players when they travelled to face Braga on Sunday. Alex Mendez started for Vizela and U.S U-20 midfielder Alejandro Alvarado played the final two minutes. Braga, however, scored in the 85th and then in stoppage time for a 2-0 win. Vizela is battling hard and is competitive in most games, but they have just five points from seven games.

Rangers defeated Dundee United 1-0 on Sunday and, as expected, James Sands and Malik Tillman were on the bench after lackluster performances. Tillman managed to get off the bench for the final 20 minutes and he forced a nice save. Sands was an unused substitute in the game following his red card to concede a penalty vs. Napoli. Ian Harkes went the distance in the loss and things are ugly right now for Dundee United, sitting in last place without a win.

Matthew Hoppe scored for Middlesbrough’s reserve team in a loss to Norwich’s reserve team on Sunday. He’s done well in his reserve team appearances which should open the door eventually given that the first team is also struggling. But will Chris Wilder’s job be in jeopardy? That could be good or bad for Hoppe but he seems to have moved into an uncertain environment.

Konrad de la Fuente did not make the bench for Olympiacos on Sunday for its 2-1 loss to Aris. After the game manager Carlos Corberan was fired after just 11 games in charge. Assuming that a new manager is going to open the gates to more minutes for de la Fuente doesn’t capture the complexity of the issue.

De la Fuente does not have an EU passport and Greek Super League teams are limited to eight non-EU players on its roster and only five can be on any matchday squad. So de la Fuente has a separate competition just to make the squad. On top of that James Rodriguez signed with Olympiacos last week and while Rodriguez does have a Spanish passport, it still limits the need for de la Fuente to be one of the five non-EU players to suit up.

This makes you wonder if de la Fuente is in the best place right now for his development. Now in his third team in three years, he might need to find a fourth club where he can settle.

Haji Wright has cooled off a bit after his torrid start although his game for Antalyaspor on Sunday was wild. In a 3-0 loss to Adana Demirspor, Antalyaspor was reduced to 10 men in the 40th minute. Then to start the second half, Adana Demirspor also saw a red. But minutes later, Antalyaspor picked up a second red card. Adana Demirspor then scored twice late to seal the win.

  Grant Wahl Free to Read: Josh Sargent Picked a Good Time to Heat Up We’re on the ground in Germany with the USMNT.   Grant Wahl Sep 21     OLOGNE, Germany — I always like hitting the ground running when I land in Europe, so it was nice to see U.S. striker Josh Sargent with a small group of reporters at the team hotel just after I arrived in town following an overnight flight and train trip up from Frankfurt. Somehow I’ve never been to Cologne before, even though it was a World Cup 2006 host city and is known as the coolest city in Germany other than Berlin. But we’re here now!Sargent, now 22, went through a rough two years in which he got relegated twice (first at Werder Bremen, then at Norwich City), was moved out from the No. 9 spot to the wing and saw his club production slip enough that he lost his position in the national team. But the red-headed St. Louisan has rebounded so far this season, playing more at center-forward and producing six goals and one assist for Norwich, currently in second place in the Championship.U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter rewarded Sargent with a recall, where he has joined likely starter Jesús Ferreira and Ricardo Pepi as the No. 9s. (Omitted from the roster, somewhat bewilderingly, was Jordan Pefok, who starts for Bundesliga leader Union Berlin.)  GrantWahl.com is a reader-supported soccer newsletter, and this is how I make my living. The best way to support me and my work is by taking out a paid subscription now. Subscribed Upgrade to Paid “I spoke with Gregg [last season], and his point was I wasn’t getting many minutes at striker, I was playing on the wing a lot and just wasn’t scoring goals,” Sargent said. “So if I wanted to be called back in, I think the biggest thing was to get minutes at striker and start scoring again, which obviously I have been doing so far this season.”With Norwich’s usual center-forward, Teemu Pukki, sidelined, Sargent got the start there against Millwall on August 19 and took full advantage of it, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win. The forward position is so much about confidence, and Sargent admits he had become more unsure of himself. But he also knew the Millwall game presented a big chance.“In my mind, I wanted to be playing striker, so when I got that opportunity I knew I had to take it,” he said. “And just thinking, you know, do I still have my touch? I don’t know. I haven’t played there in a while. So it felt amazing to score that first game I got the chance. And then it started just coming back to me, the goal-scoring touch.”And even though Pukki has returned to his No. 9 spot at Norwich, Sargent feels like his role has changed too. He’s not entirely back on the wing, where he said he doesn’t feel totally comfortable, but rather playing sort of a hybrid role.“It’s a little bit of a different situation,” he said. “Pukki obviously is a great striker and a legend there. So I think even if I’m playing on the wing now, there’s an understanding between me and the coach and the team also that I’ll be playing a little bit more as a second striker and tucking more on the inside and not playing kind of a true winger role.”With Berhalter’s omission of Pefok, there has naturally been a lot of discussion about what exactly Berhalter wants from his center-forwards. And if Pefok is banging in goals atop the Bundesliga, should it even matter if he’s not a perfect fit for Berhalter’s system? So I wanted to ask Sargent what it is that Berhalter is asking from his No. 9s.“As a striker, you need to be scoring goals, but at the same time I know it’s very important for him that our nines can drop down and get on the ball and connect with the team,” Sargent said. “And defensively also with pressing, I think you need to have a high workrate along with the team and have everybody on the same page. You’re kind of that front-line beginning of the press. So it’s very important for him that you’re switched on in regards to that.”A couple other intriguing things emerged from Sargent’s roundtable session: • He has put on some muscle since the end of last season. “I don’t want to brag or anything,” he said to some laughs. “During my injury at the end of the season in the Prem, I kind of made it a goal for myself and with the athletic department at Norwich that I realize these guys are pretty big and strong in the Prem. So I made it a goal of mine to hit the gym a bit more and try to work on that.”• Being married and having a young child has been good for him to have some time away from focusing on soccer. “It definitely helps you just shut off and forget about football for a little bit,” he said. “As a single guy, when you come home and you’re just stuck in your thoughts, thinking about training or whatever it was, it can benefit you to learn from it. But also it can be damaging for you if you’re thinking too much about it. So it helps me out a lot with kind of just unwinding and forgetting about football for a bit.”Now a World Cup roster spot is there for the taking. “My confidence,” Sargent says, “is at an all-time high at the moment.”

Ricardo Pepi, Josh Sargent, Jesus Ferreria are the 3 Strikers called in for the final 2 games before the World Cup.

USA vs. Japan, 2022 friendly: What to watch for

It’s the penultimate match for the USMNT before the World Cup.

By Donald Wine II@blazindw  Sep 22, 2022, 7:00am

Tomorrow, the United States Men’s National Team will play its first friendly of the September international window when they take on Japan in Düsseldorf, Germany. It marks the second to last match the USMNT will play before they open up group play at the 2022 World Cup in November.

It’s a chance for the team to test itself against an opponent that will also be in Qatar for the World Cup, a dangerous Japan squad that has the ability to defeat any team. It’s also an opportunity for Gregg Berhalter to test out possible lineup combinations while the players make their final cases for why they should be one of the 26 players that makes the final roster when it’s announced on November 9th. That will be motivation that will help to make this an entertaining match.

Latest Form

USA

D (1-1) – El Salvador – Concacaf Nations League

W (5-0) – Grenada – Concacaf Nations League

D (0-0) – Uruguay – Friendly

W (3-0) – Morocco – Friendly

L (0-2) – Costa Rica – World Cup Qualifying

Japan

W (3-0) – South Korea – EAFF E-1 Football Championship

D (0-0) – China – EAFF E-1 Football Championship

W (6-0) – Hong Kong – EAFF E-1 Football Championship

L (0-3) – Tunisia – Kirin Cup

W (4-1) – Ghana – Kirin Cup

What To Watch For

Maintain possession. The USMNT will want to maintain a lot of possession to keep the ball off the feet of Japan’s stars. It will also be a nice chance to test whether possession ball is something that the USMNT can play at the World Cup if needed.

Take chances on offense. If Gregg Berhalter can get many of his creative players on the field, then they should try to take some chances on offense. This is the time to see what works and what doesn’t, and they should take full advantage of that opportunity to see what chemistry they have between players who can push the ball forward.

Play clean soccer. The idea here is no mistakes. Of course, that’s always the goal. But, Japan thrives with players who can turn a mistake into points on the other end. The USMTN won’t give them a chance to do that if they keep Japan in front of them and if they do take shots downfield, that they have the cover to get back should Japan counter.

Lineup Prediction

There are some injuries at a couple of positions, but Gregg Berhalter still has a few options at several spots on the field. So, we’ll likely see this lineup from him tomorrow:

Predicted Lineup vs. Japan

Matt Turner will be the goalkeeper, while Sergiño Dest will return at right back. Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long will once again be the centerback pairing, with Joe Scally taking Antonee Robinson’s place at left back.It’s an opportunity for Gregg Berhalter to examine what a midfield that produces tons of creativity would look like. Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie are joined by Brenden Aaronson in the middle to see how you get your best players on the field at the same time.Up front, Christian Pulisic will be back in the lineup at left wing, with Gio Reyna making his return at right wing. While Jesus Ferreira has played extremely well this year for club and country, the gut feeling is that Josh Sargent will get the start at the 9 to see if he can seize the moment and fight for a starting role on the World Cup team.

Prediction

The USMNT will have a difficult time trying to get things together initially. In the end, neither team shows too much and it’s a 1-1 draw.

USMNT vs. Japan, 2022 friendly: Scouting Japan

The Asian power should provide a strong test ahead of the World Cup. 

By Brendan Joseph  Sep 21, 2022, 6:00am PDT  

The United States Men’s National Team has entered the final international window prior to the 2022 World Cup. This is one of the last chances for players to build in-game chemistry while also impressing the manager and booking one of the final spots on the roster. In the first of two friendlies, Gregg Berhalter’s side is taking on Japan, a fellow qualifier for Qatar. The friendly will be played at MERKUR SPIEL-ARENA in Düsseldorf, Germany.his is the third all-time meeting between the two nations, split between a 1-1-0 record. Japan is currently ranked 24th in the world by FIFA and easily qualified for the World Cup with a second-place finish in Group B of the Asian Football Confederation’s third round. In July’s EAFF E-1 Football Championship, the Samurai Blue claimed the title with wins against Hong Kong and South Korea as well as a draw with China. The program scheduled a challenging slate of friendlies over the past year, which could pay dividends in Qatar.Hajime Moriyasu was appointed to the manager position in July of 2018, taking over in the midst of a stint with the U-23 team. The retired midfielder has compiled a 38-10-7 record from the technical area, registering a runner-up finish at the 2019 AFC Cup and winning the aforementioned East Asian championship. A rough start to qualifying had domestic media questioning whether the federation would be forced to look for a replacement. Instead of his tactics, he credited the players’ “mindset” with riding out the storm.

Moriyasu named a 30-player roster for the friendlies against the USMNT and Ecuador. While there are a few talents missing, this is essentially the A-squad with some extra back-up. The group is composed of 22 call-ups from Europe and eight from the domestic J-League.

***

GOALKEEPERS (4): Eiji Kawashima (Strasbourg), Shūichi Gonda (Shimizu S-Pulse) Daniel Schmidt (Sint-Truiden), Kosei Tani (Shonan Bellmare)

DEFENDERS (9): Miki Yamane (Kawasaki Frontale), Shogo Taniguchi (Kawasaki Frontale), Ayumu Seko (Grasshoppers), Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo), Takehiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal), Hiroki Sakai (Urawa Red Diamonds), Yuta Nakayama (Huddersfield Town), Maya Yoshida (Schalke 04), Hiroki Ito (VfB Stuttgart)

MIDFIELDERS (13): Wataru Endo (VfB Stuttgart), Gaku Shibasaki (Leganés), Genki Haraguchi (Union Berlin), Takumi Minamino (Monaco), Takefusa Kubo (Real Sociedad), Hidemasa Morita (Sporting CP), Junya Ito (Reims), Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt), Ao Tanaka (Fortuna Düsseldorf), Kaoru Mitoma (Brighton & Hove Albion), Ritsu Dōan (SC Freiburg), Reo Hatate (Celtic), Yuki Soma (Nagoya Grampus)

FORWARDS (4): Kyogo Furuhashi (Celtic), Daizen Maeda (Celtic), Ayase Ueda (Cercle Brugge), Shuto Machino (Shonan Bellmare)

***

Moriyasu typically deploys a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation with a triangle midfield that swarms when on the defensive. The run-of-play tends to move through the wings, with crossing serving as a key component of the attack. Uncommon at the international level, Japan employs something resembling a high press with central triggers in Zones 12, 13, and 14, which helped tilt the balance in victories over Saudi Arabia and Australia.

Projected Japan Starting XI (via BuildLineup.com)

After starting in nine out of ten fixtures during the final round of qualifying, Shūichi Gonda is the presumed number one. The 33-year-old competes with Shimizu S-Pulse in the domestic J-League and was named to the AFC Asian Cup Team of the Tournament in 2019. He gets to ground quickly and largely chooses to stay on his line, displaying a preference for kick saves. The manager could also opt for the towering Illinois-born Daniel Schmidt, the starter at Belgium’s Sint-Truiden who made his senior international debut in 2018.Japan has what could be considered an embarrassment of riches at the center back position. Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu has the versatility to play on the inside and outside of the back line. He possesses a high level of athleticism and innate understanding of the game, contributing on both sides. There’s also Shogo Taniguchi who picked up three starts during the final round of qualifying. The 6’ defender has spent his entire career with Kawasaki Frontale and displays a penchant for heroic last-second denials and thrives as finisher on set pieces. Perhaps the most important piece is 34-year-old Maya Yoshida who has earned 119 senior international caps. The recent Schalke signing provides a steady veteran presence and is an excellent one-on-one stopper while spraying passes all over the field.No longer the attacking livewire of his youth, Yuto Nagatomo remains a fixture at fullback position since making his debut in 2008. The 36-year-old is back competing with FC Tokyo after a long career in Europe including stops at Inter Milan, Galatasaray, and Marseille. On the other side of the formation is Hiroki Sakai of Urawa Red Diamonds. He’s a physical player who covers the entire length of the field, getting under the skin of opponents with his intense play.Occupying the role of six is Wataru Endo, a 29-year-old with VfB Stuttgart who featured in ten qualifying matches. The native of Yokohama is a true two-way midfielder, winning the ball and serving bellwether in possession. He has formed a quite functional partnership with Hidemasa Morita of Sporting, a highly technical passer who always manages to pick out teammates. His ability to cover the entire field and perform the roles of multiple positions makes him difficult to contain. The trio is completed by Fortuna Düsseldorf’s Ao Tanaka, whose dribbling opens up key space when in sustained possession. The box-to-box is also a source for goals, finding advantageous opportunities at the top of the area.

Monaco attacker Takumi Minamino could almost be described as a “defensive winger” with the amount of pressure he puts on the back line, a true student of the Red Bull finishing school. The combination of his work rate, high technical ability, and occasional goal-scoring prowess could make him a match-up nightmare for the USMNT. On the other side of the formation is Junya Ito, who recently joined Reims after a few successful seasons with Genk. The 29-year-old loves to cut inside from the wing and smash the ball into the far post, having the pace and quickness to get behind the opponent.

With Yuya Osako outside of the roster, the likely starter is striker Ayase Ueda of Cercle Brugge. The 24-year-old appeared in the final two qualification matches but has yet to score for Japan at the senior international level. He is an expert at finding space behind the back line, has the dribbling ability to carve out enough space for his lethal right foot, and can also finish in the air. Domestic competitor Shuto Machina could also lead the formation, finding the back of the net three times during the summer’s East Asian Football Championship.In many ways, Japan and the USMNT are similar programs, thriving outside of UEFA and CONMEBOL. Both countries have relatively new domestic leagues and are viewed as the dominant or second-best teams in their respective regions. This friendly is a solid test ahead of the World Cup, with two successful yet still growing squads mainly composed of European-based players looking to fine-tune and whittle down to a final roster.

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