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USMNT panic gauge: How worrisome is the USA’s 2-0 loss to Japan with the 2022 FIFA World Cup approaching?

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The United States men’s national team lost 2-0 to Japan in an uninspiring fashion to open their September international window. The goals from Daichi Kamada and Kaoru Mitoma made all the difference for the Samurai Blue in a match where they made the United States stronger at every stage of the game. It’s quite an achievement for Japan to stop the USMNT from firing a shot at goal, but it’s a good time to look for reasons to be concerned or not as the team has one more friendly before their next game at the World Cup in Qatar.

Attackers: It didn’t matter who played

It’s weird to have a game where the team took four shots and didn’t put one on target and not to blame the number nine for the performance, but anyone in the lead other than Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski would probably made no difference in the game. Jordan Pefok would have brought a more physical presence than Jesus Ferreira, but even when Walker Zimmerman tried to follow route one during the match, it didn’t matter. With just 14 touches in the half, Ferreira tried his best to make something out of nothing by taking two shots, but the ball just didn’t come out enough to make the difference.

When Japan closed Brenden Aaronson with their press, the team had no counter to help him. As one of the players to go through all 90 minutes, Aaronson is one who showed he deserved to be there, but without Christian Pulisic or Tim Weah, there was no one to punish Japan’s aggressive defense by falling behind. You can only go so far in playing short passes if a defense can push their central defenders far out on the field, because they know no one can push the pace behind them to punish their aggressiveness.

At most times, Sergino Dest was the furthest man forward as the United States used another dribble to the corner and got stuck on the approach of the game. Bringing in Jordan Morris is a great option for closing games, but it’s another place where adjustments are needed because if he has to play 45 minutes or more in the World Cup, the USMNT will be in trouble. Midway through it could have been an option, but it’s another match where Berhalter sticks to his primary approach rather than adapting to play around the opponent.

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Who will start as a striker in Qatar remains a question mark, but despite the offensive battle in this match, he was not on the striker.

Panic meter: 4

Midfielders: alarm bells are ringing

After this performance, I never want to see another national team game without Yunus Musah. Luca de la Torre played as a midfielder who has logged just 11 minutes for their club this season. His performance marked a flat day for the midfield trio as a whole. Although Berhalter eventually took de la Torre away from Johnny Cardoso in the 67th minute, it was too late for him to make an impression by then. It is debatable whether Gio Reyna or Aaronson should have started at ten, but with Christian Pulisic also missing the game, Berhalter may not have wanted to use Paul Arriola on the wing.

Shifting the formation to a more 4-2-3-1 might have given Japan something to think about, but missing the team’s most pressure-resistant midfielder in Musah showed that no one was creating on the dribble. Berhalter did say the team has work to do after that gig, but when even regulars like Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie are getting muscular, it’s a time when the team needs a plan B.

It got better in the second half as the passing got a little quicker to try and play in Japan because the team couldn’t play through it, but that’s harder to do in the kind of neutral venues like where they played on Friday and where the team is facing in Qatar than it is to do when the United States is playing at home. In their toughest test not on home soil since Mexico’s draw in March, this team had to prove that they have the intensity to keep pace in matches where they are not at the forefront. They did not.

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Musah’s return will help a lot, but it won’t solve every problem overnight, so adjustments between this game and Tuesday’s appearance against Saudi Arabia will be crucial. Musah’s return in November will help and Adams and Mckennie have the proven quality the USMNT must rely on. Still, they should be able to find solutions when things don’t work, especially Friday.

Panic meter: 6

Defenders: Worry

I find it difficult to judge the central defender during this match. It’s true that both Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long made mistakes during the game, both giving the ball away and missing tackles, but it’s also true that their work was harder than it needed to be. Antonee Robinson’s absence quickly shows how important he is to the national team, as his comfort defense extends to his centre-back, while his crosses in the penalty area at least keep a team honest, though he rarely logs assists.

Sam Vines looked out of his depth and was afraid to come forward in the first half, but got out of position in the second half. He doesn’t have the recovery speed of Joe Scally when defeated by an attacker, making it more difficult for Long and Mark McKenzie, who played the final 45 minutes. If the midfield is pushed off the ball, the entire defense is going to struggle and that was the case on Friday. But with Robinson likely to return, depth is the unit’s main concern, as is playing time for Sergino Dest at AC Milan.

Dest had one of the brightest attacking moments as he slipped into the final third, but his attacking nature also led to Japan’s opening goal as he couldn’t get back to defend his man. The hope is that the midfield will cover Dest as he moves forward, but that didn’t happen with De la Torre in the match. Lack of communication between two regular players in the squad is definitely not something we want to see at this stage of the game.

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Reggie Cannon came in as a reserve and didn’t offer much either, as he was beaten in a 1v1 situation for Japan’s second goal, which isn’t great when there are four right-backs in the squad. Berhalter knows what he has in DeAndre Yedlin and that could lead to Cannon being let off the plane to Qatar to bolster other positions.

The bottom line here is that Long needs to show more as Zimmerman’s main center back partners and this team still doesn’t have a capable Robinson backup on the left. Those are worrisome issues.

Panic meter: 7

Keeper: Cool as it can be

While Matt Turner’s division failed to get the team going, he was the only reason Japan didn’t win this match 5-0. Just completing two of the 11 long balls isn’t great, but given the way the attack was executed, it’s also understandable that Turner had problems with the ball at his feet. Pressured by the Japanese press, the USMNT influenced who could get his ball. When it came to protecting his net, Turner was great. He made six saves and did as was asked of him and the two shots he was hit are hard to keep out due to the speed at which the defense collapsed. A number one worthy performance from the only member of the team to stand out today.

Panic meter: 0

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