5 takeaways from USMNT's friendly loss to Japan originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Friday's international matchup against Japan was not so friendly for the U.S. men's national team.
The USMNT fell 2-0 to a Japan side that looked up to par as it prepares to battle in a tough Group E in Qatar that includes Spain, Germany and Costa Rica.
However, the U.S. was the complete opposite as its braces for a Group B that includes England, Wales and Iran at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Before the USMNT brushes this loss off and prepares for Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, let's look at five takeaways from the game:
Injuries are taking their toll
If you're looking at the glass-half-full side of this loss, look no further. The USMNT is enduring a tough spell of injury luck lately with key starting-caliber players like Antonee Robinson, Yunus Musah, Miles Robinson, Timothy Weah, Chris Richards and more sidelined. When a team is facing that problem, it's difficult to replicate the potential quality of a starting 11 when half of that group is out.
That's not to give head coach Gregg Berhalter any excuses - the performance was lackluster and he'll need to optimize the squad he has. But he'll have to hope he has the healthiest possible squad at his disposal come November.
Attacking in the final third lacked creativity
Christian Pulisic was healthy prior to kickoff until he picked up a late knock that had him sidelined. Having him available may have helped offer some attacking juice down the left-hand flank, but it's tough to say given how poor the rest of the squad looked.
Giovanni Reyna and Brenden Aaronson stepped up to play the wings, but it's clear that both are better off as an attacking No. 8 or 10 instead of trying to create from the flank. Japan and Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu, in particular, shut down several actions as he rotated along the defensive line to play both center-back slots and the right-back role.
Jesús Ferreira will need to be more clinical
The starting No. 9 competition is arguably the most important one Berhalter is keeping tabs on ahead of November. While Ferreira is currently the first-choice option, he'll need to be in great form game in and game out to maintain that job, especially with Jordan Pefok's exclusion from the September squad.
Ferreira got on the end of a sparkling cross from Sergiño Dest in the opening minutes as shown above, but he skied his header over the crossbar instead of directing it downward with Japan goalkeeper Shūichi Gonda caught out of position.
Matt Turner made his case to start in Qatar
Though the USMNT backline often struggled throughout the 90 minutes, new Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner made several important saves that prevented the scoreline from being worse than 2-0.
Turner hasn't appeared much for Arsenal since leaving the New England Revolution in the summer transfer window, but Japan had eight shots on target and just two went in. That level of shotstopping will be vital in Qatar, but dropping Aaron Long might be the way to go for Berhalter. He was one of the starters substituted, and though having a left-footed center-back is crucial for some managers' systems, Mark McKenzie looked far better when he replaced the New York Red Bulls defender.
Making it out of Group B won't be easy
When looking at the Group B squads on paper, it's fair to argue that the USMNT has the second-best roster when fully healthy. England, of course, is the favorite to top the group while Wales and Iran should be in the mix for second place. However, if the U.S. performs like this in Qatar, it's a safe bet to say it could finish fourth in the group.
Considering Iran beat Uruguay 1-0 in its friendly and Wales is hanging close with some European powerhouses, the USMNT is heading the wrong way in terms of form as November approaches. The friendly against Saudi Arabia is the team's last game together before it faces Wales to open group-stage play, so let's see if the Americans can steer the ship in the right direction.