World Cup pressure grows: USMNT not “up to the moment” vs. Japan
More than the result, a 2-0 loss to Japan in Friday’s penultimate World Cup tune-up friendly, the nature of the US men’s national team’s performance is what has many followers of the program concerned.
You can count former USMNT defender and MLS Cup 2018 winner Michael Parkhurst among them, voicing his worries in MLSsoccer.com’s watchalong show after defeat in Düsseldorf, Germany at the Merkur Spiel-Arena.
One-off or trend?
“It’s a bit more concerning than it’s just a bad game, for me, because there’s so much on the line,” said Parkhurst, who played for Atlanta, Columbus and New England in MLS. “Not for this particular game, but for the players in the game. There is a World Cup coming and there are not many opportunities to play with your national team before that World Cup happens.
“ … You’d hope and expect that the players would be at their top level, giving it everything they’ve got and being good on the pitch and up for the moment,” added Parkhurst, who won two Gold Cup titles with the USMNT. “At the World Cup, you have one game like this and it puts you in a bad hole. You have one game like this and that could be it, no coming back from. It’s not like we can forgive it totally.”
The USMNT have one more friendly remaining before beginning Group B play on Nov. 21 against Wales, meeting Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in Murcia, Spain (2 pm ET | FS1, UniMas, TUDN). That’ll bring a fourth pre-tournament match against a fellow World Cup qualifier, with head coach Gregg Berhalter’s team now 1W-1L-1D after drawing Uruguay 0-0 and beating Morocco 3-0 back in June on home soil.
Put simply, former USMNT forward Charlie Davies feels there are too many unknowns with Qatar 2022 just two months away. They’ll also face England (Nov. 25) and Iran (Nov. 29) in Group F.
“We should already have our identity down and our players,” said Davies, who starred at the 2009 Confederations Cup. “I feel like there’s too many question marks at this point. I’m not one to put too much stock in friendlies, but this one’s disappointing considering there’s not many left and considering we went a whole cycle in World Cup qualifying. We should know what our strengths are and we should play to our strengths. We didn’t do that at all.”
Who helped their case?
When assessing the Japan defeat, Parkhurst struggled to identify many players who helped their case. But he pointed to former New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner, who made six saves and showed no signs of rust following his summertime move to early English Premier League leaders Arsenal.
“It’s never great when the man of the match, especially in a loss, is your goalkeeper because that means it could have been a lot worse,” said Parkhurst, who earned 25 USMNT caps. “But he was very good today, so his stock went way up.”
The lack of attacking spark, aside from nervy passes and an inability to break Japan’s press, left Davies concerned as well. The USMNT were without Christian Pulisic (day-to-day), Timothy Weah isn’t in camp due to injury and in-form striker Jordan Pefok wasn’t called in despite proving productive for early German Bundesliga leaders Union Berlin.
“You need a striker who’s just going to score goals, especially when you’re in a situation like you’re in today, you’re down a goal,” said Davies, who scored four goals in 17 USMNT caps. “What kind of substitution can you bring in to change the game? I’d like to see Pefok when you’re down a goal against Japan.”
What to see vs. Saudi Arabia
Now, the US have a four-day turnaround before facing Saudi Arabia in their final World Cup preparation match. A far different intensity and competitive level is desired, Parkhurst said.
“Let’s see a confident group,” Parkhurst said. “Whatever the game plan is, do it with confidence. Play like you belong on the team and at the World Cup and representing the US. Play up to the moment. This isn’t a World Cup game, no, but this is some of those guys’ World Cup games. This will determine whether they get a chance to do it at the World Cup, so play up to the moment.”
The USMNT’s 26-man roster is expected to be named Nov. 9 at an event in New York City. Before then, the Saudi Arabia game can change the mood drastically.
“For me it’s about – [Berhalter] used the word personality in the postgame interview – let’s see that attacking personality,” Davies said. “Let’s see guys want to have the ball and create chances and beat players on the dribble and combine. That’s what I’m focused on.”