- Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC.
DUSSELDORF, Germany — United States men’s national team manager Gregg Berhalter conceded that his side has “work to do” ahead of the World Cup following a 2-0 friendly defeat to Japan in which the Americans struggled against the Samurai Blue’s press.
Japan applied pressure throughout the opening 45 minutes, limiting the U.S. to just five touches in the opposition penalty area . U.S. keeper Matt Turner was forced to make a several saves, including a one-on-one duel with Daichi Kamada in the 13th minute.
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But the Eintracht Frankfurt striker made a deserved breakthrough in the 24th minute. Japan broke quickly following a U.S. turnover, and Kamada’s first time shot from Hidemasa Morita’s pass cleanly beat Turner for Japan’s first goal.
The U.S. looked a bit better in the second half following a quartet of substitutes, but never really threatened Japan’s goal except for a late effort from Brenden Aaronson that went wide. Japan substitute Kaoru Mitoma sealed a deserved victory with an 88th-minute tally.
“We’ve got work to do. We clearly need to improve, but overall really good experience for this team,” Berhalter said at his postgame press conference.
“Give Japan a lot of credit. I think they played a good game and they gave us a hard time. I think at times we were well in the match and performing well, but overall, over 90 minutes, we could have been better. [It] wasn’t good enough.”
The manner of the defeat, with the U.S. guilty of numerous turnovers in its own half, will give Berhalter pause. So will the fact that Japan was quicker to 50/50 balls and more aggressive overall, as evidenced by it committing 16 fouls to just three for the U.S.
“I don’t know if the proximity of the World Cup has anything to do with it, but the guys didn’t look fresh, and from a physical output we just looked a step behind,” said Berhalter. “And then it’s difficult, a team like Japan will punish you.
“The adjustment in the second half helped give us more control of the game, gave us more passes between the lines. But in the first half, I think it was just the lack of comfort on the ball, silly giveaways.
“We built the opponent up after a decent start, but then it started snowballing and giving some balls away and it wasn’t what we envisioned.”
The U.S. was without several first choice players, including Chelsea attacker Christian Pulisic, who suffered a minor injury earlier in the week in training, and was kept out of the match as a precaution.
Berhalter said Pulisic’s status would be monitored. The U.S. plays against Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain, on Tuesday.
“Christian, his status is day to day. It was knock, and, we’ll see [at Saturday’s practice] if he can get on the field,” Berhalter said.
U.S. midfielder Tyler Adams insisted that Japan’s press was a tactic that other teams had used against his side, but in this instance, it took too long to for the Americans to make adjustments.
“I think that some of the teams in CONCACAF, you know, the Mexicos and the Hondurases, they’ve pressed us, and we found solutions,” he said.
“We just needed to find solutions earlier on. I think that we had a match plan and I think it would’ve been effective if we stuck to the game plan. But sometimes I just felt that maybe we just started to search for individual solutions instead of sticking together, sticking to the match plan, staying disciplined in our game plan.
“And you saw Japan, they did that well. They had one game plan and it was effective.”
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