Home Sports USMNT plays against Wales at the World Cup

USMNT plays against Wales at the World Cup

Christian Pulisic

Christian Pulisic
Photo† AP

The USMNT played two friendlies this week and in a normal year these would be the ‘World Cup Sendoff’ games where the roster would basically be final. They would have been watched much more intensely by Gregg Berhalter and fans alike, with the final cuts coming soon after. The games against Morocco and Uruguay still had some spice – it was refreshing to see the US play against someone outside CONCACAF – and there were some new wrinkles in tactics and players. But thanks to the World Cup in the winter, through the criminal act of giving it to Qatar, these friendlies can become worthless if a combination of injuries or loss of form occurs in the fall.

We’ll get to that, but the biggest development for the USMNT took place thousands of miles away in Cardiff, where Wales beat Ukraine 1-0 to round out the US’s World Cup group. On the opening day of the tournament, the US will complete the program for Wales.

It is admittedly insensitive to say that the US is probably relieved not to have to play the role of Ukraine’s opponent in the opening game. Unless you played the Welsh Dragon somewhere on your body yesterday, you were probably hoping that Ukraine would come through and give their people something, whatever, to be happy about. It was one of those occasions where sport soars to something more, and the feeling that the Ukrainian players were playing for something much higher than just a World Cup berth. As beautiful as Wales’ story is, this is their first World Cup berth in 64 years, the shots from the Ukrainian fans and their mounting fear as the clock ticked closer to 90 minutes without a goal was hard to take. It was clear to everyone what it all meant.

So yes, Ukraine in the World Cup would have been a great story, although probably not much has been done to solve the actual problem of, you know, their country being invaded by an unhinged dictator trying to make the last century happen again. Yet we’ve seen it before, such as Croatia’s trek to the 1998 semi-finals in France, shortly after they gained independence. A team that not only brings an entire nation together or lifts it out of its misery, but takes them to new heights.

But sports doesn’t always give you the happy ending, even if Wales ends their drought of appearing on the biggest podium, it’s not exactly the villain who twists his mustache and grins at the end. It’s not scripted, and sometimes the feel-good factor just doesn’t happen because the opposing team’s keeper is on his head (Wayne HennesseYes, nine saves, hello).

And for strictly on-field matters, although dealing with very heavy-handed matters off the field, the USMNT will happily evade the responsibility of welcoming Ukraine to the World Cup. It would be condescending to let Ukraine through, but it must be incredibly uncomfortable for opponents to play against a team that knows what Ukraine is playing for. They would have been arguably the biggest story in Qatar had they qualified, everyone would have rooted for them, and the US as an adversary would have dragged them into discussions about the US being embroiled in the conflict with Russia, whether it like it or not. That aspect is already present in the third game of the US against Iran.

It’s a tough group, but hardly impossible, and while they’ll never admit it publicly, the American players are probably relieved that they didn’t start the tournament with an incredibly inspired opponent and then have to face tough England with the completion of the group stage against Iran for whom it will be their biggest game since… well, the last time they played against the US in a World Cup in 1998. It also prevents them from having to play the bad guys, those who try the uplifting story to ruin the tournament.

Not that Wales is a walk-over. They were hardly impressive against Ukraine and were sometimes played outside the park. But they do what this American team has been fighting against, which is a low block bunkered around their penalty area and then have Gareth Bale conjure something out of a free kick. That’s exactly what they did on Sunday. While Bale may not play club football between now and the World Cup, and even if he signs with someone after his Madrid contract expires, he still very well could not play club football given what we’ve seen in Madrid in recent years happening. something about Bale when he puts on his Wales shirt. You should already be getting ready to shit your lunch when he puts a set piece in line on Nov. 21.

That was apparently what Berhalter tried to tackle on Wednesday evening against Morocco with a slight shift in formation with the ball. Once in possession, the USA pushed Jedi Robinson (still getting used to “Jedi”) all the way to the front line, using Reggie Cannon as the third center back and playing a 3-2-5 with the ball. Brenden Aaronson was moved to the center of midfield and while Robinson took the left wing, Christian Pulisic also moved in, as he and Aaronson played between Tim Weah, Jesus Ferreira and Robinson. The idea of ​​this was to A) give the US more options when dealing with a full defense as those five can connect and move anywhere, and B) increase their pressure when they lose the ball. Assuming health and form, things could look very good against Wales.

There were problems in both the Morocco and Uruguay matches, most notably that the US failed to score in the latter. Second, Morocco could sometimes get out of the American press too easily by moving the ball from side to side, and the US seemed confused about who would take the man who would get that 50-yard cross-field pass, acres of space. And there won’t be much time to fix this. There are only two Nations League matches this week, which are not a good preparation for World Cup opponents, and two friendlies in September. There is only about a week of practice time from when the club seasons close in November until the start of the tournament. Expecting a tight ship in Qatar is probably a vain hope.

Given the extensive play Ukraine showed against both Scotland and Wales, the US will be relieved to see a more limited opponent, even one that comes with a full-blown wildcard like Bale. They will also be relieved to just play a World Cup game, instead of having a two-ton story on top.

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