It’s taken some cognitive dissonance for USMNT followers main as much as this World Cup, to type of ignore the truth that they had been exhibiting up with probably the most inexperienced squad attainable. Solely Deandre Yedlin has ever been on a World Cup squad earlier than, and he’s hardly wherever close to the primary 11. It additionally has a supervisor who’s doing this for the primary time, so he’s going to be taught on the job too (although he shouldn’t be allowed on the job ever once more if he’s going to proceed subbing in Jordan Morris as a substitute of Gio Reyna, however we’ll circle again to that as I wield a mace over my head).
Which implies that they’ll seem like something from one minute to the following. They’ll play a primary half the place they give the impression of being poised, in management, and assured. Which they did. Whereas Wales as a rule are all the time going to provide an opponent some area to search out their rhythm, as a result of all they wish to do is defend after which counter, the US discovered extra gears within the engine than Wales most likely needed. They spent numerous time pawing on the Welsh protection, transferring the ball backward and forward, however they had been capable of kick into gear when the area opened. Weston McKennie was transferring out large to the fitting to each assist Sergino Dest whereas additionally permitting Tim Weah to make runs in behind the backline (although he ought to have achieved so a contact extra). Christian Pulisic was discovering openings in entrance of the wingback and behind the Wales midfield. He was connecting with Musah and Antonee Robinson and creating little openings for all of them.
What the US did rather well was snap proper to Gareth Bale and Daniel James up prime, and to any of the Wales midfield, so on the uncommon event that Wales received the ball and seemed to counter they had been smothered. The ball turned proper again over the US to attempt once more. Bale can’t actually beat a protection with tempo anymore, and whereas James can he’s additionally… put this?..talentless. The US didn’t need to worry getting beat on the flip or by lengthy balls, as a result of they might clear it up. They usually did. Wales might solely clear the ball and arrange once more to defend.
They usually expertly sucked out Wales simply sufficient to do that:
Sargent to Pulisic to Weah and decide that out. It made you marvel what the US might have achieved had they moved the ball faster extra typically, however having it below complete management was hardly a foul factor. Positive, they might have performed extra balls excessive to Weah or tried extra faster interchanges, however main 1-0 at half with out going through a shot on track and even something shut to 1, with Gareth Bale merely a rumor, is every thing you’d ask for.
However then there’s one other 45 minutes.
In a vacuum, eager to counter when Wales got here in search of their equalizer is a superb plan. However it’s a superb plan for the final 10-Quarter-hour, not the entire half. And what the US lacks, which Musah or Adams or Reyna might flip into someday however aren’t now, is that midfielder who decides and forces no matter tempo is critical. Within the second half, the US wanted the proverbial man to “put their foot on the ball” and take the air out as Welsh stress grew. Somebody who forces the remainder of the workforce to play the ball round, be the discharge valve for the mounting anxiousness, and calm issues down. Positive, there have been openings for counters, however it’s important to select them after they’re apparent. The US was in an excessive amount of of a rush at occasions to get on the counter when it wasn’t on supply. Simply maintain the ball. The US doesn’t have some midfielder sitting at house who might carry out this service, until they’ll in some way de-age Michael Bradley or Maurice Edu 10 years. That is simply what occurs whenever you convey a squad full of youngsters to this match.
That doesn’t imply there weren’t home windows, and the US simply selected the fallacious move too many occasions or missed the fitting one by simply sufficient to not kill the sport off. At this stage, there isn’t a vast provide of fine appears to be like on the break that you just get. It’s a must to select appropriately between firing a cross throughout the six-yard field or going for the pullback. It’s a must to join. It solely takes getting one proper to finish a match like this, however a workforce has to make that one out of a restricted provide.
All that stated, the US nonetheless had Wales at mainly arm’s size. Whereas the Dragons had the ball lots, they solely created two possibilities off the identical nook, with Matt Turner saving brilliantly from Ben Davies after which the following nook being headed over by Kieffer Moore when Turner additionally determined to go for a roam that appears to be contagious amongst keepers thus far this match. That was within the sixty fourth minute. Wales didn’t have one other shot…till…
There’s no cause for Walker Zimmerman to make this problem. Bale has his again to objective and he’s contained. However that is Zimmerman’s greatest sport of his life, on a stage he’s by no means seen. The chemistry is there to do one thing rash, and voila. It’s laborious to get too indignant at him for that, as a result of that is how gamers be taught, however that is probably the most irritating time to need to be taught a lesson. The US additionally fell asleep on the throw-in proper earlier than this, which is one thing an inexperienced, tiring workforce simply does.
Sure, the US ought to have been extra within the face of Wales for the second half. They dropped their strains, and the Welsh midfield had extra time to ping balls as much as Moore the place within the first half each time they took their first contact that they had a Yank up their ass. Moore then was capable of be a focus to get Wales up the sphere and assault. Did the US run out of vitality? Younger gamers are typically rife with nervous vitality, which is probably the most draining. There’s no different cause this workforce must be out of fuel after an hour.
So now what? It seems like this group will come right down to how badly both or each of Wales and the US can beat Iran and have a goal-difference-off. It’s laborious to see how the US can maintain England out when below the cosh for a full 90 minutes, after they let a reasonably restricted Wales facet develop fairly large over simply 45 minutes. England will depart extra space for counters, however you continue to need to defend first. England have so many weapons from so many angles.
It’s hardly over. It’s simply going to be a tortuous path. However the USMNT has by no means identified another means.