Fans of the US men’s national team who had forgotten the intensity that comes with each poignant moment of the World Cup will be deeply reminded of those highs and lows in a 1-1 draw with Wales on Monday in Qatar.
The Yanks took a deserved lead through Timothy Weah, but couldn’t escape an unreliable second half when Walker Zimmerman gave away a penalty to Gareth Bale and the Welsh legend equalized.
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How did Gregg Berhalter do, who left and what does the 1-1 draw mean for the Yanks at this month’s tournament in Qatar?
Read on for what we learned from the USMNT vs Wales.
Gregg Berhalter avoids cute calls, gets favorite status right
USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter benched a starter from Leeds and Borussia Dortmund for the start of his first World Cup game, but it wasn’t for a pair of out-of-form favourites.
No, Berhalter used the biggest game of his life – for at least four days – to run Tim Weah on the right wing and Josh Sargent at center forward, and the Lille player and his Norwich target both featured in the opening goal.
But of course it wasn’t all about the goal, as Berhalter’s USMNT controlled the game in the first 45 minutes. About 30 minutes into the game, the Yanks back line had missed just one pass attempt from the marauding Sergino Dest.
Walker Zimmerman, Antonee Robinson and Tim Ream joined Dest – a clear magnet for the ball, both tactically and through the flow of play – and looked very comfortable in possession.
Berhalter questioned Ream’s ability to defend behind and in the air, but had always pointed out that the Fulham man had excellent reading of the game and had the ball at his feet.
And Ream was excellent indeed, as the USA dominated the first half with the only dangerous chances, almost two-thirds of the ball and the all-important goal.
Wales comes alive, Bale is quiet, Turner saves big
Perhaps Rob Page’s Welsh watched the same USMNT matches we’ve seen over the past six months and thought this game would be a walkover, but the first 45 minutes showed it was anything but.
So Page Kieffer put in Moore for an ineffectual Daniel James and it was Wales on the front foot for the first fifteen minutes of the second half.
USMNT goaltender Matt Turner was suddenly under duress, and the Yanks’ electric midfield suddenly looked young, while Ream and Walker Zimmerman seemed a little more like their senior status on the team.
Wales star Gareth Bale is now 33 and no taller than the player who captured the world’s attention with Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid, but he still brings an element of danger to the opposition (as MLS fans saw when he delivered the goods for LAFC in the MLS Cup Final).
But if Bale was in a bit of form it could have been 1-1 before Berhalter had a chance to usher in second half changes.
And it could still be that Moore forced an incredible save from Matt Turner to keep it goalless.
Subs for dubs: Berhalter makes good moves, but Bale wins penalty
Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest wouldn’t make it past 90 minutes and yellow cards in the first half meant substitutions for the men from Juventus and AC Milan.
Berhalter brought on Brenden Aaronson as an all-action midfielder in the 66th minute and completed a number of other substitutions soon after.
Sargent, Dest and Musah left the game – the latter perhaps through injury, so keep an eye out for updates – ahead of Haji Wright, DeAndre Yedlin and Kellyn Acosta.
Yedlin is the only American on the roster with World Cup experience and Acosta is the second most capped player on the roster. This hardly seems a coincidence, as the young Yanks were under pressure.
But it was a mistake by Zimmerman, who unnecessarily hit Bale’s back, that sent the Welshman to the penalty spot. And Turner couldn’t deliver the heroics, despite reading the attacker correctly and maybe even getting a piece off the ball.
And every team will feel relief and resentment over a wild and haphazard last 15 minutes that could have seen a winner from Europe or North America (thank you very, very, very much, Kellyn Acosta).
What does it all mean?
Well, the United States will almost certainly go into the final day of play with some serious stress on their shoulders.
The Yanks were better than Wales
Berhalter will also have to decide whether to keep his central defender together, knowing that he doesn’t feel Ream is the right opponent for fast and airy sides like England and that Zimmerman gave away the penalty.
Ream, for what it’s worth, was awesome on the day. And that is a good lesson to learn from the opening day of the USMNT in Qatar.