USMNT creates little optimism for World Cup in sad draw

MURCIA, Spain — The United States men’s national team played their final warm-up game for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and although the performance was an improvement on last Friday’s 2-0 loss to Japan, it ended in a 0-0 draw v Saudi Arabia Tuesday wasn’t exactly what the Americans had hoped for either.

The USA had the most possession of the game, but clear chances were needed from both sides. Despite this, goalkeeper Matt Turner still had to be sharp and make some impressive saves.

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Fast reaction

1. USA disappointed in draw against Saudis

As far as WM tuning goes, this was an odd thing. The game itself was sparsely attended with no more than 1,000 fans in the stands. It created a surreal atmosphere as individual fans could even hurl swear words at US players. Sergino Dest was a particular target. Midway through the first half, during a break in play, he was approached by a fan on the pitch and the intruder had to be pushed to the sidelines.

US forward Giovanni Reyna, meanwhile, appeared to be back with the injury virus. He was substituted for Paul Arriola in the 30th minute and went straight down the tunnel, followed by manager Gregg Berhalter. A US Soccer spokesman said the sub wasn’t planned, later adding that Reyna shut herself down due to muscle tension.

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Given that everyone associated with the USA team feared the worst given the injury woes Reyna has endured over the past year, this is considered half good news. But it will be something to keep an eye on.

While USA played more intensely and looked better defensively, the game lacked the kind of energy one would normally expect from a World Cup tie and a 0-0 result seemed appropriate. Overall, the result closed a window that was disappointing for the US and doesn’t inspire much optimism for Qatar.

2. The sharpness is still missing

USA got a boost with the return of Christian Pulisic in attack and Ricardo Pepi also started. With Kellyn Acosta replacing Luca de la Torre in midfield, the USA looked better than they did against Japan. That’s a low bar, though, and while USA enjoyed a sizeable possession advantage for most of the evening, it never quite clicked in the attacking third.

It wasn’t a lack of effort. Central defender Walker Zimmerman in particular regularly found the full-backs Dest and DeAndre Yedlin in seemingly ample space, but this was never reflected in clear sights on goal. It largely left Pepi searching for scraps, which never really materialized, and ended the evening with just 13 touches.

As for Pulisic, there were moments in the game where he created danger and looked ready to break free on the wing, but like his teammates, that final killer pass was missing. It was the kind of performance that left you wanting more.

The attack seemed to liven up as a quartet of substitutions came into play. Jesus Ferreira had a great chance to score against USA but shot straight at Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Rubaie. The US didn’t do much after that.

3. Preparing for the Zimmerman-Long partnership

After hinting he could play with another centre-back pairing earlier in the window, Berhalter insisted on Zimmerman and Aaron Long to start the game. Compared to the Japan game debacle, both players performed better and were also sharper on the ball.

However, there were moments of danger, including a first-half scramble that pushed the US defense to the limit. Turner didn’t spoil his chances of starting in Qatar either with another solid performance.

So is this the starting tandem for Qatar? It seems like Chris Richards’ health and playing time will help determine that. Or at least it should. From the looks of it, however, this seems to be the pairing that Berhalter has pinned his fortune on. Putting Richards on the field in place of Long would likely inspire more confidence, but the coming weeks will ultimately determine Berhalter’s decisions.

Player Ratings

Saudi Arabia: Mohammed Al-Rubaie 6, Saud Abdulhamid 4, Ali Hadi Albulayhi 6, Abdulelah Al-Amri 6, Sultan Al-Ghanam 5, Nasser Al-Dosari 5, Riad Sharahili 5, Ali Al-Hassan 5, Hattan Bahebri 6, Feras Al Brikan 6, Sami Al-Naji 5

Subtitle: Asiri Haitham 5, Nawaf Al Abid 5, Fahad Al Muwallad 5, Mohamed Kanno 5, Ahmed Bamasud 5, Hassan Al Tambakti 6

United States: Matt Turner (7), Sergino Dest (4), Aaron Long (5), Walker Zimmerman (6), DeAndre Yedlin (6), Kellyn Acosta (5), Tyler Adams (7), Weston McKennie (6), Giovanni Reyna (5), Ricardo Pepi (5), Christian Pulisic (5).

Subtitle: Paul Arriola 6, Mark McKenzie 5, Joe Scally 5, Jesus Ferreira 4, Brenden Aaronson 5, Malik Tillman 5

Best and worst performers

BEST: Tyler Adams, USA. This was a game that didn’t have many standouts, but Adams put in a much better performance for the USA and was a big part of the Americans’ possession advantage. It helped that he had a steelier presence alongside him at Acosta and he was occasionally at fault for a giveaway, but it was a performance the US midfielder could build on.

WORST: Sergino Dest, USA. Berhalter opted to field AC Milan right-back at left-back and things went about as poorly as his previous performances at this side. Dest was shaky with his distribution and looked overpowered in the air. Antonee Robinson can’t recover fast enough.

Highlights and notable moments

That pretty much sums it up.

After the game: What the players and coaches said

Holder: “There weren’t many players who reached their normal level in this camp.”

Key Stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)

– Saudi Arabia is the seventh opponent to qualify for the World Cup that USA competed in in 2022. The USMNT has scored in just one of those seven games, going 1W-3N-3D.

– The Americans have failed to score in the first half in four of their last five games and have been goalless in the last three against World Cup-qualifying opponents.

– The USA haven’t scored a goal from free play in eight of their 12 games in 2022. Of the 18 goals the team scored that year, ten were from free play (eight of them were scored against Grenada and Panama) and eight were from dead-ball situations.


Saudi Arabia: Al-Akhdhar are next in action on October 26 when Albania travel to Abu Dhabi for a friendly match.

United States: It was the Americans’ last game before the World Cup in November. Berhalter’s side meet Wales in Group B on November 21.

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