USMNT Panic Gauge: With FIFA World Cup 2022 looming, how worrying is USA’s 2-0 loss to Japan?

The United States men’s national team lost an uninspiring 2-0 to Japan at the start of their international window in September. Goals from Daichi Kamada and Kaoru Mitoma made the difference for the Samurai Blue in a game in which they outplayed the United States at every stage of the game. It’s quite an achievement for Japan to keep the USMNT from getting a shot on target, but it’s a good time to worry or not as the team still have a friendly before their next game at the World Cup in Qatar takes place.

Striker: It didn’t matter who played

It’s strange to have a game where the team have had four shots and none on target and not blame the number 9 for the performance but anyone leading the line outside of Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski would probably have made no difference fit. Jordan Pefok would have brought a more physical presence than Jesus Ferreira, but even when Walker Zimmerman tried to go first path during the game, it didn’t matter. With just 14 touches at halftime, Ferreira did his best to make something out of nothing by making two shots, but the ball just didn’t advance far enough to make a difference.

When Japan crippled Brenden Aaronson with his press, the team didn’t have a counter to help him. As one of the players who lasted the full 90 minutes, Aaronson is someone who showed he deserved to be there, but without Christian Pulisic or Tim Weah there was no one to punish Japan’s aggressive defense from falling behind . You can only go so far by under-passing, when a defense can push their center-backs way up because they know no one can pick up the pace behind them to punish their aggressiveness.

Most of the time, Sergino Dest was the furthest man forward as the United States used a novel dribble to the corner and got stuck there pre-game. Jordan Morris’ signing is a good option to end games, but it’s another point where adjustments are needed because if he has to play 45 minutes or more at the World Cup, the USMNT will struggle. Changing things up at half-time could have been an option, but it’s another game where Berhalter has stuck to his primary approach rather than settling on going around the opposition.

Who will start as a centre-forward in Qatar remains a question mark, but despite the offensive struggles in that game, that was not on the forwards.

Panic indicator: 4

Midfielder: The alarm bells are ringing

After that performance, I never want to watch a national team game without Yunus Musah again. Luca de la Torre played like a midfielder who has only played 11 minutes for his club this season. His performance was emblematic of an overall poor day for the midfield trio. While Berhalter eventually eliminated de la Torre for Johnny Cardoso in the 67th minute, it was too late for him to have any effect. It’s fair to ask whether Gio Reyna or Aaronson should have started at ten, but with Christian Pulisic also missing the game Berhalter might not have wanted to use Paul Arriola on the wing.

Switching the formation to a 4-2-3-1 might have given Japan pause, but the absence of the team’s most press-resistant midfielder in Musah showed that nobody was creating in dribbling. While Berhalter said the team still has work to do after that performance, when even regulars like Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie get picked off the ball, it’s a time when the team needs a plan B.

In the second half things went better as the passing game got a little quicker to try and play in Japan as the team couldn’t play through, but that’s more difficult in neutral venues like they played on Friday and the team are on will meet in Qatar than at a US home game. In their toughest test away from home since March’s draw with Mexico, this side have had to prove they have the intensity to compete in games where they’re not the main focus. They have not.

Musah’s return will help a lot but it won’t solve all problems overnight so adjustments between that game and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday will be crucial. Musah’s return in November will help and Adams and Mckennie have the proven quality the USMNT should count on. Still, they have to be able to find solutions when things don’t work out, and they definitely didn’t do that on Friday.

Panic indicator: 6

Defender: worry

It’s hard for me to judge the central defender pairing in this game. It’s true that both Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long made mistakes throughout the game, giving away the ball and missing tackles, but it’s also true that their jobs were harder than they needed to be. Antonee Robinson’s absence quickly shows how important he is to the national team, as his comfort defense extends to his centre-back, while his crosses into the box keep at least one team honest, although he rarely registers assists.

Sam Vines looked from his depths and was scared to come forward in the first half and then got out of position in the second half. He doesn’t have the recovery speed of Joe Scally when hit by an attacker, making it more difficult for Long and Mark McKenzie, who have played the last 45 minutes. If the midfield is pressed by the ball, it will be difficult for the entire defense, as it was on Friday. With Robinson likely to return, depth is this unit’s biggest concern, as well as playing time for Sergino Dest at AC Milan.

Dest had one of the brightest attacking moments as he slipped into the final third, but his attacking nature also helped give Japan the opener as he couldn’t come back to defend his man. The hope is that midfield will cover Dest when he goes forward, but that didn’t happen with de la Torre in the game. A lack of communication between two regulars in the roster is certainly not something we want to see at this stage of the game.

Reggie Cannon came in as a reserve, who also didn’t offer much as he was beaten in a 1v1 for Japan’s second goal, which isn’t great when there are four right-backs in the squad. Berhalter knows what he has in DeAndre Yedlin and that could result in Cannon being let off the plane to Qatar to bolster other positions.

The bottom line is that Long has more to show than Zimmerman’s primary center back and this team still doesn’t have a capable Robinson backup down the left. These are worrying issues.

Panic indicator: 7

Keeper: As cool as it gets

While Matt Turner’s distribution failed to get the team going, he was the only reason Japan didn’t win that game 5-0. Completing just two long balls out of 11 isn’t great, but with the power of attack it’s also understandable that Turner struggled with the ball at his feet. The USMNT was revised by Japan’s press to affect who he could bring the ball to. When it came to protecting his net, Turner excelled. He did what was asked of him with six saves and the two shots in which he was hit are difficult to deflect as the defense collapsed so quickly. A number one worthy performance from the only member of the team who excelled today.

Panic indicator: 0

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