Commentary

Wales exposes U.S. flaws that need fixing ahead of England clash

The USA started strong but gradually succumbed to the pressure of Wales in the second half and had to settle for a 1-1 draw. The result was two points squandered for the U.S. team and it drastically hurt the team’s chances to advance out of the group stages.

The first half of the game saw the United States control possession, limit the number of Wales opportunities, and score the first goal of the game on a lovely move up the middle of the field that ended with Christian Pulisic feeding Tim Weah for the opening goal.

The second half was the exact opposite. As much as the USA controlled the game in the first half, Wales controlled the game in the second half. Matt Turner was forced to make a save. The U.S. couldn’t keep the ball. Eventually Wales found their breakthrough after Gareth Bale converted a penalty after he was fouled by Walker Zimmerman in the 82nd minute. Zimmerman had been playing well up to that point but lost his composure with Bale still in front of him ahead of the goal.

The final eight minutes plus nearly 10 minutes of stoppage time saw the Americans return to having the better of chances, but a smart and underrated play came in stoppage time when Kellyn Acosta tactically fouled Bale to prevent a 40-yard attempt on goal with Turner pulled far out of goal.

So here are some thoughts on the game.

Lacked killer instinct

The U.S. team’s attacking and possession numbers flattered them. For all of the slick passing (most notably between Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest), the USA scored on its only shot on target. The number of truly dangerous chances that the team created were minimal. Josh Sargent had the best chance outside of the goal but his header from close range from a narrow missed the near post.

But far too often the final pass, typically a cross, was not able to connect with Sargent or whomever was the most well-positioned attacker. On top of this, shots from distance never tested goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and the best moment from the Nottingham Forest goalkeeper came when he had to prevent an own goal in the first half.

If the USA is to have any success in this tournament, it needs to be more clinical and ruthless with its chances.

Even when Wales raised its game in the second half, the Americans had a decent number of counterattacking opportunities with strong numerical advantages. But not only did the they fail to score, they failed to even come close.  

Adams and Robinson impress the most

The two best performances in the game over the course of the 90 minutes came from Tyler Adams and Antonee Robinson.

Adams was the best player on the field and will be the cornerstone of this team for many years to come. His numbers in this game were fantastic. He completed 62/69 of his passes, including 4/5 in long balls. He was successful in 5/6 of his tackles, 6/9 of his ground duels, and 2/3 of his aerials. Above it all, he covered 8 miles in the game and continued to be sharp later in the game at a time when his teammates were all fading.

He is the team’s most indispensable player as no one else can come close to replicating what he can do. Adams was a smart choice for the team’s captain.
 
Meanwhile, Robinson at left back brings an incredible amount of athleticism to the position. Like Adams, he is particularly dangerous late in the game because he has stamina to continue to run at tired defenders. The question for Robinson is his crossing. With better crossing, he would be on another level, but he is still good for creating multiple chances every game and this game was no exception.
 
Set pieces are a huge concern

The U.S. team struggled throughout World Cup qualifying in creating dangerous chances from set piece deliveries. In this game, these struggles continued, and the U.S. team never once looked threatening off corners or free kicks.

The problems for the lack of set piece danger are on two ends – the deliveries and the targets.
 
For the deliveries, Pulisic has not produced much over the past few years by way of sending dangerous free kicks or corner kicks into the box. Against Wales, history repeated itself. Pulisic’s first few attempts from the corner either didn’t get beyond the first defender or sailed over the main group of U.S. targets in the box.

Unfortunately for Berhalter, the alternatives are also either unconvincing, not fit, or are still bench options. Gio Reyna sat out the game against Wales after Berhalter said the Borussia Dortmund playmaker had muscle tightness in a scrimmage on Thursday. Reyna is obviously a solid alternative. Dest also has the ability to take free kicks, but he was passed over for Pulisic. Brenden Aaronson takes some of the corners for Leeds United. Kellyn Acosta also is someone who has done well but, like Aaronson, was passed over late in the game as the team continued to have Pulisic take the set pieces.
 
The number of set piece targets in the box is perhaps an even bigger concern. In the starting lineup, only Zimmerman and McKennie could be considered top threats while Sargent has also had some success getting on the end of deliveries. The problem, however, is that squad rotation could force Berhalter to remove McKennie and possibly Sargent.
 
The U.S. team is at a big disadvantage in terms of its struggles to be dangerous from set pieces. In the World Cup, the margin between success and failure is extremely narrow. It is how the U.S. team has pulled off key results in its history (Eric Wynalda’s free kick against Switzerland in the 1994 opener, John O’Brien’s goal after a corner kick to set the tone for the win over Portugal in 2002, Graham Zusi’s corner to set up the famous John Brooks winner against Ghana in 2014).




Physically strained

After the game, Berhalter said the U.S. team left it all out on the field and he was right. Most of the U.S. players resembled soldiers coming off a grueling battlefield. Pulisic and Musah were limping. McKennie, who missed the last three weeks with Juventus, had to come off at the hour mark and looked beat up.

None of this bodes well for a quick turnaround on Friday to face an English team that enjoyed a cakewalk in a 6-2 win over Iran earlier in the day.
 
Berhalter is going to have to make some tough decisions and the medical reports on Tuesday and Wednesday will play a big role in how he shapes his lineup. McKennie seems like a stretch to start and he might be a player the team wants to have in better shape to face Iran.
 
The USA is unlikely to have any sort of possession edge against England and Aaronson might be better in this game to spring counterattacks. But the same questions will also be asked of Musah, Weah, Pulisic and Sargent.

The big question will come down to Reyna, who was held out against Wales. He has struggled badly with injuries for the last 15 months but has been in much better shape over the past four weeks. The tone regarding the “tightness” that kept him out against Wales seemed minor and Reyna himself even said he was at 100%.

Advancing will certainly come down to beating Iran next week. An upset win is unlikely but a draw against England would be a big step forward for the U.S. team’s chances as it would likely mean the U.S. team doesn’t need any help in addition to beating Iran.

But how Berhalter handles the physical beating the U.S. team took against Wales will be critical against England.

A big learning lesson in maturity

The U.S. team has undergone a massive rebuild over the past four years. Very few of the players from any previous cycle remain in the current pool of players. The U.S. has an extremely young World Cup team as 14 of the team’s 23 field players are still yet to even turn 25.
 
But looking at the age breakdown of the entire roster only tells part of the story. With an expanded 26-player roster, many teams brought young players along simply to get experience. For the U.S. team, young players are all expected to play key roles.
 
In Berhalter’s starting lineup against Wales, the entire midfield and front line are still short of their 25th birthday. At the outside back positions, Dest is just 22 while Robinson is the old man at 25. Only in central defense and at goalkeeper is there an older presence.

While many of these young players in the midfield and the attack have played in huge club soccer games, international soccer at the highest levels is a different beast and the World Cup often is the most desperate soccer the game can offer. That’s how Saudi Arabia can upset Argentina, or Italy can go from European champions to failing to qualify for the World Cup inside of a year. The margin is extremely thin.
 
Failing to win the game stung for the American players but it wouldn’t surprise me if, in the years ahead, it served as a valuable lesson about how to close out wins, how to take advantage of limited chances, how to react when your opponent is motivated in raising its game, and how not to concede possession. Scoring early and hoping to hold onto a 1-0 lead is very, very difficult and only the great Italian teams of the past were able to do it with regularity.

The USA had a front row seat in seeing how a proud but desperate opponent can find another level. If anything, the U.S. team will be more prepared to handle these situations in the future and a team with most of the same group of players, just a few years older, walks away with a win.


Brad Smith/ISI Photos

20 comments about "Wales exposes U.S. flaws that need fixing ahead of England clash".
  1. Rick M, November 22, 2022 at 4:13 p.m.

    Really well written piece. Some good lessons to take from this game. Hopefully we can put them in place in 2026.

  2. John Sabala, November 22, 2022 at 5 p.m.

    Rick, I agree a well written piece with the exception of a couple of points.  The first one is that A. Robinson was one of our best players on the pitch. I disagree and Brian makes mention of the problem I state with Robinson. The inability to build play, break pressure and provide quality service. He states the combination of Dest, Mckennie and Weah created attacking opportunities. We just did not create quality chances. That does not happen down the left side because of Robinson's limited ability to pass accurately or with the correct touch.  He is best sprinting down the field to deliver a cross that most of the time does not find a target. So what good does that do to our team?  It takes one of our best dribbling attackers away with his back to goal at midfield where he is continuously fouled. CP does not play back to Robison because he cannot connect passes in small spaces. If you look at US goals they are from the center or right side. Goals Robinson got in qualfication were ones that came across from the right side and he cleaned up the garbage. 

    I am bothered about the lack of mentioning the tactical plan did not change to gain momentum back from Wales.  The two fowards up top were immediately on Ream and Zimmerman, instead of it just being Bale.  This was the major part of their pressure, there is no adjustment to put a third back in the backline to relieve this pressure so we can spring our attacks again. So there needs to be an article about the lack of our coaching staff to infuence the game with tactical changes to what oppoents do. Let not even talk about the subs brought in....Morris????.....taking Weah out????....once Yedlin came in we had no abliity to start play at any location now of the left or right side since Robinson was still in the game.  We finished with two outside backs that cannot pass in traffic under pressure.

  3. Charles Stamos, November 22, 2022 at 5:02 p.m.

    So in looking forward to England (and then Iran), the USA needs to field a healthy 11 first. Our defense will be tested. I am nervous about the English speed and ability in the air. For offense, If Reyna can go, he should be in the starting l/u. Set pieces can improve and creating pressure is crucial. Running off the ball is a key factor. That's how we scored against Wales; CP becomes available for Sargent with a well timed run and Weah's run creates a passing lane that CP nicely assists. 



    By the way, that was one defect in Argentina's failed attack. They tried to make runs behind the KSA back line which often put them offsides, instead of starting their runs 5 to 10 yards onsides and running past the defense while the ball is in the air!


    Also, a spectacular goalkeeping effort never hurts a teams chances.

  4. beautiful game replied, November 22, 2022 at 6:06 p.m.

    John,  the Argentine players and its coach couldn't figure out the Saudi high defensive press. There is no excuse for that, and also, the intensity barometer favored the winning team.

  5. Kevin Leahy, November 22, 2022 at 5:42 p.m.

    I'm with you John. Don't feel that McKennie & Dest played as well as you think. Also don't believe that Sargent was given enough credit for his play in both ends of the field. Even the Wales coach said that he made it difficult for them to play. None of the subs had any impact. The left side has been a problem in the attack this entire cycle. Musah should be kept on the right. Pulisic keeps trying to force himself and the ball into the middle. Maybe that's were he should play. Need to throw something at England they haven't seen. When the team continues to only play half of a game is it because they, are young or another factor 

  6. humble 1, November 22, 2022 at 6:23 p.m.

    Big problem for U.S. now is not the players, they are ok, we have a good group, capable to earn thier way out of the group, the challenge really is for the coaches.  In tournamment play it's not how you start the game, it's how you finish.  2nd half is like 4th quarter in NBA and NFL.  Staff needs to have a plan to adjust and/or react to how the opponent changes.  This is why nations need to be working the YNT tournament and Olympics and WC every year, to be sure to not only bring along players, but coaches and staff.  We talk about 'game model' so much, but really, at tournament you need game modelS, plural.  You need to make the subs and adjustments to tactics to suite the situation.  A 1-0 lead can and has been ridden to victory, but not the way we did it.  Our staff is relatively young, like the players, so this will be a learning experience all around, still, have to get out of group.  This is the min expectation for USA going forward. 

  7. Kevin Sims, November 22, 2022 at 8 p.m.

    Agree with much already shared. Team's penchant for fouling foolishly to create danger for the opponent where none exists has been costly for quite some time. The message must be to avoid fouling in your half of the field. Had the foul happened while Bale was beating someone and the defender was making an honest play on the ball, so be it. But the cards received and the PK gifted show a costly lack of discipline. Pulisic has proven himself repeatedly to not be the answer for restarts. Zimmerman was very good for 89:58 and Ream was very good for 90:00. I am 100% behind our men!!!     

  8. Kent James, November 23, 2022 at 12:46 a.m.

    Good analysis (especially of Adams and Robinson; I'd add Ream to the list of played exceptionally well in this game).  Concerns about injury with Reyna is the only good reason to keep him off the field.  I hope the team can recover from the physical beating in time to be ready for England. 


    For the England game, we might want to consider a small quick line-up against their big slow backs (MaGuire and Stone), so instead of Sargent, Ferriera or even using Aaronson or Reyna instead of the forwards; concede the balls in the air, but try to use a short passing game around the box to play to their weaknesses.


    While getting a draw against England would be helpful, I think playing for one would be a disaster.  Play to your team's strengths, which is going after it.  These guys are young and hungry, let them feed.

  9. frank schoon, November 23, 2022 at 8:32 a.m.

    Brian, interesting piece, but you failed to inform WHY Wales played the way they did ,their tactical strategy towards the USA, as seen in the difference between the first and second half. It would have been interesting to know by going sifting through some of the interviews of Wales coaches/players. I expect the American Soccer journalists to be on top of this and inform the readers. This should have been the main headline, "How Wales Played Us". By going in that direction the comments and discussions would have given a concise picture and clear direction, instead of having now to throw around some guess work conclusions by the commenters which also includes you........

    First of all, lets get one thing out of the way ,which is 'we were the better team' and 'this tie is a loss for us'. We looked good in the first half because of the tactics imposed by Wales. It was very defensive, they had basically no offense placing Bale in a lonely position up front as the rest stayed back. In other words Wales played "rope a dope" trying to make us tired for the second half, they gave us plenty of room and space to perform, in which so many wrongly attributed to us as playing 'great' ball. NO, we didn't play great ball, for anyone can look like Pele if given enough 'time and space' on the ball.  In conclusion ,we should be thankful to get a tie out of this, for I can only imagine if Wales came out and played like they did in the second half in the first half and continued the onslaught in the second half.

    Wales ,playing 'rope a dope', strategy is used often and I remember the European Cup Championship in '68 where Feyenoord of Holland played the Celtics and used the same 'rope a dope' strategy, letting the Scots go wild, which is not difficult to do, the first half. The difference with Feyenoord players as compared with Wales players, is that they were smarter and better ball handlers along with playing good position ball, who later won the World Cup for teams, Toyota Cup.

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  10. frank schoon, November 23, 2022 at 9:06 a.m.

    Your statement of the best performances were by Adams and A.Robinson. To say that, you would have to know what AR's s role was out there. Yes, he looked decent in the first half , WHO DIDN'T !! That's no biggie!! But in the second half he stunk and that is seen by him running with the ball down the flanks, trying to start something...He totally lost it there. AR, is useless when he decides the attack with the ball. He went beyond his limitations, for he has no crossing ability, no 1v1 skills, and he forced CP to go inside which created problems for him as well. Our whole leftflank is always a problem with AR decides to own it. 

    I don't know who teaches our boys in their developmental years as backs but one Golden Rule in Dutch soccer, a Cruyffian principle, is that you DON'T RUN WITH THE BALL UPFIELD. By running with the ball, you give the opponents TIME to set up, and you GIVE AWAY the offensive intentions. It's that simple!! WORSE , players who lack the skills and attacking intelligence (that's why they are playing as back or defender) SHOULD NOT be running with the ball creating messy situations.

    Adams, looked good ,according to your stats, which don't really measure the FUNCTIONALITY of his passes, themselves. Completion of passes does in NO WAY prove anything as so often so bares out the number of passes in the backfield, the back passes, square passes that really contribute to nothing. Making 99 out of a 100 doesn't prove anything. 

    Furthermore, Tyler is never guarded coming up from the back towards the area of action, staying afar in a safe position, never pressured being wide open, receiving the ball, passing it square or backwards, or to a wide open man further away. It is simple, you don't have to be a genius playing that position, besides he's  judged on his defensive work, not so much with the ball for that is not his forte. So in your eyes, he looks in my we someone to play that position who can contribute more with the ball, after all, he's a midfielder....



  11. Philip Carragher replied, November 23, 2022 at 12:16 p.m.

    I agree Frank. We looked good when not pressured. I don't understand why Wales didn't press us in the first half, unless they don't have subs to come in for exhausted players. They get 5 subs I believe. Two things about the pk incident: a player like Bale, with the ball in the box, whether his back is to goal or not, he's dangerous. I'm guessing he can turn and shoot quickly and accurately, so assumptions that there was little to no danger posed by Bale with that body/ball positioning, those are wrong. Z was right to try to sense the danger, but going to ground, that's another issue. Most backs aren't as quick as forwards, so going to ground in the box is something that should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Poor choice going to ground, but Z's danger instincts were spot on.

  12. frank schoon replied, November 23, 2022 at 12:34 p.m.

    Philip, Bale had his back to the goal ,since he's left he would be turning left to shoot, if he did it the other way ,he would have lost the ball....There is no excuse what Zimmerman. It was a 2v1 situation, the goalie and Zimmerman. With his experience ,he should have stopped Bale or prevent him from shooting or make it very difficult but what he did was just a butchered attempt

  13. Sean Guillory replied, November 23, 2022 at 5:37 p.m.

    Totally disagree with Frank about not running with the ball upfield.  Cafu and Roberto Carlos did that the whole 2002 World Cup and even the 98 World Cup and look what happened.  You have to push the ball and create the mismatch of numbers to keep the defense on their heels.

  14. frank schoon replied, November 23, 2022 at 6:34 p.m.

    Sean, it is very simple to understand that if run you with the ball way ahead of time before the action takes place, you will give the opponents extra time to adjust. And it doesn't matter wether the players are called Cafu or Roberto Carlos or PELE . The fact is you give away your intentions and time to your opponents to adjust to your movements.  You don't show your cards, a good team is one that show predictability

  15. Philip Carragher, November 23, 2022 at 1:21 p.m.

    Turning and shooting with either foot should be just another skill all good front line scorers, especially 9s, should have in their quiver. Part of that should be an awareness of whether you should try to go outside the defenders leg/foot or between the legs. Often that's dictated by positioning on the field. Bale was centrally located and not nearly far enough to one side to have a "between the legs" shot end up within the frame. It's not that difficult to do a quick first touch to his left and shoot with his right. He even could have shot that first time with his right boot with proper skill preparation. Just because a great scorer has his back to the goal doesn't mean he isn't dangerous, although that assumption, especially by the goalie, provides an element of surprise when the D is relaxed for that moment or two.

  16. frank schoon replied, November 23, 2022 at 1:41 p.m.

    You're absolutely right ,Philip, with 'either foot'. This is what I would have done. If Z is behind me, I would have felt him with my right arm, and then in one motion, I would push him away from me and at the same turn my body clockwise, pulling the ball backwards at the same time , so as to face him .

    Then I have two advantages, for they will come fast as soon I face him. One, push the ball quickly to my right for the shot, in a manner that Zimmerman has to move. sideways, square with the ball. The weakest point of a defender is having to move square or sideways for he loses torque, and balance....When you watch Garrincha take on an opponents he always comes at the defender cuts exactly so the defender is forced to step sideways to move which is his weak spot...

  17. Wooden Ships, November 23, 2022 at 7:56 p.m.

    Good stuff and I'm late to the table. The loss, I mean draw, still hasn't fully digested. My head swims with analysis but is angry. I've stated for awhile that we are going to have to score and score to go anywhere. We've not been able to do that for at least 3 years. I mean consistently. Have we even had a complete 90 in recent history. 
    it was mentioned above that our players are good enough (perhaps) but our coaching staff might be a little behind. Have they not been behind since day 1? The inability to adjust in game or at half is a hallmark. 


    CP can't take restarts effectively since forever. Greg can't see this? No change.
    Besides Rondo's how about concentrating on how to swing balls in? No change
    Weston is a Bull in a China cabinet that can't play small ball, we need to have some skill inside (Reyna-LDLT) that can threaten an inside attack. No change.
    We don't play to the feet of our 9, we usually only discuss playing it over or then a withdrawn 9. I can't remember how (a lot) that Sargent showed for the ball while having one of the center backs occupied and not once did we play it into him. You have to work in and out. 


    Can our staff not see fatigue? The second half was just abysmal. Canada is better than us, hurts doesn't it? 

  18. frank schoon replied, November 24, 2022 at 7:53 a.m.

    Ships, good read..

  19. R2 Dad, November 26, 2022 at 5:12 p.m.

    We seem quite restrained in our criticism with our draw against Wales. For comparison, here is some feedback from clearly displeased England fans after the US vs England draw: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YayXR-W5SM

  20. George Miller, November 27, 2022 at 8:39 a.m.

    Politics in sports. The US women choose trans men/ women as one of their big issues to play with women. The men choose BLM which we now know is a scam of leadership embezzlement buying private homes and not spending a dollar on the cause. My point is what is CLEARLY right or wrong is rare. Just play!

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