DUSSELDORF, Germany — United States Men’s National Team manager Gregg Berhalter admitted his team has “work to do” ahead of the World Cup after a 2-0 friendly loss to Japan in which the Americans struggled against a Samurai Blue press.
Japan piled on the pressure throughout the opening 45 minutes, limiting the USA to just five touches in the opposition penalty area. USA goalkeeper Matt Turner was forced to make several saves, including a one-on-one duel with Daichi Kamada in the 13th minute.
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But the Eintracht Frankfurt forward made the breakthrough he deserved in the 24th minute. Japan broke quickly after a USA turnover and Kamada’s first-time strike from Hidemasa Morita’s pass was cleanly beaten by Turner for Japan’s first goal.
The U.S. looked a little better in the second half after the foursome of substitutes, but never threatened Japan’s goal except for a late Brenden Aaronson foul. Japan’s Kaoru Mitoma achieved a well-deserved victory in the 88th minute.
“We have work to do. We obviously have to improve, but overall this team has a very good experience,” Berhalter said in his post-match press conference.
“I give Japan a lot of credit. I think they played a good game and gave us a lot of time. I think at times we were good in the match and performed well, but overall we could have been better over 90 minutes. [It] wasn’t good enough.”
The manner of the loss, with the USA guilty of numerous turnovers in its own half, gives Berhalter pause. So was the fact that Japan was quicker to hit 50/50 balls and generally more aggressive, as evidenced by 16 fouls to the USA’s just three.
“I don’t know if the proximity of the World Cup has anything to do with it, but the guys didn’t look fresh and physically we just looked a step behind,” said Berhalter. “And then it’s hard, a team like Japan punishes you.
“Adjustment in the second half helped us control the game more, made more passes between the lines. But in the first half I think it was just a lack of comfort on the ball, silly turnovers.
“We built up the opposition after a good start but then it started to snowball and give some balls away and it wasn’t what we envisioned.”
The USA were without several first-choice players, including Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic, who suffered a minor injury in training earlier in the week and was ruled out as a precaution.
Berhalter said Pulisic’s status is being monitored. The U.S. will play Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in Murcia, Spain.
“Christian, his status is day-to-day,” Berhalter said. “It was a knock and we’ll see [at Saturday’s practice] when he gets on the field.”
USA midfielder Tyler Adams argued that Japan’s press was a tactic other teams had used against his side, but in this case the Americans took too long to make changes.
“I think some of the CONCACAF teams, you know, in Mexico and Honduras, put pressure on us and we found solutions,” he said.
“We just had to find solutions earlier. I think we had a game plan and I think it would have been effective if we had stuck to the game plan. But sometimes I just felt like maybe we just started looking for individual solutions instead of saving up, the game plan stick to it, stay disciplined in your game plan.
“And you saw Japan, they did it well. They had one game plan and it was effective.”