The USMNT’s opening match of the World Cup ended in disappointment on Monday, as the Americans conceded a late penalty to draw 1-1 with Wales after leading for the bulk of the game. The result put the U.S. in a precarious position in Group B. If they lose Friday’s match against heavily-favored England and Wales beats Iran, which lost 6-2 to England on Monday, then the U.S. will enter the final match of the group stage needing a win against Iran and a Wales loss to England to have any hope of advancing to the knockout rounds.
The U.S. started Monday’s match well, taking advantage of Wales’ passive approach to control the opening half hour before taking the lead through a lovely goal from Tim Weah in the 36th minute. Wales changed their setup and grew into the game after the break, but the Americans still looked like they’d hold firm for the win until Gareth Bale drew and converted a penalty kick inside the final 10 minutes.
Friday’s match should look significantly different than the opener on Monday. Wales sat deep for the entire first half, allowing the U.S. to dominate possession without threatening the Americans in behind. Possession was far more even after the halftime introduction of striker Wales Kieffer Moore, but their more aggressive posture left space for the Americans to attack in transition.
Unfortunately for their hopes of getting out of the group, the U.S. couldn’t take advantage of the dangerous positions they got into. They were wasteful on the break, making a few poor decisions and struggling with their final ball on a number of occasions.
They’ll have to be far better in that area on Friday against an England side that is likely to control more of the game than Wales. England will look to attack in numbers against the U.S. There will be moments when the U.S. will have the opportunity to attack the space behind their backline.
“There were opportunities we just didn’t take advantage of,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said on Thursday. “It’s something we identified yesterday in the postgame meeting. And we need to do a better job of that, especially those moments where the opponent pushes you back a little which can happen in the match. We want to be (in a) high posture and we want to be pressing, but there’s gonna be moments where we’re low on the field and we have to be able to take advantage of the space behind the defense. And we didn’t do that effectively against Wales.”
We think it’s doubtful the U.S. will rotate much against England. They will have had three days to rest, recuperate and prepare for England. The 10 p.m. local kickoff time gives almost a whole extra day to recover. It’s more time between games than the U.S. had during World Cup qualifying and, with all of the stadiums hosting World Cup matches located so close together here in Qatar, players don’t have to worry about any fatigue caused by travel.
“And,” Berhalter said, “it’s a World Cup.” Players will have time to be tired after the tournament.
There are three questions to weigh, however, when it comes to the U.S. lineup for the England game.
Weston McKennie and Sergiño Dest came into camp at less than full fitness. Dest hasn’t been getting regular time with AC Milan, while McKennie arrived recovering from a thigh injury that held him out of Juventus games since Oct. 29. McKennie played 66 minutes before being substituted out for Brenden Aaronson on Monday, and there were moments in the game when the broadcast showed him grabbing at his thigh. Dest went 74 minutes and had issues with cramping when he left the game. (Yunus Musah and Tim Weah also had issues with cramps and exited the game.)
Gio Reyna also did not play on Monday night. Berhalter mentioned after the match that Reyna had experienced some tightness in the days leading up to the game. Since the contest turned fast and physical as full-time approached and both teams searched for a winner, Berhalter opted to leave Reyna on the bench, instead bringing Jordan Morris in as a substitute to replace Weah in the 88th minute.
On Thursday, Berhalter emphasized that Reyna was available on Monday, but that it was a coach’s decision not to play him. He added that Reyna will be available against England and also said that McKennie and Dest are both “fine” for Friday, as well. A U.S. Soccer spokesperson noted that all other players on the roster are fit and available for selection; all 26 were participating in the portion of training open to the media on Thursday night.
We don’t think Berhalter will make any changes in the back. Matt Turner wasn’t great dealing with crosses against Wales, but he’ll start on Friday. Tim Ream was very solid at center back. Walker Zimmerman conceded the penalty, but he defended well for the remainder of the match. We think that center back pairing will get another runout against Harry Kane, who England manager Gareth Southgate said on Thursday should start against the U.S. Dest and left back Antonee Robinson were also solid.
In midfield, captain Tyler Adams will again start and wear the captain’s armband against England. Yunus Musah wasn’t at his best against Wales, but we think he’ll get the nod, too. Same for McKennie. His physicality and ability in transition could be critical in what’s likely to be a fast-paced match, as could his ability on both defensive and attacking set pieces.
Reyna is considered one of the most talented players on the U.S. roster. He adds a level of creativity and passing in the final third that could help unlock the U.S. attack, but we think it’s unlikely Berhalter benches Weah or Christian Pulisic, who assisted the goal against Wales. We believe we’ll see Reyna in the second half on Friday.
One area Berhalter may weigh a change is up top. Josh Sargent was somewhat disconnected from the U.S. attack through most of the game on Monday.
He did contribute to the goal-scoring sequence, though, chesting down a pass into the path of Pulisic, who took off on a lengthy run up the field before finding Weah with a brilliant through ball. Berhalter may opt for Jesus Ferreira up top, but we think Sargent’s physicality and ability on set pieces make him a better match-up for this game, just as they did for Wales.
Here is our full projected starting XI for the U.S. against England:
(Photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images)