On brink of win, USMNT can’t close out Wales

AL RAYYAN, Qatar – The United States men’s national team were held to a 1-1 draw by Wales in their opening game of the World Cup.

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Tim Weah gave USA the lead after receiving a skillful pass from Christian Pulisic. But after difficulties in the first half, Wales came back in the second when Gareth Bale converted a penalty in the 82nd minute to force both sides to settle for a point.

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Fast reaction

1. The US cannot shut down Wales

The tactical layout of this game seemed pretty simple. The USA would have most of the possession while Wales would be content to sit back and try to pin the Americans down at the break. And for most of the first half it was the same, with the USA having a 66% to 34% possession advantage.

The only question was whether the US could seize opportunities when they came. For a while it looked like the answer would be no. Joe Rodon nearly gave USA a goal when he headed Weah’s hard cross straight to keeper Wayne Hennessey, and Josh Sargent followed up with a header that hit just the outside of the post.

Wales then seemed to settle into comfortable territory on defense despite scoring next to nothing in attack. But a brilliant moment in the 36th minute ensured the US breakthrough. Sargent’s dismissal to Pulisic suddenly found the American in space for one of the few times in the entire half, and his pass found Weah clear to get past Hennessey.

It was a deserved tally for all the work USA put in in the first half, but suffered in the second as Wales made tactical changes (more on that later) and sent more numbers up front.

Brenden Aaronson’s timely substitution for a tiring Weston McKennie gave the USA some much-needed energy in midfield. The switch tilted the field back toward her for a spell, but that wasn’t enough. A clumsy and unnecessary challenge by Walker Zimmerman to Gareth Bale – with Bale’s back to goal – was correctly awarded a penalty, which Bale converted with authority.

The 1-1 draw is a result that will stay in the minds of the US team. They were minutes away from taking all three points and putting them in a position where they could control their fate in Group B. With England rocking Iran 6-2, the battle for second place now remains wide open with a difficult game against the Three Lions next. While the result is by no means fatal, it’s not what the USA were hoping for considering how long they’ve been ahead of the game.

2. Second-half adjustments spur Wales revival

The Dragons had waited 64 long years since their last World Cup appearance, and with a match-winner in Bale at their side, they had the potential to pose a threat to just about any team. But the first half made you wonder how they made it this far. Wales looked absolutely toothless in attack and didn’t bother the US defense.

Part of that was thanks to the Americans’ suffocating play in midfield through Tyler Adams and Tim Ream’s sharp and focused defense. But Wales also did little to help themselves with a few bad passes. Bale, in particular, was a marginal figure, touching the ball just 15 times in the first half.

The introduction of striker Kieffer Moore in the second half gave Wales a little more power up front and with Aaron Ramsey pushing further up front, the US defense moves gave something else to think about. The changes had their intended effect as Wales pushed the USA back for much of the second half. Ben Davies almost equalized in the 65th minute with a header that was tipped over the bar by US keeper Matt Turner. Moore’s header from the following corner just went over.

Just when it looked like the USA might survive, Wales were given a lifeline when Zimmerman’s clumsy challenge against Bale was rightly awarded a penalty. Bale slammed home the ensuing penalty, giving Wales a priceless point that seemed unlikely for much of the evening. Now Group B is wide open.

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3. Weah breaks new ground

For virtually his entire professional career, Weah has attempted to break out of the considerable shadow of his father and former Ballon d’Or winner, George Weah. But the younger Weah has forged his own path in recent years, winning league titles with Paris Saint-Germain, Celtic and most recently Lille.

That day, Tim ventured into territory his famous father had never seen. George never made it to a World Cup despite an agonizing near-failure with Liberia in the 2002 cycle. Now Tim has a World Cup goal to his credit.

What makes Tim’s performance even more impressive is the fact that he’s operating in a position that’s the deepest on the US roster, with his pace, off-ball run and finish, the talented players like Aaronson and Gio Reyna on the bench holds. Given his contribution, there seems little doubt that he will retain his seat, although on another night he might have walked away with the match winner.


Player Ratings

US: Matt Turner (6), Antonee Robinson (6), Tim Ream (7), Walker Zimmerman (4), Sergino Dest (5), Yunus Musah (5), Tyler Adams (6), Weston McKennie (5), Christian Pulisic (6), Josh Sargent (5), Tim Weah (7).

Subtitle: Brenden Aaronson (6), DeAndre Yedlin (5), Kellyn Acosta (4), Haji Wright (5), Jordan Morris (5).

Wales: Wayne Hennessey (6), Ben Davies (6), Joe Rodon (6), Chris Mepham (6), Neco Williams (4), Aaron Ramsey (5), Ethan Ampadu (5), Connor Roberts (5), Daniel James (4), Gareth Bale (5), Harry Wilson (5).

Subtitle: Kieffer Moore 6, Brennan Johnson 5, Joe Morrell 5, Sorba Thomas 5


Best and worst performers

BEST: Tim Weah, USA. Weah gets the nod, not only for his contributions to offense but also for his willingness to backtrack and help out defensively.

WORST: Walker Zimmerman, USA. Defenders are often judged on their mistakes, and that was true for Zimmerman as well. He didn’t need to bang on to Bale. It remains to be seen how expensive it could get.


Highlights and notable moments

The USMNT received a pep talk from President Joe Biden.

George Weah has achieved a lot in his illustrious playing career. However, he has never played in a World Cup, which son Tim did on Monday. Oh, and he scored, so at the next family reunion he can hold that up to dad too.

Just under two weeks ago, LAFC was delighted by a dramatic late goal from Bale. On Monday, the MLS Cup champions were a little less enthusiastic about their No. 11’s placement.


After the game: What the players and coaches said

gymnast: “We gave them a lifeline. We lost two points.”

Weight: “It felt like we had a lot of energy in the first half, a lot of momentum… and then when we got into the second half we dialed down and Wales turned it up a notch. They started pushing us, they had the most ball and I think that really hurt us at the end.


Key Stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)

– At 19 years and 358 days, Musah became the youngest player to start for the USMNT in a World Cup game.

– Monday’s starting XI had an average age of 25 years and 102 days. It is the fourth youngest USMNT roster at a World Championship, behind only the three rosters at Italia ’90, where the XIs averaged just over 24 years old.

– At 23 years and 279 days, Adams became the youngest player to captain USA at a World Cup since 1950 and the third youngest overall.

– Before Weah’s 37th-minute goal, Pelé was the last player to score in a World Cup game against Wales in 1958.

– USA have gotten out of the group stage every time they’ve managed to win or draw in the opening game, and eliminated every time they haven’t.

– Bale’s last five goals for club and country have come in the 80th minute or later.

– The USMNT have been without a win against European opponents in their last 10 World Cup games, with the last such win coming in the 2002 group stage against Portugal.


Next

US: The USA play Friday when they take on high-flying England at Al Bayt Stadium at 2pm ET.

Wales: Wales begin with a 5:00 ET kick-off against Iran at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on Friday.

https://www.espn.com/soccer/fifa-world-cup/story/4806871/on-brink-of-winusmnt-cant-close-out-wales On brink of win, USMNT can’t close out Wales

Emma Bowman

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