Today’s match in Group B between the United States Men’s National Team and Wales was a fun one to watch. After waiting eight long years, US soccer fans finally saw a World Cup match again for the boys in blue, and boy did they not disappoint… for a half. The game was defined by a tale of two completely different showings by the USMNT, which eventually resulted in a 1-1 tie with Wales.
The first half saw Gregg Berhalter finally implement his patented “Berhalter Ball” where the USMNT would keep a high press and use precision passing to constantly keep the pressure on the Welsh. For the first twenty minutes, officiating did the USMNT in with two quick yellows to Sergino Dest and Weston McKennie, setting the tone for how fouls would be called in the game. Multiple badly missed calls by the officials did not do the US in, however, as they responded in kind with a stellar first half that saw Timothy Weah on the receiving end of a beautiful ball from Christian Pulisic in the 36th minute to get the USMNT a 1-0 lead.
Pulisic throughout the half showed why he is considered already, at the young age of 24, one of the best to ever play the game of soccer for the United States. #10 was drawing fouls, called or not, at each turn, keeping a magnificent pace, and setting up the aforementioned beauty by Weah. The United States fed off their star player and kept the press enough to control the ball an astounding amount in the first half.
What transpired after half was an entirely different game, defined by an aggressive Wales side that put the pressure on a young, tired, and inexperienced United States side. While still seeing a few quality chances, the United States conceded multiple corners and chances that led to disaster in the 82nd minute.
After a bad challenge by Walker Zimmerman, Welsh legend Gareth Bale was able to earn a penalty kick, cranking the tension to 11 as he lined up for the tying chance. Despite USMNT keeper Matt Turner getting a hand on the ball, Bale showed his experience by drilling his 41st goal in the Welsh uniform, scoring the tying goal that would lead to the eventual draw.
Tired legs were enough to take victory away from the USMNT, with both sides countering each other for one final chance deep into the Qatar night. Without any flashes of brilliance from Tim Weah, Tyler Adams, or Pulisic, the match ended 1-1 with a bitter taste left in American mouths.
On the positive end of things, the USMNT has the highest ceiling of any team that I’ve ever watched. They showed an impressive level of technical skill and commitment to Gregg Berhalter’s system of pressing high in the first half. The team dominated possession and the Welsh looked truly lost throughout the first 45. Christian Pulisic continued his rising star and Tim Weah proved to be the striker the US needed in the 36th minute to get on the board.
Negatively, these are kids and it showed in that second half. There was no possible way that Wales was going to lie down, especially after reaching the World Cup for the first time in half a century. Wales pressed and battered the US, forcing them into costly mistakes and keeping the pressure in the back third for most of the second half. What resulted was an amateur mistake by Zimmerman that led to Gareth Bale’s strike. The tale of two halves is to be expected with such a young and inexperienced team, regardless of talent. That doesn’t mean this tie didn’t hurt, but at least it was a learning experience.
Up Next: The English
What will happen next is anyone’s guess. Coming off a resounding 6-2 drubbing of Iran, England looks exactly like we’ve come to expect from them. Their quality cannot be denied and Berhalter has his hands tied keeping emotions in check after a tough finish to today’s match while preparing the youth movement of US soccer for the most difficult opponent they’ve ever faced.
Will the team galvanize around finally getting their feet wet at the World Cup, or will the pressure of only earning one point do them in against Europe’s finest? Time will tell, but if this game is any indication, then any pontificating over the next four days will lead nowhere. Best of luck, boys, we’re gonna need it.