Japan’s late goal provided a final margin more indicative of the gap between the two teams.
“We have work to do,” Berhalter said. “Over 90 minutes, it could have been better.”
Several absences, including star striker Christian Pulisic, were factored in at the show, but there was no excuse for detachment and general inferiority against an opponent heading into the World Cup but not among the world’s elite.
Questions resurfaced over the central defense and Berhalter’s choice of attackers for this last encounter before the storm approached.
“The men didn’t look like newborns, and from the material output we only looked back,” Berhalter said.
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Pulisic was injured during a week of training in nearby Cologne, a setback that was only revealed 75 minutes before kick-off. Had this been a World Cup match, Pulisic would most likely have been in uniform. As a precaution, the US Soccer Federation said, he was detained.
If he is in good health, Pulisic is expected to play Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in Murcia, Spain – the final test for the United States before the roster is finished in early November and the team arrives in Qatar ahead of the November 21 opening game against Wales.
Pulisic was the only late scratch, but seven other patients vying for a place on the World Cup roster were out of the competition before camp started: goalkeeper Zach Stephen, left back Anthony Robinson, centre-back Chris Richards and Cameron Carter Vickers, midfielder Younes. Moses, Christian Roldan and striker Tim Weah.
Robinson and Moses are full-time freshmen, while Stephen, Richards, and Weah are starting to compete.
The absence period opened the starting positions for left back Sam Vines and midfielder Luca de la Torre.
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Other line-up options were largely expected: Matt Turner in goal, captain Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long in central defence. Sergino Dest at right-back; Tyler Adams and Weston McKinney fill the midfield; Gio Reina, Jesus Ferreira and Brendan Aronson topped the front line with an average age of 20.3. (The presence of Pulisic would have brought the number to only 22.)
On his thirteenth appearance in the United States, 19-year-old Reina wore the number 21 – the number his father had played for most of his career with the national team. The heavily injured son started his first game since the opening match of the World Cup qualifiers last September.
Japan – ranked 24 and preparing for the World Cup for the seventh time in a row – featured a 30-man roster of 22 players from European clubs, including seven in Germany. This place was the home of striker Ao Tanaka (Second League Fortuna Dusseldorf).
A heavy European presence was the impetus for Japan to host two friendlies in this FIFA match window – the Samurai Blue will also play Ecuador here on Tuesday – and Dusseldorf was the venue choice due to the large Japanese community in the region. However, the announced crowd was only 5149 in the 54,000-capacity stadium.
“A bump in the road has to come eventually. . . . sometimes you need to get knocked down and humbled a little again,” Adams said.
Americans were under pressure early on, in part for their work. (Long was the obvious culprit.) In the seventh minute, though, they generated their first high-quality chance. Dest crossed over to Ferreira, but from a prime position in the six-yard area, the FC Dallas forward sent a high header.
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Defensive weaknesses continued to plague the United States, forcing Turner to save Zimmerman with a reflex that fended off Daichi Kamada’s low threat in the 13th minute.
After 12 minutes, Japan captured the US’s squalor, culminating in Kamada’s angular shot past Turner.
The sequence began with McKennie making a nasty touch in the center circle. Japan has pounced on the slow-acting Americans. Pushed forward, Deist was far from his position when Japan responded. With acres of space, Kamada roamed the penalty area, received a Hidemasa Morita pass and drove 12 yards with one timer into the far corner.
Initially, the goal was canceled with an offside flag, but a video replay returned the goal to the Eintracht Frankfurt striker.
“They kind of knew what to expect, and it was like they were thinking of a few things before us,” Turner said. “And I think it took us a long time to adapt to the game.”
With more unforced errors, the inability to solve the problem of the Japanese press and the attack in static mode, the Americans didn’t get anything done until a bit of optimism emerged late in the first half.
Berhalter made four of the six changes available to him in the first half. Dest, Long, Reyna and Ferreira have been completed. Entered right-back Reggie Cannon, central defender Mark McKenzie, winger Jordan Morris and striker Josh Sargent. (Due to the nature of the match, some moves are pre-arranged.)
The Americans were better made but still meek. Turner kept them in the game with another great save in the 66th minute. Berhalter’s last divers came a minute later, as Malik Tillman and Johnny Cardoso came in for McKinney and de la Torre.
Japan pressed hard on the second goal, but Turner rejected it. Aaronson got a promising look from above the penalty area in the 81st minute but missed a top corner kick.
Kaoru Mituma added a goal in the 88th minute, putting a low shot out of Turner’s reach and into the far corner.
“We’re all disappointed with ourselves, because he could have been more competitive,” Turner said.