MURCIA, Spain -- The United States men's national team played its final warmup match for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and while the performance was an improvement over last Friday's 2-0 defeat to Japan, a 0-0 draw against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday wasn't exactly what the Americans were hoping for either.
The U.S. had the majority of possession in the match, but clear chances were at a premium for both sides. That said, goalkeeper Matt Turner still had to be sharp, delivering several impressive saves.
1. U.S. disappoints in draw with Saudis
As World Cup tune-ups go, this was an odd one. The match itself was sparsely attended, with no more than 1,000 fans in the stands. It made for a surreal atmosphere, as individual fans could be heard hurling invective, even at U.S. players. Sergino Dest was a particular target. He was approached on the field by a fan midway through the first half during a break in play, and the interloper had to be wrestled to the sideline.
Meanwhile, the injury bug appeared to bite U.S. attacker Giovanni Reyna once again. He was subbed out in the 30th minute for Paul Arriola and headed straight down the tunnel, with manager Gregg Berhalter trailing behind. A U.S. Soccer spokesperson said the sub wasn't planned, and later added that Reyna took himself out due to muscle tightness.
Given that everyone connected with the U.S. team was fearing the worst given the injury problems Reyna has endured in the past year, that counts as semi-good news. But it will be something to keep an eye on.
The U.S. did play with more intensity, and looked better defensively, but the match lacked the kind of energy that one would normally expect from a World Cup send-off match, and a 0-0 scoreline seemed appropriate. Overall, the result concluded a window that was disappointing for the U.S. and doesn't create much optimism for Qatar.
2. Sharpness still lacking
The U.S. got a boost with the return of Christian Pulisic to the attack, and Ricardo Pepi started as well. With Kellyn Acosta coming in for Luca de la Torre in midfield, the U.S. looked better than they did against Japan. That is a low bar to clear, however, and while the U.S. enjoyed a sizable edge in possession for most of the night, it never quite clicked in the attacking third.
It wasn't for lack of trying. Center-back Walker Zimmerman in particular found outside-backs Dest and DeAndre Yedlin with regularity in what seemed to be plenty of space, but it never translated into clear looks at goal. It left Pepi largely hunting for scraps and that never really materialized, finishing the evening with just 13 touches.
As for Pulisic, there were moments of play in which he created danger and looked ready to shake loose on the wing, but like his teammates, the final killer pass wasn't there. It was the kind of performance that left you wanting more.
The attack seemed to perk up when a quartet of substitutions entered the match. Jesus Ferreira had a glorious chance to put the U.S. up a goal but fired straight at Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Rubaie. The U.S. didn't create much more after that.
3. Preparing for the Zimmerman-Long partnership
After hinting that he might go with a different center-back pairing earlier in the window, Berhalter persisted with Zimmerman and Aaron Long to start the match. Compared to the debacle that was the Japan game, both players delivered improved performances and were sharper on the ball, too.
There were moments of danger, however, including one first-half scramble that stretched the U.S. defense to the limit. Turner did his prospects of starting in Qatar no harm either with another solid performance.
So is this the starting tandem for Qatar? It seems like the health and playing time of Chris Richards will go some ways toward determining that. Or at least it should. As it stands, though, this seems to be the pairing that Berhalter has hitched his fortunes to. Getting Richards on the field in place of Long would likely inspire more confidence, but the ensuing weeks will ultimately determine what decisions Berhalter makes.
Saudi Arabia: Mohammed Al-Rubaie 6, Saud Abdulhamid 4, Ali Hadi Albulayhi 6, Abdulelah Al-Amri 6, Sultan Al-Ghanam 5, Nasser Al-Dosari 5, Riyadh Sharahili 5, Ali Al-Hassan 5, Hattan Bahebri 6, Feras Al Brikan 6, Sami Al-Naji 5
United States: Matt Turner 7, Sergino Dest 4, Aaron Long 5, Walker Zimmerman 6, DeAndre Yedlin 6, Kellyn Acosta 5, Tyler Adams 7, Weston McKennie 6, Giovanni Reyna 5, Ricardo Pepi 5, Christian Pulisic 5
Best and worst performers
BEST: Tyler Adams, United States. This was a match in which there wasn't much in the way of standouts, but Adams delivered a much better performance for the U.S. and was a big reason for the Americans' possession edge. It helped that he had a steelier presence beside him in Acosta, and he was guilty of the occasional giveaway, but it was a performance to build on for the U.S. midfielder.
WORST: Sergino Dest, United States. Berhalter opted to deploy the AC Milan right-back at left-back, and it went about as poorly as his previous performances on that side did. Dest was shaky with his distribution and looked overmatched in the air. Antonee Robinson can't heal up soon enough.
Highlights and notable moments
This about sums it up.
The USMNT registered only two shots on target over 180 minutes.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) September 27, 2022
Next stop: World Cup 👀 pic.twitter.com/fpqnIPHkGr
After the match: What the players and managers said
Berhalter: "There were not many players who performed up to their normal level this camp."
When asked to elaborate on what became clear, Berhalter responded, "things"— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) September 27, 2022
No I am not joking https://t.co/ed0kVQzCNW
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- Saudi Arabia is the seventh opponent who's qualified for the World Cup that the U.S. has played in 2022. The USMNT has scored in just one of those seven games, going 1W-3L-3D.
- The Americans have failed to score in the first half in four of their past five matches, and have been held scoreless in their past three against opponents who've qualified for the World Cup.
- The U.S. failed to score from open play in eight of its twelve games in 2022. Of the 18 goals the team scored this year, ten were scored from open play (eight of which were scored against Grenada and Panama) and eight were from dead-ball situations.
Saudi Arabia: Al-Akhdhar are next in action on Oct. 26, when Albania travel to Abu Dhabi for a friendly.
United States: This was the Americans' final match before the World Cup in November. Berhalter's team will take on Wales in Group B on Nov. 21.