National Writer: Charles Boehm

"It's disappointing": USMNT rue missed World Cup chance vs. Wales


AL-RAYYAN, Qatar – The result isn’t disastrous, the collective mood wasn’t entirely crushed and they still hold their World Cup destiny in their own hands. 

But the US men’s national team know what a precious opportunity they let slip through their fingers in Monday’s 1-1 draw with Wales at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium.

A dominant US first half – “came out confident, came out with a little bit of that swagger that we talked about,” said Nashville SC defender Walker Zimmerman – gave way to an ebb-and-flow affair after the break. A formation shift and the entry of 6-foot-5 striker Kieffer Moore provided a reference point up top by which the Welsh hauled themselves back into contention.

And when the young Yanks failed to build on their 1-0 lead, it left the door open for Gareth Bale to break another set of hearts with the latest dramatic moment in a glittering career full of them.

“Just disappointed that we didn't come away with more in the end,” said US defender Tim Ream. “We stopped having the control that we had in the first half, they obviously made a tactical change and went pressing with a front three instead of a front two. … In transition, we had our moments and the final pass in the final third just wasn't quite there.”

Asked whether this result reflected naivete on the part of this talented, but green USMNT squad, some players concurred, while others demurred.

“Definitely unhappy with a tie,” said goalscorer Tim Weah in the postgame mixed zone. “But in a World Cup, every game counts, every point counts. I think we take this point and we move on. We definitely have to focus on the next game, try to dominate both halves, come out with a different energy.

“I think experience did play a role in this game. I feel like, for a lot of us, it’s our first game. Definitely a learning experience.”

The weight and intensity of this stage are new to everyone on the team (25 of 26 players) except for Brazil 2014 veteran fullback DeAndre Yedlin, and it was evident as sloppiness crept in on both sides of the ball in the second half. Tyler Adams suggested there were both mental and physical factors at work in the USMNT’s struggles to fend off Wales and manage their way to a one-goal win.

“I think maybe a little bit of fatigue sets in and you lose a little bit of focus at certain moments in the game,” said the newly-named captain. “It's just about maximizing the focus throughout every single moment of the game and staying tuned into the details.”

For his part, left back Antonee “Jedi” Robinson was incensed about the assistant referee on his side of the pitch during the second half, who he said “blatantly” missed the ball going out of bounds off a Welsh player a few seconds before Bale was fouled by Zimmerman to earn the decisive penalty kick. Others felt they’d collectively failed to adapt to the match’s evolution and manage the game as they did at the start.

“We let them physically get into the game. We didn't let them do that in the first half,” said goalkeeper Matt Turner. “We were a little late on few second balls and that allowed their fans to get in, that allowed their players to get that emotional boost. And for a team that hasn't been through it before, I think for us it took a second. It was like we got punched and then we settled.

“It felt like it was just another one of those days where maybe we're not going to get the second goal, but we're going to see it out. And unfortunately, we give away the penalty and that's really disappointing.”

Ream pointed to missed opportunities to carve open Wales in transition and find the second goal that probably would’ve salted away the win and put wind in American sails ahead of Friday’s big holiday-weekend clash with England (2 pm ET | FOX, Telemundo), who lead Group B thanks to their 6-2 thumping of Iran earlier in the day.

“We had our opportunities with 5v4s and 4v3s. And we've just not quite done enough. It's not even about seeing the game out,” said the Fulham veteran, making his World Cup debut at age 35. “To limit them as much as we did and still come away with only a point is, listen, it's disappointing.”