The first game at a World Cup is so important, something I’ve experienced twice with the US men’s national team.
In 2002 we beat Portugal 3-2, setting up a quarterfinal run. Then in 2006 we lost 3-0 to the Czech Republic, setting up a group-stage exit.
Where will things go after the USMNT’s 2022 World Cup began with a 1-1 draw against Wales on Monday? A point to start their Qatar 2022 trip isn’t the worst thing, but this young squad should have won 2-0 and not allowed Gareth Bale’s group to stick around.
I still think the USMNT are going to reach the knockout stages, probably needing a win over Iran on the final matchday (Nov. 29) and hoping for a point against England on Black Friday. But it’s also clear this team, in this cycle, didn't have enough experiences against quality international teams to be fully ready for a World Cup. That's mainly because of the pandemic, so it's hard to toss blame, but it's also a fact we played a bunch of Concacaf games that were way too easy. You need those top-tier teams that really challenge you.
And the England game is shaping up as a real test, after they beat Iran 6-2 and sent goal differential/goals scored in their favor. The question is are we grown-ups and do we understand this is one where we're an underdog and we have to play smart, we have to play defensively, play a little bit differently than we talk about how we should play.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet, though. Here’s how I thought, person by person, the USMNT fared Monday against the Welsh. I’m using the following grading scale:
- 1-4: Below average or worse
- 5-6: Average
- 7-8: Good to very good
- 9-10: Excellent or outstanding
My former goalkeeper with the New England Revolution made a really strong save early in the second half, stepping up after mostly being a bystander. Turner had one hell of an effort on Gareth Bale’s PK, but that 82nd-minute shot was too strong to save – as good as he is from the spot.
Jedi could’ve been a little bit tighter on closing down crosses, but he defended fairly well. It’s clear how important the Fulham left back is to how the USMNT want to play; he’s eager to get forward and join the attack.
A few weeks ago, it seemed like Ream wasn’t even going to be on the USMNT’s World Cup roster. But the 35-year-old answered the call against Wales, passing well out of the back and going a good job organizing the defense. He’s your veteran leader out there, building off a key role at Fulham in the EPL.
I hate dinging his grade, but Walker’s foul on Bale cost the USMNT all three points. He had to do very little defending, then in an important moment of the game he goes to the ground and concedes a penalty. That hurts his team.
Getting an early yellow card definitely didn’t help Dest. He was okay on both ends, but could’ve been more of a presence in the attack. You expect him to be more threatening going forward.
I wanted to see more passing from Adams in pushing the US forward. He’s got the armband for a reason and is really strong defensively, but there’s room for him to impact the game more.
Weston’s early yellow card took away from the aggressiveness we’re used to seeing from him. He’s at his best when he’s running all over the field, but I rarely saw him in the attacking third. Still, a solid game for Weston as he comes back from injury.
I was surprised to learn Musah became the youngest player to start a World Cup match for the USMNT (19 years, 358 days), even younger than when we had Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley back in 2002. On the day, he picked it up in the second half and was overall pretty solid.
Pulisic’s influence really grew after the first period, and his through ball on Weah’s strike was great. I would’ve liked to see the USMNT’s main man get a shot on goal or find more ways to impact things.
The Norwich City striker was too quiet and could’ve gotten more touches. Sargent’s grade is on the low end of being “average,” but it’s not fully on him that we didn't play forward quickly enough.
Weah scored a goal in the World Cup. How can’t you give him a good rating? I wanted to see him get after Wales’ left back Neco Williams even more, but he stepped up. Give him full credit.
What I'd be critical of is we could've made changes a little earlier in the game. I would've brought in two attacking players between the 60th minute to 65th minute.
But at the end of the game, I don't know how you blame a manager for an error in judgment that Walker makes. That's tough to do.
Aaronson showed his usual aggressiveness, trying to get out on the break a few times. I wanted to see him subbed on earlier; those quick balls up to the forwards are threatening.
Wright probably could’ve come into the game earlier too after Sargent was pretty ineffective. He had some bright moments, but didn’t have enough time.
Yedlin came in and did his job, the sole USMNT player with past World Cup experience.
Morris didn’t play enough to get a rating. I would’ve brought on Gio Reyna instead, but it sounds like he might not have been 100% fit – or at least Gregg's being careful with his injury history.