Tyler Adams USMNT

Friday’s passive performance against Japan raised alarm bells for the US men’s national team, and with two days of hindsight to process the ugly 2-0 friendly loss in Düsseldorf, Germany, head coach Gregg Berhalter was blunt about the need for improvement vs. Saudi Arabia on Tuesday (2 pm ET | FS1, TUDN, UniMas).

“We got our butts kicked and we’re not proud of it. We think we should play much better, we could’ve played much better, and we didn’t. So we want to play better this game,” Berhalter said in the USMNT’s matchday-1 press conference from Murcia, Spain on Monday afternoon. “I think it starts with the collective, us playing together, more cohesive, and if we do that, we'll be fine.”

Tuesday marks the squad’s final match before the 2022 World Cup roster is announced on Nov. 9 and the group travels to Qatar a few days later ahead of their Group B opener vs. Wales on Nov. 21. So this was always going to be a key moment, and laying an egg vs. Japan – particularly in terms of the work rate and intensity that has for decades been the USMNT’s foundation – has ratcheted up the stakes even further.

“We were just, it was – we were off. We were off in that game,” Berhalter told a group of onsite reporters in a media roundtable earlier in the day on Monday. “I'm really glad the game happened when it did. I think it was poor coaching, poor execution, poor training beforehand, a lot of everything. It’s just one of those games, and we were very bad.”

Berhalter took the blame for that, albeit in a way that implicitly shared responsibility between the players and staff. The ex-Columbus Crew boss explained that he and his coaching staff expected their players to have a higher baseline of tactical understanding when they arrived in Köln for this camp, their first gathering since June, and thus led them to focus their sessions on finer points rather than overarching concepts.

“If you're doing one thing with your club for a long time – we haven't been with them for three and a half months. And they couldn't switch gears,” he said. “We thought it was going to be easier to switch gears than it turned out to be.

“We were misguided,” he added. “We should have been training [idea] B and we were training [idea] A. And then the guys weren't prepared to play. And then when you're not prepared and you’re a high-pressing team and you’re meters late, then the next guy is late, then the next guy, and it turns into a snowball where you expend a lot of energy for no reason. And then you make six subs in the game and introduce another element, and we never caught it.”

Setting up pressing traps as the US built out from the back, Japan efficiently exploited their mistakes and the Yanks struggled to find solutions in real-time, at times looking collectively lost in addition to their physical lethargy.

“It's just decision-making,” said Berhalter. “Identifying who the free man is and identifying where the pressure is coming from, and then exploiting that. And that's something we didn't do a great job of. So we worked on it, we've talked about it, we'll analyze it and show some video tonight. But again, I think we can do a better job of that.

“And one thing that I don't want us to lose sight of is that it is a young group, and at this moment, in the last camp before the World Cup, there's stress involved, and there's outside factors that affect performance. I think we should at least acknowledge that and say that the guys were tense in this game.”

Veteran fullback DeAndre Yedlin, the only member of the current group with World Cup experience thanks to his breakout showing at Brazil 2014, acknowledged as much. He, along with many others on this month’s roster, needs a solid showing to give himself the best chance of making the final cut.

“Naturally guys are going to be nervous,” said the Seattle Sounders product. “Naturally guys are going to know what's at stake. But at the end of the day, it's making sure everybody realizes that this is a team, you know what I mean? When the team performs well, everybody does well.

“We all love each other here,” added the Inter Miami CF defender. “And we're all trying to obviously make this team, so yeah, it's down to crunch time now. Obviously guys can have anxiety or whatever about making the squad, but we just need to do what’s best for the team.”

Referring to the promotional and content duties that are commonplace at this point in the run-up to a major tournament, Berhalter vowed to showcase improvement vs. the Saudis, who actually finished above Japan in their AFC qualifying group.

“What I would say is, we have a young team. There's a lot of distractions in this camp, and it's just something we need to be able to deal with: A lot of commitments outside of the soccer field the guys are doing and asked to do, and a lot of content that we're capturing; spent a lot of time with you guys [the media],” he said during the roundtable.

“And perhaps it's taken away from the main thing, which is soccer. But that is what it is. And that's stuff out of the way and now we’re moving forward. And again, when we're in Qatar, we have one focus, one goal, to perform well at the World Cup. I think tomorrow, you will see a different intensity than we saw on Friday.”