When Bruce Arena took over for Jurgen Klinsmann in the middle of a troubled World Cup qualifying campaign in 2016, he talked about restoring the fight in the United States men’s national team and the spirit of giving their all for their country. Ironically, those qualities went missing on the night of the infamous failure in Couva in October 2017, when the Americans inexplicably lost 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
There’s no question who will provide the fire for the 2022 World Cup edition of the USMNT. Tyler Adams will lead the Americans as their captain, and he will lead with his heart and hustle until the referee blows the final whistle.
Adams was literally everywhere in the USA’s 1-1 draw with Wales in the team's World Cup opener Monday. The 23-year-old midfielder completed a team-high 69 passes, including 4-of-5 long balls, and put out numerous fires in defense with four tackles and two interceptions. His performance earned him Man of the Match honors.
“We played with a bunch of confidence today, and for a large part of the game, we dominated the game,” Adams said. “So for a lot of us, being our first World Cup, you can see an ambitious group, a fearless group, and we came after it.”
Adams’ indefatigable performance wasn’t new. It was just one significant sign of how the U.S. will approach the tournament with remaining group-stage matches against England on Friday and Iran next Tuesday.
Here are other key findings from Monday’s match.
World Cup: USA misses opportunity in 1-1 draw with Wales
Gio Reyna’s playing time will depend on the situation.
U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter had one substitution left to affect a 1-1 game. He could’ve called on Reyna, the talented Borussia Dortmund winger, to chase the winning goal, or he could’ve put in Jordan Morris, the Seattle Sounders veteran who has the speed to be an attacking threat and the defensive grit to close out games. Berhalter took the safer route, opting for Morris.
The head coach said his decision to not play Reyna, a true offensive difference-maker who’s been plagued by injuries, was due to “some tightness” that Reyna felt in his legs during training. Reyna told reporters that he felt great and was “ready to go,” but he understood Berhalter’s decision.
A dynamic attacking talent like Reyna would seem to be an obvious option off the bench. Still, it seems Berhalter is taking a measured approach with the 20-year-old to keep him healthy and deploy him in special situations. Monday wasn’t one of those scenarios, and the exclusion was telling.
Friday’s showdown with mighty England could be another game in which certain conditions must be met in order for Reyna to take the field. Perhaps next week’s group stage finale against Iran — if the Americans need a victory and several goals to improve their goal differential — will be when Reyna is turned loose. Until then, one of the USMNT’s best attackers remains surprisingly idle.
Goalkeeping will be an adventure in this tournament.
Not having a bona fide No. 1 keeper is a new World Cup experience for a USMNT program that has enjoyed the luxury of past keeper legends Kasey Keller and Tim Howard. Matt Turner looked the part with performances that sparked his rapid rise and sudden move from the New England Revolution in MLS to Arsenal in the Premier League, and on Monday against Wales, he made a clutch reaction save on Ben Davies’ free header to protect the U.S.’s 1-0 lead.
However, a risky decision by Turner could’ve been disastrous.
With just seconds remaining in the game, Turner wandered well out of the penalty area to clear a long ball, but he nearly got caught out of his goal when his header bounced straight to Gareth Bale. Luckily for Turner, Kellyn Acosta fouled Bale before he could unleash a shot toward the wide-open net. Acosta’s heads-up thinking was well worth the yellow card.
But that’s the type of error that comes from inexperience. And it likely won’t be the last goalkeeping mistake because every game will be a learning experience for a USMNT squad with an average age of 25. That’s especially the case for whoever’s wearing the goalie gloves.
Tim Ream is the sage, savvy center back the U.S. desperately needed.
Berhalter’s commitment to youth ended the national team careers of longtime fixtures such as Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. Center back John Brooks figured to be one of the holdovers, but his severe dip in form and uncertain club situation made it easy for Berhalter to keep the 2014 World Cup starter out of his plans.
Miles Robinson’s Achilles injury and Aaron Long’s unconvincing auditions to be Walker Zimmerman’s partner in central defense left an opening for a veteran’s return. That wise, old defender ended up being Ream, who, despite his excellent play for Fulham in the Premier League, was not expected to be included in the U.S.’s 26-man World Cup roster. Still, the 35-year-old’s role, along with veteran right back DeAndre Yedlin, figured to be along the lines of locker-room, glue-guy moral support for the youngsters.
But another surprise came Monday with Ream’s inclusion in the USA starting 11. He played his first U.S. game since September 2021 and acquitted himself well, especially with a strong first half in which the Americans kept the Wales attack quiet, namely the always dangerous Bale. Ream played the entire match, recording two tackles, three clearances and two interceptions in a refreshingly calm performance next to Zimmerman.
Will Berhalter trust Ream against England’s forwards on Friday? You’d think he would. No one in the USA squad knows the moves of Harry Kane better than the Fulham captain.