Less than 2 months before the 2022 World Cup gets underway, the US Men’s National team will take the field against fellow participants Japan in Düsseldorf on Friday, for the first of their two final tune-up games.
For their short warm-up tour, US Soccer opted to schedule a pair of Asian opponents on European soil, perhaps with an eye towards their Nov. 25 face-off against the top-qualifying AFC team Iran.
The first opponent will be Japan, who finished second in their group in Asian qualification, and is a regular participant in both the World Cup, having qualified for every tournament since their first-ever appearance in 1998.
Gregg Berhalter selected a relatively conservative 26-man roster for these final two games, although a growing list of injured players is beginning to give the coach and his staff selection headaches.
While it’s never ideal to have likely or possible starters such as Yunus Musah, Zack Steffen, Antonee Robinson, Tim Weah and Chris Richards scratched from the last two chances to warm up before the final tournament, this has forced Berhalter to take a final look at some players who otherwise might have missed the cut.
Namely, late additions Mark McKenzie, Erik Palmer-Brown and Johnny Cardoso, as well as a number of borderline players on the initial 26 will have one final chance to make their case to be on the plane to Qatar in November.
With all of the injuries, late additions, and returnees (such as Josh Sargent and Sam Vines), predicting Berhalter’s starting XI for the Friday, 2:26pm German-time kickoff would be an exercise in futility. However, several names do stand out as more likely candidates to get the lion’s share of time at their respective positions.
Considering recent form, fans will be eager to see the Leeds United dynamic duo of Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams both on the field from the get-go, and will more than likely be granted their wish.
Jesús Ferreira, who simply can’t stop scoring for FC Dallas, should also see significant time against Japan on Friday and Saudi Arabia four days later. With Christian Pulisic a near-certain starter on the wing regardless of his lack of playing time and lackluster form for Chelsea as of late, this could set up a dynamic front-three of the Dallas man flanked by Aaronson and Pulisic.
Minus the injured Musah, two-thirds of the so-called MMA midfield will be available, however the third starter alongside Adams and Weston McKennie will be a step down from the recently in-form Valencia player. LAFC rock Kellyn Acosta would give the midfield a more defensive spin, while Malik Tillman could provide an intriguing attacking flare, should he line up centrally behind the front three.
Luca de la Torre is also in contention, however has yet to demonstrate how he really stands out amongst the quality group available for selection.
The center-back pairing is also a position of significant injury-induced flux in recent months, however Berhalter’s two recent favorites – Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long – are both available and should get at least one start together in the upcoming games.
The outside back positions are up for grabs over the upcoming two games, with Robinson out injured and Sergiño Dest having missed the entire summer fun due to injury. The on-loan AC Milan player should still have the leg-up on a starting role on the right, however the left could feasibly go to either Vines or Joe Scally, both of which will be vying to prove their worth as the first backup to the Fulham man in November.
In regards to the keeper position, the less thought given, the better, as the Arsenal benchwarmer Matt Turner, oft-unlucky Ethan Horvath or the adequately-above-average Sean Johnson will all give fans a reason to sweat.
While most American fans would be hard-pressed to name even a single player on Hajime Moriyasu’s Japanese squad without the help of Wikipedia (guilty as charged), they are staffed by a heavy contingent of European-based players – 22 of 30 called up – on a collection of top teams that is only a short step down from the resumes of the US squad.
They are captained by longtime Southampton Maya Yoshida, who is now forced to begin a new incarceration at Schalke 04 this season, after having certainly committed some grave offense against a spiteful god that clearly has no limits in their inhumane cruelty in dishing out punishments.
They are littered with players from the likes of Arsenal, Monaco, Sporting, Eintracht Frankfurt and Celtic, and only finished a single point behind the USA’s next opponent Saudi Arabia in AFC qualifying.
Their opponents in Group E in Qatar will be Spain, Germany and Costa Rica.
The game kicks off at a very precise 8:26am ET (2:26pm local time) in Düsseldorf’s Merkur Spiel-Arena, home of 2. Bundesliga club Fortuna Düsseldorf.