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USMNT blow opportunity for ideal World Cup start

The United States men’s national team was 10 minutes away from an ideal start at the 2022 World Cup until a crucial defensive mistake cost them dearly. Instead of going into Friday’s much-hyped match with England on three points and sitting pretty for a spot in the Round of 16, they were forced to settle for one point with a path to the knockouts that looks quite a bit trickier.

To the degree the USA’s depth has been tested, it’s been at centerback where their top two choices are out with injury. But through 80 minutes, the back line was looking strong and the midfield had done a masterful job of shielding them. Wales had been mostly toothless in possession and their only real chances came off set-pieces.

Unfortunately, one mental lapse by Walker Zimmerman, who by all accounts was the most reliable American centerback still available for selection, wiped away all their hard work. A rash and unnecessary challenge on Gareth Bale inside the penalty area, followed by the converted spot kick and the USA’s 1-0 advantage had evaporated.

The frustrating part of the result is the USMNT played a very solid game and were probably the side more deserving of three points. Gregg Berhalter’s team dominated the first half with Wales offering very little in the way of attack. If the U.S. could’ve managed more than one goal it would have made things a lot easier on themselves. The goal they got was a perfectly executed counter with Christian Pulisic feeding Tim Weah for a first-time finish.

They had several chances to build on the 1-0 lead but were unable to add on. The lack of preciseness and creativity in the final third ended up costing them big time. While Zimmerman’s mistake will be put under the spotlight as a big reason for the dropped points, blame must be cast onto the attack for not being more clinical.

To amplify the opportunity missed, the look ahead to England has to be a worrisome one. The U.S. spent more than 100 minutes (including stoppage time) running themselves ragged against Wales and possibly picking up some slight injuries in the process. Meanwhile, their next opponents strolled through their first game against Iran with a 6-2 win. England will be fresh, in-form, and eager to clinch an early spot in the knockout round with three points.

Had the U.S. been able to see out the win, they would’ve had some breathing room when it came to their upcoming match against the group favorites. Their margin for error is now all but gone. Getting at least a draw may be a necessity if they hope to advance to the knockout rounds. A win against Wales would have allowed for a defeat against England, knowing that three points against Iran would still be enough to secure advancement. A loss to England still wouldn’t eliminate the USA, but it would raise the nervy prospect of needing to rely on goal-difference to get out of the group.

There is cause for optimism from the tie, as the USA showed they have the talent to hang with England. There’s also a degree of familiarity, as several of the USA’s top players play against the English stars on a regular basis in the Premier League. The focus now must be to eliminate the defensive mistakes and make the most of the chances going forward. If they can do that, there is still plenty of hope for an extended run in this World Cup. What they cannot afford is another glaring mistake that costs them when it matters most.

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