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USMNT vs. Japan: Top Storylines and Predictions for 2022 Friendly

Joe TanseySeptember 22, 2022

AP Photo/Moises Castillo

The United States men's national team has just under two months until its first game at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Manager Gregg Berhalter still has a handful of vital decisions to make when it comes to his roster for the finals in Qatar, which start on Nov. 20.

Most importantly, he needs to find a striker he trusts to find the back of the net.

Berhalter will use Friday's friendly against Japan to further evaluate Josh Sargent, Jesus Ferreira and Ricardo Pepi. The first two come into the USMNT's European camp in good form, and Pepi has hit the ground running since joining FC Groningen on loan from FC Augsburg.

Most of the focus Friday will be centered on the play of the forwards, but other positions are still up for grabs as well.

Berhalter must finalize who will start in goal and which depth players will join the squad in Qatar. He will use Friday's match against Japan and Tuesday's clash with Saudi Arabia to get answers to those questions.


USMNT vs. Japan Info

Date: Friday, September 23

Start Time: 8:25 a.m. ET

TV: ESPN2

Live Stream: ESPN.com and ESPN app


Top Storylines to Watch

Which Player Takes Hold of Starting Striker Spot?

Sargent, Ferreira and Pepi were the three strikers called into the September camp.

There was plenty of deliberation as to whether Jordan Pefok should be a part of that group as well. The 26-year-old is off to a great start at Union Berlin with three goals and three assists that have helped his team to the top of the Bundesliga.

Instead, Berhalter opted to go with three forwards who have been used in his system for most of the last two years.

Ferreira has scored 18 goals with FC Dallas in Major League Soccer and has five for the USMNT this year, though four of them came against Grenada in the CONCACAF Nations League.

Sargent has five international goals, but he has not found the back of the net at this level since 2019. The hope here is that his form at Norwich City turns into a strong camp.

The 22-year-old has scored six goals in 10 league games for the English Championship side.

Pepi made an ill-advised transfer from FC Dallas to Augsburg at the height of his hype nine months ago after scoring three goals in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

The 19-year-old failed to make an impact at Augsburg, but he did produce a goal and an assist for Groningen in the Netherlands following a loan move.

Ferreira and Sargent are in strong form and Pepi regained some confidence before the international break, but all three are imperfect options at the international level.

Berhalter seems committed to taking those three players to Qatar, so at least one of them needs to step up and turn in a solid showing against Japan to instill more belief in the forward group.


Berhalter Filling Out Roster Depth at Certain Positions

A case could be made that at least half of the USMNT World Cup roster is already set.

Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie are locks in midfield. Sergino Dest and Walker Zimmerman are going in defense. Matt Turner and Zack Steffen appear to be on the plane at goalkeeper.

Add in the three forwards called in for the September friendlies and a healthy Gio Reyna, and you don't have many more roster spots up for grabs in the coming weeks.

Friday's friendly against Japan should serve as a chance for fringe World Cup players to prove their case to Berhalter and his coaching staff before they lock in on a 23-man squad.

There are opportunities at center back with Miles Robinson still out because of a long-term injury, John Brooks not in the picture and Cameron Carter-Vickers not in this camp.

Mark McKenzie, Aaron Long and Erik Palmer-Brown are the candidates to start next to Zimmerman. Whichever one of those players earns the nod could put himself ahead of others for a ticket to Qatar.

Berhalter should also have a close focus on the midfielders. Luca de la Torre, Johnny Cardoso and Malik Tillman are among those fighting for roster spots.

The USMNT manager has to balance the chemistry of his first-choice team and the selection of fringe players for Friday's match. We could see Adams, McKennie, Pulisic and Aaronson on the field for 60 minutes or so before the reserves get their chance to shine.

The match in Dusseldorf, Germany, should be a good test for the USMNT players, no matter what their status is for Qatar.

Japan is preparing for its seventh consecutive World Cup. The Samurai Blue reached the round of 16 in two of the last three World Cups.


Prediction

USMNT 1, Japan 1

The USMNT will get a good test out of Japan after spending most of the year taking on CONCACAF opposition in various competitions.

The Americans beat Morocco by three goals and played to a scoreless draw against Uruguay in two friendlies in June that were outside of the CONCACAF tournament window.

Ferreira, Sargent and Pepi need to stand out, but their recent international track record suggests goals may be hard to come by.

The best chances could come from Pulisic, Aaronson and McKennie. The former could use a confidence-building performance after being on the bench so much at Chelsea early in the English Premier League season.

Japan should create some chances against an American back line that has been susceptible to mistakes this year.

The final score may not matter to Berhalter as long as he can get the proper evaluations on some players with question marks ahead of the World Cup.

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