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USMNT-Japan preview: USA in penultimate World Cup tune-up

USMNT Japan

With the World Cup drawing ever closer, US Soccer scheduled two friendlies for the USMNT. The pair of fixtures test the mettle of the team and see how the stack up before they ship out to Qatar in November.

The pair of friendlies are a refreshing change of pace. Opponents Japan and Saudi Arabia are relatively unfamiliar foes for the Stars and Stripes. On top of that, the games are at neutral sites in Europe, mirroring a neutral game at the World Cup against World-Cup-bound opposition.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the last two neutral site games in Europe were far and few between. The U.S. played the Italians in a game contested between two sides that failed to reach Russia 2018. Then, four years before that, London hosted the United States against Colombia. Pre-COVID, the last time the USMNT won a neutral site friendly in Europe was a 1-0 win in March of 2006 over Poland in Germany. Clearly, the United States is not overly familiar with neutral-site games in Europe.

With these two games serving as the final tune-up before the World Cup, fans are hoping for positive results that create momentum heading to Qatar.

Current USMNT squad

The roster for these two games called in by Gregg Berhalter is a mix of European based players and MLS based players. In goal, Zack Steffen is out with an injury so the trio of Matt Turner, Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson battle for a starting role.

The backline is again a mixed bag. Berhalter continues to omit John Brooks from the squad for reasons known only to himself. Even then, Berhalter assures that Brooks still has a place in the team. Without Brooks, the three most experienced US defenders are DeAndre Yedlin, Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long. All three play for MLS clubs, while the only player with extensive experience on the September squad playing in Europe is Sergiño Dest, with 17 caps.

The midfield features Weston McKennie and Leeds engine Tyler Adams. Plus, relatively inexperienced names like Johnny Cardoso and Malik Tillman earn a call up.

Up front is where things are most promising. Star man Christian Pulisic returns to get minutes with the squad. Plus, Brenden Aaronson looks to continue his hot start under American Jesse Marsch at Leeds. On top of that the team sees the return of both Josh Sargent and a healthy Gio Reyna.

USMNT takes on Japan from Düsseldorf

This pair of games represents a solid test for the US in World Cup preparation. The same goes for Japan in its World Cup groundwork.

The Samurai Blue are making their seventh-straight appearance at the World Cup. The side finished second in Group B in AFC World Cup Qualifying. Since the end of qualifying, Japan’s record stands at four wins, two losses and a draw.

At the World Cup, Japan is in a vaunted Group E. The opponents are Spain, Germany and CONCACAF’s own Costa Rica. The Japan side playing against the USMNT boasts experience in key games.

Eiji Kawashima is in goal with 95 caps to his name. Two of their defenders, Yuto Nagatomo and the captain Maya Yoshida, earned over 100 caps. The midfield doesn’t have any players with that many appearances but there is a bevvy of guys with more than 40. And most interestingly, the front line features three players who all ply their trade with Celtic in Scotland: Reo Hatate with one cap and zero goals, Kyogo Furuhashi with 15 caps and 3 goals, and finally Daizen Maeda with seven caps and one goal.

Game information
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The USMNT game against Japan kicks off on Friday, Sep. 23m from the Merkur Spiel-Arena at 8:15 a.m. ET. Düsseldorf is practically right in the halfway point between the US and Japan, so a fitting location on that front. Coverage of the game is available on ESPN2, UniMas and TUDN.

Japan and the USMNT only have two games between them. Both sides have a win, with the United States winning the most recent fixture, 3-2. However, that game was back in February 2006 at Oracle Park in San Francisco.

The following game for the United States is in Murcia, Spain, against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, Sep. 27. That game’s coverage is not the same as the one against Japan, with FS1 having the broadcast at 2 p.m. ET.

PHOTO: Imago / Icon Sportswire

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