In what was a must-win game for the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) in their World Cup opener on Monday against Wales in Qatar — they tied.
Tim Weah’s first-half goal for the US was canceled out by a Gareth Bale penalty for a 1-1 draw at Al Rayyan Stadium just outside of Doha, which mounts an abundance of pressure on the young Americans.
“I think we lost a little bit of power but in the same sense, Wales stepped up their pressure,” USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter told FOX after the match. “We had some good counter-attacking opportunities… It was a hard-fought game. We left everything out there.”
As is life in the World Cup, just two games remain in the group stage, and needing a second-place finish to advance to the Round of 16, they will need at least one win against either high-powered England or Iran to make their passage all the easier. England rocked Iran 6-2 earlier on Monday to take an initial Group B lead.
And it was an incredible missed opportunity for the Stars and Stripes, who are a higher-ranked team than Wales.
A cagy first half saw the United States dominate possession, which was expected given Wales’ style of play. Lacking any legitimate firepower to keep up with the class of stronger opponents, they divulged most of their numbers behind the ball.
While the Americans bossed 58% of possession in the first half, they also had to deal with some of the frustrations that came with trying to break the Welsh down. In the first 13 minutes, Sergińo Dest and Weston McKennie picked up yellow cards.
It came just moments after the US nearly took the lead when a cheeky cross by Weah nearly caught Wales napping as it deflected off defender Joe Rodon and on goal. But goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey — who didn’t know much about it — managed to keep it out.
Second later, Josh Sargent — making his first start for USMNT since September of 2021 — saw a header glance off the near post from a difficult angle on the left side of the box.
USMNT’s well-deserved opener came in the 36th minute when, after winning three consecutive 50-50 balls, Christian Pulisic was on the break into the Welsh third. Meandering toward the middle of the field, roughly 15 yards from the edge of the box, he played a perfect through ball to a bounding Weah, who with his first touch inside the box finished low past Hennessey with the outside of his right foot.
“Once [Pulisic] gets the ball, I get on runs in behind,” Weah told FOX. “Christian provided a beautiful ball and it was up to me to finish it.”
A clinical finish for the winger, whose father George is the president of Liberia and won the Ballon d’Or with PSG and AC Milan in 1995; needless to say the soccer roots are there. But Tim did something his father never did: Play in and score in a World Cup.
He was also the first player to score against Wales in a World Cup since a 17-year-old legend Pele did so for Brazil in 1958.
As is customary with the top sides in the world, Wales made the proper adjustments at halftime to make things a bit more uncomfortable for the US. They began pressing more, asking far more questions of the American defense while forcing goalkeeper Matt Turner into action for the first time.
“We had a lot of energy, a lot of momentum. We had most of the possession,” Weah said. “In the second half, we dialed down and Wales turned it up a notch… in the end that’s what really hurt us.”
In fact, Wales dictated a majority of the play in the second half and should have equalized within the first 20 minutes of the final stanza. Turner made a leaping save to push a Ben Davies header over the bar in the 64th minute before Welsh striker Kieffer Moore beat everyone on the American defense, including Turner, on the ensuing corner but his header missed over the bar to let USMNT off the hook.
Zimmerman, however, put the US right back on it in the 81st minute when he went through the back of Bale in the box to reward Wales with a penalty and a way back into it. The Welsh legend stepped up and cannoned his chance into the right corner of the net — singing the hands of Turner on the way in. But the penalty had far too much pace to be stopped with just the fingertips.
“What I’d say is, Wales was very direct in the second half,” Berhalter said. “They have a big team and they made it very difficult. We managed the pressure pretty well.”
The Americans’ gargantuan clash against No. 5 ranked England, scheduled for Friday, becomes that much more important now as a loss could potentially put them outside of the top two of Group B.