Monday, December 5, 2022

USA 1-1 Wales: Talking points as Bale helps Wales fend off strong American offensive

Veselin Trajkovic in Editorial, World Cup 22 Nov 2022

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The USA and Wales shared the spoils in their opening match of the World Cup Group B. Young Timothy Weah, the son of the legendary George Weah, broke the deadlock for his team in the 36th minute to crown a dominating display from the Americans, but it was Wales icon Gareth Bale who won a penalty and converted it to set the score level in the 82nd.

The game

The USA were set up in a rather attacking version of 4-3-3, with Matt Turner in goal, Walker Zimmermann and Tim Ream in the heart of defence flanked by Sergino Dest and Antonee Robinson. Adam Tyler anchored the midfield with Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah in the mix, and upfront, Josh Sargent started centrally with Christian Pulisic and Weah in support.

Meanwhile, Rob Page selected a very defensive 5-3-2 shape, with Bale and Dan James leading the line upfront, obviously aiming to strike through the pace of the two wingers with no recognized striker on the pitch. In the middle,  Ethan Ampadu was joined by Harry Wilson and Aaron Ramsey. The wall in front of Wayne Hennessey’s goal was formed by Joe Rodon, Chris Mepham and Ben Davies as the three centre-backs, with Neco Williams and Connor Roberts on the flanks.

The fact that the Americans failed to take all the points from this clash seems a bit harsh of Gregg Berhalter and his men. They entered the contest strongly and dominated from the start, forcing the Welsh to spend large chunks of the first half defending for their lives. It could be that Page had instructed Williams and Roberts to push higher and occasionally help form the 3-5-2 shape, but if so, they were completely pinned back by Dest and Weah on one side and Robinson and Pulisic on the other. The Chelsea star did, however, frequently went inwards to create in the manner of a No. 10, and that tendency of his brought the opening goal.

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It was none other than Pulisic who threaded a fantastic pass through the Welsh lines, and there was nothing Hennessey could do about Weah’s deft finish from around 12 yards. It was a lead well deserved by the USA. By the end of the first half, the match seemed completely beyond any ability of Wales to come back into it. The score, however, remained just 1-0.

But at the break, Page decided to leave James in the dressing room and to give his place on the pitch to Kieffer Moore, a classic striker, and Ramsey was the man who played closer to the opposition goal than in the first half. The change brought a very different third quarter, with Wales now getting in sight of Turner’s goal far more frequently.

With around 15 minutes to go, Berhalter reacted by sending on Haji Wright for Sargent, DeAndre Yedlin for Dest, and Kellyn Acosta for Musah. And just as it seemed his changes would work too and the game be brought back under American control, Wales suddenly broke forward and Zimmermann tackled Bale from behind, undoubtedly taking the former Real Madrid star out inside the box. Bale was cool from the spot and the American advantage vanished in the puff of smoke, leaving their numerous supporters understandably disappointed.

Gareth Bale

Bale’s Real career was loaded with turmoil. The Wales captain joined Los Blancos from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013 for €100m, a world-record fee at the time. He went on to score a total of 106 goals and produce 67 assists in 258 appearances in all competitions. Some of those goals were not only spectacular, but also vital ones in big finals. Bale’s quality helped Real Madrid win five Champions League trophies, and his first goal in the 2018 final in Kyiv (Real’s second) against Liverpool will live on as one of the greatest ever.

Nonetheless, frequent injuries and occasional dips in form left a mark on his time in the Spanish capital, especially for the club supporters who were known to voice their displeasure with Bale in the Santiago Bernabeu. In the end, he left the club as a free agent this summer, signing for Los Angeles FC in the American MLS.

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But this game was another one in the long line of those that showed just what kind of player Bale is, and the mentality obviously developed at Real which enables the 33-year-old to take matters into his own hands and bail his team out with individual quality and perseverance. Wales may not have the overall quality to go all the way at the World Cup, but Bale is still a very formidable weapon in their ranks.

The American dream

Until relatively recently, the USA were considered outsiders in any World Cup group. The country which prefers sports like baseball, basketball, hockey, and of course, American football, and refers to this game as soccer, simply didn’t have that much infrastructure and organization in place and their talented players, who were able to make notable careers in Europe, were few and far between.

Now, however, the USA have obviously started taking the game seriously. Investments are being made, the MLS has become an attractive league, both for spectators and players from other countries, and American players are making their names heard while wearing the shirts of some of the greatest clubs on the planet.

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As for this team, led by Berhalter in Qatar, it is a very young group. Dest is 22, one of his backups on the right defensive flank, Joe Scally, is 19, Adams wears the captain’s armband at only 23, McKennie is 24, Weah is 22, Leeds winger Brenden Aaronson is 22, Pulisic is still only 24, Sargent is 22, and his fellow strikers Wright and Jesus Ferreira are 24 and 21, respectively. This is already a good team, but there is a strong feeling that the world will get to see their full potential at the tournament in 2026, which they host jointly with Canada and Mexico.

Looking ahead

With their direct clash now filed as done, the attention of these two teams turns to England and Iran, whose match ended 6-2 for the English. The next round will see the USA face the Three Lions on November 25, while Wales face Iran on the same day. Four days later, it’s USA vs Iran and Wales vs England.

Given what we’ve seen in the opening round of the group, England have justified their status as the favourites to finish top, though nothing has been decided yet. The USA seem the likeliest team to give them a race, and eventually join them in the round of 16. It can be considered a success for Wales and Iran to have qualified for Qatar, and this appears to be as far as the train goes for them.


Veselin Trajkovic

Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.



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