USMNT vs. Japan: Key Scenarios and Predictions for 2022 Friendly | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats & Rumors

AP Photo/Moses Castillo

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

Manager Gregg Berhalter still has a handful of vital decisions to make regarding his roster for the final in Qatar, which kicks off on November 20.

More 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 assess Josh Sargent, Jesus Ferreira and Ricardo Pepi. The first two enter the USMNT European camp in good shape, and Pepi has been on track since joining FC Groningen on loan from FC Augsburg.

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

Berhalter needs to finalize who will start in goal and which deep players will join the squad in Qatar. He will use Friday’s game against Japan and Tuesday’s game against Saudi Arabia to get those questions answered.


USMNT vs. Japan Info

Date: friday september 23

Start time: 8:25 a.m. ET

TV: ESPN2

Direct: ESPN.com and the ESPN app


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Which player takes the starting striker position?

Sargent, Ferreira and Pepi were the three forwards called up from the September camp.

There has been a lot of deliberation over whether Jordan Pefok should be part of this group as well. The 26-year-old got off to a great start at Union Berlin with three goals and three assists which helped his team rise to the top of the Bundesliga.

Instead, Berhalter opted to go with three forwards that have been used in his system for the better part of the past two years.

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

Sargent has five international goals but hasn’t 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 side.

The 22-year-old has scored six goals in 10 league appearances 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 qualifiers.

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

Ferreira and Sargent are in fine form and Pepi has regained some confidence ahead of the international break, but all three are flawed options at international level.

Berhalter seems determined to bring these three players to Qatar, so at least one of them needs to step up and put in a solid performance against Japan to inspire more confidence in the attacking group.


Berhalter fills roster depth in some positions

It could be argued that at least half of the USMNT World Cup roster is already set.

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

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

Friday’s friendly against Japan should be a chance for the fringe World Cup players to prove their case to Berhalter and his coaching staff before locking themselves into a 23-man squad.

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

Mark McKenzie, Aaron Long and Erik Palmer-Brown are the candidates to start next to Zimmerman. Whichever one of these players wins the green light, they could put themselves ahead of the others for a ticket to Qatar.

Berhalter is also expected to focus on midfielders. Luca de la Torre, Johnny Cardoso and Malik Tillman are among those battling for spots on the roster.

The USMNT manager must balance his first-choice squad chemistry with the selection of fringe players for Friday’s game. We got to see Adams, McKennie, Pulisic and Aaronson on the pitch for around 60 minutes before the reserves got their chance to shine.

The match in Dusseldorf, Germany should be a good test for USMNT players regardless of their Qatar status.

Japan are preparing for their seventh consecutive World Cup. The Samurai Blue have reached the round of 16 at 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 facing CONCACAF opposition in various competitions.

The Americans beat Morocco by three goals and drew Uruguay in two friendlies in June outside the CONCACAF tournament window.

Ferreira, Sargent and Pepi need to come out on top, but their recent international 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-boosting performance after being so benched at Chelsea at the start of the English Premier League season.

Japan should create chances against an American back line that has been error-prone this year.

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

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