AL RAYYAN, Qatar -- The United States men's national team was forced to settle for a 1-1 draw in their opening game of the World Cup against Group B opposition Wales.
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Tim Weah put the US in front, slotting home after collecting a deft pass from Christian Pulisic. But after struggling in the first half, Wales came back in the second, with Gareth Bale converting an 82nd-minute penalty to force each side to settle for a point.
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1. US can't close out Wales
The tactical layout of this match seemed pretty straightforward. The US would have most of the possession while Wales would be content to sit back and try to nail the Americans on the break. And for much of the first half, that was exactly how things played out, with the US enjoying a 66%-34% advantage in possession.
The only question was whether the US could take advantage of opportunities when they came. For a while, it looked like the answer would be no. Joe Rodon nearly gifted the US a goal when he headed Weah's hard cross right at keeper Wayne Hennessey, and Josh Sargent followed with a header that hit the outside of the post.
Wales then appeared to be settling into comfortable territory on defense, even as they generated next to nothing in attack. But a moment of brilliance in the 36th minute made for a US breakthrough. Sargent's layoff to Pulisic suddenly found the American in space for one of the few times all half, and his pass found Weah in the clear to slot past Hennessey.
It was a deserved tally for all of the work that the US did in the first half, but it was made to suffer in the second, as Wales made tactical changes (more on that later) and committed more numbers into attack.
The timely introduction of Brenden Aaronson for a tiring Weston McKennie gave the US some much-needed energy in midfield. The switch titled the field back in their direction for a spell, but it wasn't enough. A clumsy and unnecessary challenge by Walker Zimmerman on Gareth Bale -- given that Bale had his back to goal -- was correctly ruled a penalty, one that Bale converted with authority.
The 1-1 draw is a result that will stick in the US team's craw. They were minutes away from claiming all three points, and putting it in a position in which it could control its destiny in Group B. With England rocking Iran 6-2, the battle for second place now remains wide open, with a difficult game against the Three Lions up next. While the result is by no means fatal, it's not what the US was hoping for given how long it was ahead in this match.
2. Second-half adjustments spark Wales' revival
The Dragons had waited 64 long years since their last appearance in a World Cup, and in having a matchwinner in Bale in their side, they had the potential to pose a danger to just about any team. But the first half left one wondering just how they had made it this far. Wales looked absolutely toothless in attack, doing nothing to trouble the US defense.
Some of this was down to the Americans' suffocating midfield play through Tyler Adams as well as sharp and focused defending from Tim Ream. But Wales also did little to help itself with some wayward passes. Bale in particular was peripheral figure, touching the ball just 15 times in the first half.
The second-half introduction of striker Kieffer Moore gave Wales a bit more heft up front, and with Aaron Ramsey pushing further forward, the moves gave the US defense something different to think about. The changes had their intended effect, with Wales pinning the US back for long stretches during the second half. Ben Davies nearly equalized with a 65th-minute header that was tipped over the bar by US keeper Matt Turner. Moore's header from the ensuing corner went just over.
Just when it looked like the US might survive, Wales was handed a lifeline when Zimmerman's clumsy challenge on Bale was rightly whistled as a penalty. Bale slammed home the ensuing spot kick, giving Wales a priceless point, one that looked unlikely for much of the evening. Now Group B is wide open.
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3. Weah breaks new ground
For practically the entirety of his professional career, Weah has found himself trying to emerge from the considerable shadow cast by father and former Ballon d'Or winner George Weah. But the younger Weah has been forging his own path in recent years, winning league titles with Paris Saint-Germain, Celtic, and most recently, Lille.
On this day, Tim ventured into territory never seen by his famous dad. George never made it to a World Cup, although there was an agonizing near miss with Liberia in during the 2002 cycle. Now Tim has a World Cup goal to his name.
Making Tim's performance even more impressive is that he operates in a position that is the deepest on the US squad, with his pace, off-the-ball running and finishing keeping talented players like Aaronson and Gio Reyna on the bench. Given his contribution, there seems little doubt he'll keep his spot, although on another night he might have walked away with the game winner.
US: Matt Turner 6, Antonee Robinson 6, Tim Ream 7, Walker Zimmerman 4, Sergino Dest 5, Yunus Musah 5, Tyler Adams 6, Weston McKennie 5, Christian Pulisic 6, Josh Sargent 5, Tim Weah 7
Subs: Brenden Aaronson 6, DeAndre Yedlin 5, Kellyn Acosta 4, Haji Wright 5, Jordan Morris 5
Wales: Wayne Hennessey 6, Ben Davies 6, Joe Rodon 6, Chris Mepham 6, Neco Williams 4, Aaron Ramsey 5, Ethan Ampadu 5, Connor Roberts 5, Daniel James 4, Gareth Bale 5, Harry Wilson 5
Subs: Kieffer Moore 6, Brennan Johnson 5, Joe Morrell 5, Sorba Thomas 5
Best and worst performers
BEST: Tim Weah, United States. Weah gets the nod, not only for his contributions to the attack, but for his willingness to track back and help out defensively.
WORST: Walker Zimmerman, United States. Defenders are often judged on their mistakes, and so it proved for Zimmerman. There was no need for him to clatter into Bale. It remains to be seen how costly it might prove.
Highlights and notable moments
The USMNT got a pep talk from President Joe Biden.
President Joe Biden gave the USMNT a call ahead of their first World Cup match 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/e0d3yLvO1g— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 21, 2022
George Weah achieved a lot in his illustrious playing career. He never played in a World Cup, though, something son Tim did on Monday. Oh, and he scored, so he can hold that over Dad, too, at the next family gathering.
Tim Weah with the cool finish!— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) November 21, 2022
🎥 » @FOXSoccer
Barely two weeks ago, LAFC were thrilled by a dramatic, late goal from Bale. On Monday, the MLS Cup champions were a little less enthused by their No. 11's finishing.
November 21, 2022
After the match: What the players and managers said
Turner: "We gave them a lifeline. We dropped two points."
Weah: "It felt like in the first half we had a lot of energy, a lot of momentum ... and then coming into the second half we dialed down and Wales turned it up a notch. They started pressing us, they had most of the ball and I think in the end that's what really hurt us.
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- At 19 years, 358 days, Musah became the youngest player to start a World Cup match for the USMNT.
- Monday's starting XI had an average age of 25 years, 102 days. It is the fourth-youngest USMNT lineup at a World Cup, behind only the three lineups at Italia '90, where the XIs averaged just more than 24 years old.
- At 23 years, 279 days, Adams became the youngest player to captain the US at a World Cup since 1950 and third youngest overall.
- Prior to Weah's 37th-minute goal, the last player to score vs. Wales in a World Cup match was Pelé in 1958.
- The US have advanced from the group stage each time it has gotten a win or a draw in its opening match, and has been eliminated each time it has not.
- Bale's past five goals for club and country have come in the 80th minute or later.
- The USMNT is winless in its past 10 World Cup matches against European opposition, with the last such win coming in the 2002 group stage vs. Portugal.
US: The US plays Friday, when it takes on high-flying England at Al Bayt Stadium for a 2 p.m. ET kickoff.
Wales: Wales will get Friday's slate of matches underway with a 5 a.m. ET kickoff against Iran at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.