KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The U.S. men’s soccer team’s World Cup tuneup game against Uruguay on Sunday always promised to be a great test for the young Americans, and it lived up to the hype.
A fast and feisty 90 minutes concluded in an open but scoreless tie, with a bipartisan crowd of 19,569 at Children’s Mercy Park making a festive atmosphere in this Midwestern soccer hotbed.
After the U.S. starters played the first half, manager Gregg Berhalter started making pre-planned changes. The first was withdrawing Weston McKennie, who made his first U.S. start since February due to a foot injury, for Medford’s Brenden Aaronson in central midfield. Centerback Aaron Long also exited for Erik Palmer-Brown, and at right wing Tim Weah made way for Paul Arriola.
Arriola’s entry was notable because of his chemistry with striker Jesús Ferreira, a teammate at FC Dallas. Ferreira was lively in the first half, but he fluffed two major chances to score after a big miss against Morocco last Wednesday.
Berhalter likes Ferreira a lot because of his defensive pressing, and Ferreira showed that with a steal early in the second half. But two games’ worth of misses is a lot, and this time he made way for Haji Wright after an hour.
At the same time, Antonee Robinson entered, went to left back, and moved starting left back Joe Scally to the right side. And Uruguay sent in two of its biggest stars: striker Edinson Cavani of Manchester United, and midfielder Federico Valverde of UEFA Champions League winner Real Madrid. That raised the electricity even more.
Alas, there was no end product. The teams combined for 21 shots, and the U.S. had a majority of the possession and often looked good with it. But there were also some glaring misses by both teams, including Cavani missing a wide-open net on a breakaway in second-half stoppage time.
“Some of the chances that we had, we could have played out a little better, could have been a little bit cleaner, and we could have got a goal,” Berhalter said. “But we didn’t, and we’ll use this as a good learning experience.”
It will certainly fuel the striker debate. Who tops the depth chart remains unclear after the Americans’ two biggest pre-World Cup tests. All that’s left before arriving in Qatar are two Concacaf Nations League games this month, and two friendlies against yet-unnamed teams — Berhalter hinted that they are World Cup-bound and from Asia — in September.
The clock is ticking.
A statement on gun violence
While plenty of American soccer players are politically active, the U.S. men’s team as an institution doesn’t often make public political statements. So it was notable that the team published an open letter before kickoff directly calling on the U.S. House and Senate to enact stronger gun control laws.
“As athletes who have the privilege of traveling the globe representing the greatest country in the world, we are often asked how in a place like the United States there can be such horrific gun violence,” the letter said. “We are also asked why the representatives of the people do nothing even though most Americans want them to take action. Those of us who play professionally abroad experience none of these things in our daily lives, yet we return home to a place where mass shootings are frighteningly common and the victims are often defenseless children.”
The letter also addressed the intersection of sports and politics.
“There are those who say athletes shouldn’t get involved in issues that are deemed political,” it said. “Certainly, we can all agree that the safety of the children in our country is a sacred responsibility that is shared by all of us. We believe it would be irresponsible not to use our platform to raise awareness and call for change. Our activism is borne out of necessity — we are talking about this issue because many of you refuse to take action.”
The letter was signed by “The United States Men’s National Team Players and Staff.”
During the game, all of the U.S. players wore orange armbands.
“Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in our in our little world and what we’re doing, and then you forget about what’s happening in the outside world,” Berhalter said after the game. “But this group certainly didn’t do that. … It’s good that this group is asking for action and asking for people to make change.”
Wales qualifies for World Cup over Ukraine
A few hours before taking the field Sunday, the U.S. men learned which team will be their first opponent in Qatar this fall.
Wales claimed Europe’s last World Cup ticket with a 1-0 win at home over Ukraine. The goal was an own goal, forced by a sizzling free kick from Wales’ biggest star Gareth Bale.
The Welsh thus qualified for their first men’s World Cup since 1958, and set up a date with the Americans on Nov. 21 — the tournament’s opening day.
While the home fans celebrated, it was of course disappointing for a Ukrainian team that has been the nation’s pride amid Russia’s invasion. As was the case for Ukraine’s first-round playoff game at Scotland, there were thousands of blue-and-yellow-clad fans in the stands in Cardiff. Their country hasn’t reached a men’s World Cup since 2006.