The United States Men’s National Team has entered the final international window prior to the 2022 World Cup. This is one of the last chances for players to build in-game chemistry while also impressing the manager and booking one of the final spots on the roster. In the first of two friendlies, Gregg Berhalter’s side is taking on Japan, a fellow qualifier for Qatar. The friendly will be played at MERKUR SPIEL-ARENA in Düsseldorf, Germany.
This is the third all-time meeting between the two nations, split between a 1-1-0 record. Japan is currently ranked 24th in the world by FIFA and easily qualified for the World Cup with a second-place finish in Group B of the Asian Football Confederation’s third round. In July’s EAFF E-1 Football Championship, the Samurai Blue claimed the title with wins against Hong Kong and South Korea as well as a draw with China. The program scheduled a challenging slate of friendlies over the past year, which could pay dividends in Qatar.
Hajime Moriyasu was appointed to the manager position in July of 2018, taking over in the midst of a stint with the U-23 team. The retired midfielder has compiled a 38-10-7 record from the technical area, registering a runner-up finish at the 2019 AFC Cup and winning the aforementioned East Asian championship. A rough start to qualifying had domestic media questioning whether the federation would be forced to look for a replacement. Instead of his tactics, he credited the players’ “mindset” with riding out the storm.
SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) squad - KIRIN CHALLENGE CUP 2022 (9/23 vs USA, 9/27 vs Ecuador @Germany) #football https://t.co/ikR1xDrmZ1— jfa_en (@jfa_en) September 15, 2022
Moriyasu named a 30-player roster for the friendlies against the USMNT and Ecuador. While there are a few talents missing, this is essentially the A-squad with some extra back-up. The group is composed of 22 call-ups from Europe and eight from the domestic J-League.
GOALKEEPERS (4): Eiji Kawashima (Strasbourg), Shūichi Gonda (Shimizu S-Pulse) Daniel Schmidt (Sint-Truiden), Kosei Tani (Shonan Bellmare)
DEFENDERS (9): Miki Yamane (Kawasaki Frontale), Shogo Taniguchi (Kawasaki Frontale), Ayumu Seko (Grasshoppers), Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo), Takehiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal), Hiroki Sakai (Urawa Red Diamonds), Yuta Nakayama (Huddersfield Town), Maya Yoshida (Schalke 04), Hiroki Ito (VfB Stuttgart)
MIDFIELDERS (13): Wataru Endo (VfB Stuttgart), Gaku Shibasaki (Leganés), Genki Haraguchi (Union Berlin), Takumi Minamino (Monaco), Takefusa Kubo (Real Sociedad), Hidemasa Morita (Sporting CP), Junya Ito (Reims), Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt), Ao Tanaka (Fortuna Düsseldorf), Kaoru Mitoma (Brighton & Hove Albion), Ritsu Dōan (SC Freiburg), Reo Hatate (Celtic), Yuki Soma (Nagoya Grampus)
FORWARDS (4): Kyogo Furuhashi (Celtic), Daizen Maeda (Celtic), Ayase Ueda (Cercle Brugge), Shuto Machino (Shonan Bellmare)
Moriyasu typically deploys a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation with a triangle midfield that swarms when on the defensive. The run-of-play tends to move through the wings, with crossing serving as a key component of the attack. Uncommon at the international level, Japan employs something resembling a high press with central triggers in Zones 12, 13, and 14, which helped tilt the balance in victories over Saudi Arabia and Australia.
After starting in nine out of ten fixtures during the final round of qualifying, Shūichi Gonda is the presumed number one. The 33-year-old competes with Shimizu S-Pulse in the domestic J-League and was named to the AFC Asian Cup Team of the Tournament in 2019. He gets to ground quickly and largely chooses to stay on his line, displaying a preference for kick saves. The manager could also opt for the towering Illinois-born Daniel Schmidt, the starter at Belgium’s Sint-Truiden who made his senior international debut in 2018.
Japan has what could be considered an embarrassment of riches at the center back position. Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu has the versatility to play on the inside and outside of the back line. He possesses a high level of athleticism and innate understanding of the game, contributing on both sides. There’s also Shogo Taniguchi who picked up three starts during the final round of qualifying. The 6’ defender has spent his entire career with Kawasaki Frontale and displays a penchant for heroic last-second denials and thrives as finisher on set pieces. Perhaps the most important piece is 34-year-old Maya Yoshida who has earned 119 senior international caps. The recent Schalke signing provides a steady veteran presence and is an excellent one-on-one stopper while spraying passes all over the field.
No longer the attacking livewire of his youth, Yuto Nagatomo remains a fixture at fullback position since making his debut in 2008. The 36-year-old is back competing with FC Tokyo after a long career in Europe including stops at Inter Milan, Galatasaray, and Marseille. On the other side of the formation is Hiroki Sakai of Urawa Red Diamonds. He’s a physical player who covers the entire length of the field, getting under the skin of opponents with his intense play.
Occupying the role of six is Wataru Endo, a 29-year-old with VfB Stuttgart who featured in ten qualifying matches. The native of Yokohama is a true two-way midfielder, winning the ball and serving bellwether in possession. He has formed a quite functional partnership with Hidemasa Morita of Sporting, a highly technical passer who always manages to pick out teammates. His ability to cover the entire field and perform the roles of multiple positions makes him difficult to contain. The trio is completed by Fortuna Düsseldorf’s Ao Tanaka, whose dribbling opens up key space when in sustained possession. The box-to-box is also a source for goals, finding advantageous opportunities at the top of the area.
Monaco attacker Takumi Minamino could almost be described as a “defensive winger” with the amount of pressure he puts on the back line, a true student of the Red Bull finishing school. The combination of his work rate, high technical ability, and occasional goal-scoring prowess could make him a match-up nightmare for the USMNT. On the other side of the formation is Junya Ito, who recently joined Reims after a few successful seasons with Genk. The 29-year-old loves to cut inside from the wing and smash the ball into the far post, having the pace and quickness to get behind the opponent.
With Yuya Osako outside of the roster, the likely starter is striker Ayase Ueda of Cercle Brugge. The 24-year-old appeared in the final two qualification matches but has yet to score for Japan at the senior international level. He is an expert at finding space behind the back line, has the dribbling ability to carve out enough space for his lethal right foot, and can also finish in the air. Domestic competitor Shuto Machina could also lead the formation, finding the back of the net three times during the summer’s East Asian Football Championship.
In many ways, Japan and the USMNT are similar programs, thriving outside of UEFA and CONMEBOL. Both countries have relatively new domestic leagues and are viewed as the dominant or second-best teams in their respective regions. This friendly is a solid test ahead of the World Cup, with two successful yet still growing squads mainly composed of European-based players looking to fine-tune and whittle down to a final roster.
The match is scheduled for Friday, September 23rd at 8:26 a.m. Eastern, 5:26 a.m. Pacific. Viewing options include ESPN 2, TUDN USA, UniMás, and FUBO TV (free trial).