USMNT vs. Japan result: Christian Pulisic-less U.S. squad fall 2-0 to Japan

Christian Pulisic exercises during a training session of the US soccer team in Cologne, Germany, prior to a friendly match against Japan, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. The USA will play Japan in a friendly soccer match as part of the KIRIN CHALLENGE CUP to prepare for the World Cup in Qatar in Duesseldorf on Friday. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Christian Pulisic missed the U.S. men's national team's penultimate pre-World Cup friendly against Japan on Friday due to injury. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The U.S. men's national soccer team spent 90 of its final 180 minutes before the 2022 World Cup getting bossed and pressed into submission by Japan.

The USMNT entered Friday's friendly buoyed by excitement and hope; a 2-0 loss, though, set off alarms. The Americans were sloppy. They weren't menacing going forward. And in the case of a few players who might have significant roles in Qatar, they simply weren't good enough. [Full recap.]

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While much of the analysis (and fan outrage) last week centered on head coach Gregg Berhalter's decisions at the fringe of his 26-man roster, these 90 minutes against Japan will largely be used to fine-tune a more important group: the starting 11 and several substitutes who'll likely play key roles in Qatar.

To that end, the two big questions Berhalter must answer: Who will start alongside Pulisic in attack? And who will partner Walker Zimmerman in defense?

Injuries have complicated both questions. With Pulisic, Weah and Musah out, the U.S. will trial something of a Plan B in the attacking third against Japan.

At the back, Richards and Cameron Carter-Vickers, two strong candidates to start at center back, pulled out of this final training camp due to injury. So Aaron Long will form an all-MLS tandem with Zimmerman at the heart of the U.S. defense. They will have to prove that, as a duo, they have enough recovery speed to function in the Berhalter's high-pressing system.

USMNT lineup vs. Japan

The full U.S. team that will line up in a 4-3-3 vs. Japan is as follows (back to front, left to right):

Matt Turner; Sam Vines, Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, Sergiño Dest; Tyler Adams, Luca de la Torre, Weston McKennie; Gio Reyna, Jesús Ferreira, Brenden Aaronson.