The United States men’s soccer team was tasked with their biggest challenge since their round of 16 fixture against the Netherlands at the 2022 World Cup. Their efforts were not enough, though, as they fell 3-1 to Germany.
When it comes to U.S. soccer, they’re something of a stranger to the East Coast, especially New England. The last time the U.S. played in New England was in 2018 for a friendly matchup against Peru. The region hosts an event once every two World Cup cycles, so the anticipation began to build when it was announced they would return to Connecticut to play Germany. While local excitement was fueled by the prospect of seeing star players like Christian Pulisic or Matt Turner take the field, the whole nation waited as the Stars and Stripes were set to have their biggest challenge yet on their road to the 2026 World Cup. Furthermore, American hope grew from the promised performances of key figures like Pulisic, Folarin Balogun and Gio Reyna. Many consider this as the first real test of the U.S. team and a critical game if they want to be competitive in the upcoming World Cup, which will be hosted right here in the States.
The first half of the match delivered on the expected hype. The intensity and pace of both sides kept each other on their toes as both teams pressured to secure an early lead. In just the fourth minute, a key pass from Weston McKennie to Pulisic would have resulted in an early lead, but was immediately ruled as offside. Minutes later, in the 11th minute, the German team almost scored after Pascal Groß’s right-footed shot hit the goal post and rebounded off of Turner’s body, a moment that shook the Stars and Stripes. The game continued with the U.S. playing more offense than typically seen in contests against such tough opposition. Because of the talent on the frontline, the U.S. was able to go for a more offensive strategy. Rather than holding the ball and attempting to retain possession as much as they could, the U.S. grabbed opportunities to attack as soon as they controlled possession of the ball. This strategy worked out when Pulisic gained control, took the ball up the pitch and buried an absolutely stunning goal into the top right region of the goal in the 27th minute. The stadium, filled with a record 37,743 spectators, erupted as the U.S. took the lead.
However, celebrations were muted in the 39th minute, when Ilkay Gündogan managed to take control of the lost ball after an attempted deflection by Turner and booted it in. In the final moments of the half, the Stars and Stripes attempted to regain the lead, but their efforts were not enough as the half ended with a scoreline of 1-1.
In the first half of the match, the game had the same intensity and feel of a competitive match, not an international friendly. A more inspired and fast-paced U.S. team was on full display; however, all of that fell apart in the second half. During the break, Reyna was substituted and replaced by Luca de la Torre. Not only did the lineup change, but so did the Stars and Stripes’ approach. Similar to the U.S. performance in the World Cup, the team retook the strategy of defending the ball and attempted to keep possession as much as they could with fewer attacks.
The second half was dominated by the German side as they comfortably seized control. Germany took advantage of every ball that came to them. This is reflected in the shots attempted by the visiting team, as they recorded 19 to the Americans’ six. It was only a matter of time before the Germans took the lead. The inevitable happened in the 58th minute, when the U.S. defense left an opening for Niclas Füllkrug to easily put the ball away and give Germany the lead. Just minutes later in the 61st minute, as the Stars and Stripes defense struggled to clear the ball from the box, Jamal Musiala found an opening and scored past the U.S. defense. There were few opportunities seen in the second half as the American side failed to produce any valuable plays. The only significant moves came from free kicks and corners, which were sparsely seen and were easily stopped by the German defense. The final whistle blew in East Hartford as the Americans failed to defeat the European giant.
“Our shape was broken, sagging, keeping guys onside, it’s frustrating because it’s just little moments,” said Turner. “Little moments could have made a big difference at the World Cup and it’s kind of like the same story.”
There were plenty of “little moments” in this match, ones that have to be fixed if the U.S. wants to be competitive against highly ranked teams like Germany. Corrections can make a difference in any game, so those mistakes will have to be addressed by head coach Gregg Berhalter. The next opportunity for the U.S. to work on these challenges will come on Tuesday against Ghana at 8:30 p.m. in Nashville.