Coming off what head coach Gregg Berhalter described as a "very bad" performance, the U.S. men's national team will conclude its 2022 World Cup prep on Tuesday against Saudi Arabia. The game — the USMNT's last before its World Cup opener — kicks off at 2 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1, UniMás and TUDN. And it has, in recent days, taken on added importance.
That's because the team's penultimate World Cup tuneup, a 2-0 loss on Friday to Japan, was borderline shambolic. "We got our butts kicked," Berhalter admitted on Monday. "And we're not proud of it."
To right the ship and reverse the vibes, the U.S. traveled to sunny Murcia, Spain, for a couple days of training and then the match against Saudi Arabia. Christian Pulisic will return from his minor injury and start. Ricardo Pepi will get a chance to stake his claim to a World Cup roster spot. Other fringe players might, too.
Yahoo Sports will cover the match with live updates, analysis, highlights and more right here.
How to watch USMNT-Saudi Arabia
FS1's English-language coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. ET; Spanish-language coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET on UniMás and TUDN. The game will also stream on the Fox Sports, TUDN and Univision Now digital platforms.
It will kick off at 2 p.m. ET sharp.
Ricardo Pepi and others to watch for USMNT
The man to watch — or, rather, the kid to watch — is Pepi, who has not scored a USMNT goal since last October, and who hadn't scored a club goal either until he tallied for his new Dutch club, FC Groningen, a couple weekends ago.
Berhalter is giving Pepi every chance to revive his 2022 World Cup hopes. The head coach is essentially trying to speak 2021 Pepi back into existence — because, when in form, the 19-year-old is precisely the goalscorer that this USMNT needs. If Pepi performs on Tuesday as he did for the national team last fall, and if he finds a rhythm at Groningen, he will beat out Jordan Pefok for a roster spot. But both of those remain big "ifs."
Elsewhere on the field, Sam Vines and Joe Scally are jockeying for position at left back. And there is more uncertainty at center back than ever before after Aaron Long struggled mightily, especially on the ball, against Japan.
What went wrong against Japan?
Berhalter's high-level analysis of the Japan loss was simple: "Poor coaching, poor execution, poor training beforehand," he told reporters. He cited the stress of competition for roster and lineup spots, and took responsibility for loading the players with too many tactical details than they were ready to absorb last week.
As for why the U.S. failed so thoroughly to beat Japan's aggressive 4-4-2 press, he largely blamed "decision-making," and especially that of the center backs.
"We turned the ball over carelessly," he said on a Monday Zoom call. "There was opportunities to play, and there was free men to play to, and we didn't identify those men, and we suffered for that."
He went into a bit more detail at a roundtable with reporters in Spain: "There's examples where we're literally passing into pressure. When you watch the high-level, high-level teams, the center backs always deceive the opponent with the ball. Very rarely do you know where they're passing the ball. A lot of times, they're facing forward because it pauses the opponent. As soon as you get on the turn and you're facing [a sideline], then the [opponent] starts shifting and that's how they build pressure. We did that constantly the whole game. It was tough."
All of these are solvable problems. The question, of course, is whether the USMNT has the players or enough time to solve them.
What's next for the USMNT?
After the match against Saudi Arabia, the U.S. players will return to their clubs. They won't gather again as a full group until Nov. 14 in Qatar, a week before their Nov. 21 World Cup opener against Wales.
In the meantime, some MLS players whose teams don't advance deep into the playoffs will convene for a stateside training camp. Youth national teamers will join them to make up numbers.
Berhalter will announce his 26-man World Cup roster on Nov. 9 at an event in New York City. Soon thereafter, he, his staff, and the MLS players will jet off to Qatar, and settle into their luxurious hotel on The Pearl. The European-based players will join them after one last round of club games on the weekend of Nov. 12.