USA has golden chance against Wales, but ends with regrets in World Cup opener

AL RAYYAN, Qatar — Not a bad result. It is not a result that ends the hopes of the United States in this World Cup. Not an entirely fair reflection of a game that was dominated by the US. And no, certainly not, a disaster.

But, my goodness, what a kick in the teeth for Gregg Berhalter’s young US side that they couldn’t get the job done against Wales on Monday, a blow that will test every bit of their mettle in the days and the upcoming matches.

After Tim Weah’s opener was canceled out by a penalty from Gareth Bale, of course Bale, with eight minutes remaining, the United States are locked in second place in Group B ahead of their clash now critical of England. Friday (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

[Top plays from USA-Wales 1-1 draw]

It could, and perhaps should have, looked much more cheerful than that. Because this one had begun to look closed, prompting thoughts of a dream start and an instant move into the hearts of the American sports public for a group of players who don’t lack for fire and determination.

This time, it wasn’t enough.

In Bale, Wales have a five-time Champions League winner and a man who in his prime was among the best in the world. His chance came when Walker Zimmerman fouled him in the box after a clever ball from Aaron Ramsey and the resulting spot-kick, struck into the corner of the net, was as clinical as you’d expect .

Gareth Bale scores with a penalty

Gareth Bale scores with a penalty

Gareth Bale was fouled in the 82nd minute and scored a penalty kick, drawing Wales and the USMNT 1-1.

Before, it had been all of the United States.

When the American goal arrived, in the 35th minute of the first half, it was fully deserved. Berhalter’s side had completely dominated up until this point, barely allowing Wales, the 2016 European Championship semi-finalists, out of their own half.

[World Cup Daily: England now has upper hand in Group B]

Wales had been on the defensive, but it was out of necessity, not choice, more a reaction to their inability to find their stars, Bale and Ramsey, in favorable positions.

These realities require innovation to break them. That’s what happened when Josh Sargent, the Berhalter striker, left the ball beautifully for Christian Pulisic to take advantage of and rise in the penalty area, a move that must have been practiced frequently on the training ground.

Pulisic’s well-timed through ball sent Weah through on goal, and the youngster, whose father George was a former World Footballer of the Year but never played a World Cup, was calm about the moment.

[Must-read: Tim Weah fulfilling his father’s legacy at World Cup]

A strike with the outside of the right stick and the ball went past goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and into the Welsh net, the first American scorer at a World Cup since Julian Green scored a consolation in the team’s 2-1 loss to Belgium in 2014. round of 16.

American Tim Weah scores a goal against Wales

American Tim Weah scores a goal against Wales

Watch American Tim Weah’s goal against Wales at the World Cup on Monday.

Green was barely heard of since then, but it was also the era of Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard. Landon Donovan also controversially left the roster right before the tournament.

A different generation.

This is a new one, waiting to be announced to the world.

For an even lighter story note, how about this? The last goalscorer against Wales in a World Cup against Weah? None other than the Brazilian legend Pelé, in the quarter-finals in 1958.

Maybe that explains something. For this was Wales’ first World Cup since then, which brings a level of historic tension that cannot be easily shaken. For much of the evening, the Welsh players were in charge.

It took less than 10 minutes for the first chances to land, Weah giving an early indication of his positive intent with a cross that Wales defender Joe Rodon could only steer wide of his own keeper. Moments later, Antonee Robinson’s cross found the head of Sargent, but his goal was wide.

Berhalter had called for aggression and intensity, and it was there from the start. It was overblown at times as Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest, both pre-match injury doubts, were booked inside the opening 15 minutes.

Given the level of USA superiority in the first half, a change from Wales was inevitable. Big forward Kieffer Moore was brought on at the interval, a move designed to give Bale more opportunities to get the ball at his feet. Moore was a new kind of challenge for centers Tim Ream and Zimmerman, and the Americans no longer had it all their own way.

In the 64th minute, a Ben Davies header forced American goalkeeper Matt Turner into his first meaningful save, a reaction save in a crowded penalty area. Moore rose higher in the resulting corner and found himself unguarded but could only guide his header over the crossbar.

Matt Turner makes an incredible save

Matt Turner makes an incredible save

Matt Turner guides a Wales shot over the crossbar to help the USMNT maintain a 1-0 lead.

Little by little, things started to turn around. The US continued to press, but there were more actions coming from the other side, more pressure, more threats.

Finally, a crack appeared. The Americans had been physical with Bale all night, such is his danger level, and Zimmerman got a little too hard on a challenge in the box.

Suddenly, everything was square, and that was it.

Let’s not go back to the case, but the US left with a lot of work to do and a lot to think about.

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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX i subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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