Updated: Apr 29
Alvin Jones, Staff Writer
Gareth Bale celebrates his equalizing penalty against American keeper Matt Turner. Photo//Clive Mason/Getty Images.
For the first time in eight years, the United States men’s national team is playing in the World Cup.
It has been a long road, full of mixed fortune for the Americans. Manager Gregg Berhalter has the national team in the World Cup, bagging a pair of continental trophies on the way. Still, the USA has struggled as of late, going into the tournament with only two wins out of seven games.
A new, younger contingent of players faced their toughest challenge to date, Wales. The Welsh have also experienced their own World Cup drought. The Welsh national team has not qualified for the tournament since 1958. They qualified dramatically after beating Austria and Ukraine in qualification playoffs. They did that under a new manager, Rob Page, who took over just before qualification.
Gareth Bale scored in both of those games. The former Real Madrid star has scored more goals than any other player in Wales’ history. It was Bale leading the line against a young USMNT, looking to make a statement in their first game.
The Americans came out poised, dominating the game early on. An early cross from American attacker Tim Weah deflected off of Welsh defender Joe Rodon and almost went past Welsh keeper Wayne Hennesy, who chested the ball away. Striker Sargent had another chance go off the post.
Undettered, the Americans scored with their first real chance. Christian Pulisic, America’s star player, made a driving run through Wales’ defense and played a perfect ball to Weah. Weah slotted the ball past Hennessy, 1-0 to the Americans. Weah, son of legendary attacker George Weah, became America’s first goalscorer in the World Cup after eight long years.
Tim Weah celebrates the opening goal. Photo//Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse
After being outplayed in the first half, Wales made adjustments and pulled themselves back into the match. The key change for the Welsh was the addition of Bournemouth striker Keifer Moore. The 6’5” Moore made life troubling for America’s defense, almost scoring through a corner. That corner was won by Ben Davies and forced an excellent save by Matt Turner, who turned Davies' diving header over the bar.
The Welsh equalized through their all-time leading scorer. In minute 79, USMNT defender Walker Zimmerman lunged into Gareth Bale in the box. A stonewall penalty and a serious mental mistake from Zimemrman, whose challenge was uncharacteristically sloppy.
Bale stepped up to the spot and powered a shot past Turner, who dove the right way but had no chance to save the shot. Goal 41 for Bale, who ended Wales’ longer World Cup drought.
The game then grew scrappy. Both managers' attempts to further change the game went unsuccessful. A late potential goal for Wales was stopped by Kellyn Acosta. Turner was caught 20-yards or more off of his line after cleaning up a Wales counter attack. The ball fell to Bale, who was fouled by Acosta. A yellow card for Acosta solidified a 1-1 draw for Wales and USA.
For Wales, a hard-fought point, especially in light of the first half performance. They will go on to play Iran, who were routed 6-2 by England.
For the US, a sinking feeling. While a point is not the worst result, it feels like two points lost due to a defensive error. The USA will face group favorites England on Friday.
The USMNT will be looking to sharpen offensively as they only had one shot on goal against Wales. America has gotten out of tough groups before. Last time, America beat Ghana and played a similarly heartbreaking draw with Portugal (conceding a 95th minute equalizer in that game). They still got through in 2014. This time, they will hope to inspire yet another underdog run and perhaps another upset against England.