The day’s greater revelation, though, arrived from overseas hours before the Americans entered Children’s Mercy Park. More than two months after the World Cup draw was conducted, Coach Gregg Berhalter and his charges finally learned the opponent for their Nov. 21 opener in Qatar: Wales, which edged visiting Ukraine, 1-0, in an emotional European playoff.
Between meetings and a pregame meal, the U.S. coaching staff and many players watched at the team hotel before turning full attention to the friendly against Qatar-bound Uruguay. Wales’s triumph against the superior Ukrainians completed the Group B lineup: England, a trophy contender, will be the heavy favorite, and the United States, Wales and Iran are likely to vie for the group’s second slot in the round of 16.
“When you get drawn into the group, it’s one of three teams you can play,” Berhalter said of the playoff featuring Wales, Ukraine and Scotland. “So in terms of prep, you see it gets stalled a little bit, but now it’s full steam ahead.”
Berhalter has just four matches left to prep for the World Cup: Friday in Austin against Grenada and June 14 at El Salvador — both part of the mandatory Concacaf Nations League — followed by two games against Asian World Cup foes (to be announced) that will be played in Germany and Spain in late September.
“Now we finally know our opponent and we can finally set our sights on that group — and how we’re going to get out of it,” center back Walker Zimmerman said.
On Sunday, the United States was on its heels at times, bold and lively at others. Both teams generated quality chances but lacked the final pass or finishing touch before an announced sellout of 19,569.
The United States extended its unbeaten streak at home to 25 matches, one short of the program record set in 2015. Uruguay — which hammered Mexico, 3-0, on Thursday in suburban Phoenix — had its winning streak end at five.
The 15th-ranked Americans impressed during their 3-0 victory over No. 24 Morocco on Wednesday in Cincinnati, but No. 13 Uruguay presented greater pedigree and a deeper skill set. Nonetheless, the U.S. team registered another shutout.
“We talked about building up performances, and now playing against high-level opponents, that’s what we’re going to need as a group to keep moving forward as we progress heading into a big year,” goalkeeper Sean Johnson said.
It was a big test for Johnson, who is enjoying another standout season with MLS Cup champion New York City FC but is, at best, No. 3 on the U.S. depth chart. Matt Turner started Wednesday, and top-choice Zack Steffen is not with the team for family reasons.
On Sunday, Johnson beat out Ethan Horvath for the start and in the 63rd minute made a terrific reflex save with his right shin on Mathías Olivera’s volley from inside the six-yard box. Johnson, who has made 10 U.S. appearances over 11 years, hasn’t conceded a goal since his debut. He also got lucky in stoppage time when Edinson Cavani missed an open net.
Berhalter retained seven starters from the Morocco match. He gave left back Joe Scally, 19, his first start and redeployed Weston McKennie after the midfielder missed considerable time with a broken foot. Bringing McKennie along gradually, Berhalter limited him to 18 minutes Wednesday and one half Sunday.
In the early moments, La Celeste (The Sky Blue) put the hosts under enormous duress, much to the delight of a few thousand Uruguayan supporters. DeAndre Yedlin made a goal-line clearance, and crosses buzzed through the box with alarming frequency.
The Americans began to find their way through combination work and off-the-ball movement. Though three threats didn’t yield a goal, confidence swelled. For both sides, the afternoon crackled with unfulfilled opportunity.
Despite his team’s dip in attacking verve after halftime, Berhalter said it was an “A-plus effort from the group in tough conditions, warm conditions. The guys were battling to the end. You see every duel was contested. We talked about Uruguay being a very physical team, a very competitive team, and we had to bring that if we were going to try to get something out of this game.”
Notes: The U.S. delegation wore orange armbands in support of a movement championed by Everytown for Gun Safety to raise awareness of the campaign against gun violence. The players and staff also penned a letter to congressional leaders, encouraging them to support gun legislation.
“Our ability to effect change is limited, but yours is not,” the letter read. “You could vote this week to address gun violence in America, and in fact, you will be given that opportunity. In the coming days, the U.S. House of Representatives is voting on several bills that would address this serious issue. Please vote yes on all the bills being considered.” …
With a 23-man roster limit, Turner, defender George Bello and midfielder Cristian Roldan were not in uniform. … In Group H at the World Cup, Uruguay will face Portugal, Ghana and South Korea. … Luis Suárez, Uruguay’s all-time scoring leader, was not included on the U.S. tour.