DOHA, Qatar – The one time the U.S. men showed their inexperience, Wales made them pay in a 1-1 draw Monday.
Gareth Bale converted a penalty in the 82nd minute after Walker Zimmerman hauled him down from behind. You can’t do that, not in a rec league and certainly not in a World Cup, no matter how much your opponents are pushing, shoving and stomping.
Matt Turner dove the right way on Bale’s shot, but the veteran put it just beyond his reach for the tying goal.
The late goal could prove costly for the Americans. England looks to be the class of this group after its 6-2 thrashing of Iran earlier Monday, and getting three points from this game would have been big ahead of the USMNT’s meeting with the Three Lions on Friday.
But Kellyn Acosta’s late foul on Bale also might prove to be just as key. Bale got ahead of the U.S. defense and was streaking toward Turner in the open field when Acosta got him from behind. His foul on Bale stopped play and might have saved another goal.
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So much has been made of the USMNT’s youth and inexperience – DeAndre Yedlin, who came on as a late substitute, was the only player to have played in a World Cup – but the players politely dismissed concerns that they would be overwhelmed. They insisted their chemistry and love for one another, not to mention their generational collection of talent, would be enough to carry them through, and they didn’t much care if the rest of the world was skeptical.
And for much of the night, they appeared to be right.
They were aggressive and confident throughout the first half, clearly having the better of Wales. Josh Sargent nearly scored in the 10th, and Christian Pulisic had another dangerous shot.
Finally, in the 36th, they broke through on a gorgeous goal by Tim Weah that showcased the whole team’s sublime skill.
Yunus Musah, who at eight days shy of his 20th birthday became the youngest player to start for the USMNT in a World Cup, picked up the ball in the final third and dished to Josh Sargent. Sargent then found Pulisic, who sliced through the Wales defense before playing a perfect through ball to Weah.
Weah had snuck through Wales’ back line, giving him such perfect position he just had to poke the ball past Wayne Hennessy.
Wales settled down in the second half, and Turner had to punch one shot over the crossbar with about 20 minutes left. But their continued physicality wore thin with the Americans — Pulisic is going to have cleat marks on his right calf for weeks thanks to Bale – and they eventually lost their cool.
It’s a lesson learned, but it might be a costly one.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USMNT ties Wales in World Cup opener as inexperience shows late