USMNT to face Japan and Saudi Arabia in World Cup final tune-ups

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In its final tests before the World Cup, the US men’s national soccer team this fall will play two Qatar-bound teams, Japan and Saudi Arabia, at European venues, the US Soccer Federation announced Tuesday.

The Americans, ranked No. 15 by FIFA, will play No. 23 Japan on Sept. 23 and No. 49 Saudi Arabia four days later. The first match is expected to take place in Germany, where the US team would conduct the bulk of its time before traveling to Murcia in Spain ahead of the Sept. 27 games.

The venue for the Japan match has not been finalized.

After years of games primarily against teams from the Concacaf region (North and Central America and the Caribbean), the USSF has sought World Cup teams to prepare the young US squad for the tournament in November and December. This month, the Americans defeated Morocco, 3-0, in Cincinnati and tied Uruguay, 0-0, in Kansas City, Kan. (They also played mandatory Concacaf Nations League games against Grenada and El Salvador.)

Barring injuries, US Coach Gregg Berhalter plans to have most, if not all, of his World Cup players at the September camp. He does not, however, need to finalize the tournament roster until mid-November.

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Ideally, the USSF would have liked to arrange games against European World Cup opponents this fall. However, European soccer is preoccupied with its own Nations League schedule in September, the last official window for international matches before the World Cup.

The federation also looked into playing two home matches in September, but potential foes were hesitant about both travel and needing to arrange a second game at a US venue.

The US squad last played in Europe in May 2021 against Switzerland. Its previous neutral-site match overseas was in March 2021 against Jamaica in Austria.

Although both September events are at neutral venues, Japan and Saudi Arabia are the game organizers and home teams. They are in charge of stadium selection, ticketing and other facets. The USSF negotiated such things as appearance fees and transportation, and it will have access to tickets to sell to its traveling supporters.

Saudi Arabia played in Murcia this month, losing to Colombia and Venezuela, and will return for two September matches: against Ecuador on Sept. 23, followed by the US clash.

Playing in Europe will ease transportation logistics for the core of the US squad, which is employed by European clubs.

Roster candidates from MLS teams would fly to Europe after their respective league matches Sept. 17-18.

Japan, which qualified for its seventh consecutive World Cup, completed Asian qualifying with a 15-2-1 record, including 8-0-0 with 46 goals scored and only two conceded in the second-round group. It has not played the United States since a friendly 2006 in San Francisco.

The Americans and Saudis will meet for the seventh time but first since the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup in Mexico. Four years earlier, in a friendly at RFK Stadium, the United States recovered from a three-goal deficit to win, 4-3.

“Together with the two games in June against Morocco and Uruguay, we will have experienced a great diversity of styles and quality opponents to help us prepare for what lies ahead at the World Cup,” Berhalter said in a statement.

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