AL RAYYAN, Qatar – The young US team came close to victory on their return to the World Cup. Then Walker Zimmerman unnecessarily plowed into Gareth Bale, the Wales striker with his back to goal.
Bale converted the resulting penalty in the 82nd minute and handed Wales a 1-1 draw on Monday, which frustrated the Americans and made their path to the knockout stages more uncertain.
“If you went into the dressing room after the game, you could see the disappointment of the group,” said US coach Gregg Berhalter.
Tim Weah, son of former FIFA Player of the Year and current Liberian President George Weah, put the Americans ahead after a 36th-minute pass from Christian Pulisic.
Back in the World Cup after missing the 2018 tournament, the United States seemed on course to victory. But hosts Qatar referee Abdulrahman Al-Jassim pointed to the penalty spot after Zimmerman beat Bale.
Bale found his kick to the left of goalkeeper Matt Turner’s outstretched arm for his 41st goal in 109 internationals, salvaging a point for Wales in their first World Cup game since 1958.
“The most important thing was that we didn’t lose,” said Weah. “We held a draw and now we’re just concentrating on the next game.”
Next up for the United States is a high-profile matchup against England on Friday, the same day Wales take on Iran. England opened with a 6-2 win over the Iranians on Monday.
Tim Weah, just 22, was part of a revamped American team that is the second youngest in the tournament.
Pulisic, America’s top player and one of the few remnants of failure in 2017 qualifying, stormed into midfield in a move that led to goal. Weah timed his run perfectly as Pulisic passed and broke in front of Neco Williams.
From close to the penalty area, Weah used the side of his right foot to slip the ball over sliding goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey’s left thigh to score his fourth goal in 26 caps.
Weah ran toward the American fans with his arms outstretched, sliding on both knees. He was bullied by teammates, then raised both hands to the sky and blew a kiss into the sky.
George Weah, who has never played at a World Cup, planned to be at the game.
Thousands of supporters in the Rote Wand filled one end of the lower bowl and sang throughout.
“We could have been braver in the first half,” said Wales manager Rob Page.
In the 750th cap in US history, the Americans started with a record 10 players from European clubs, with only Major League Soccer’s Zimmerman among them. DeAndre Yedlin, who came on in the 74th minute, was the only American player with World Cup experience.
Josh Sargent almost gave the Americans the lead in the 10th minute when he headed in from an Antonee Robinson cross and hit the post.
Ben Davies’ header in the 64th minute was pushed over the bar by a jumping gymnast.
The game was played in the Arabian desert west of Doha at the remodeled Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, which is lit in brilliant colors and features an exterior facade designed to replicate undulating sand dunes.
The US Soccer Association sold approximately 3,300 tickets and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was in attendance among the 43,418 spectators.
Four Americans received yellow cards for rough tackles and would be suspended if another was assessed: Sergiño Dest, Weston McKennie, Tim Ream and Kellyn Acosta.
United States midfielder Gio Reyna was held off due to the tense situation, according to Berhalter, without elaborating. Berhalter imagined he was playing against England.
YOUNG AT HEART
Yunus Musah became the youngest American to start a World Cup game at 19 years and 358 days, 19 days younger than DaMarcus Beasley in 2002, and Tyler Adams at 23 became the youngest US World Cup captain since Harry Keough and Walter Bahr in 1950.
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