Eight years of waiting for U.S. soccer fans is finally over. The U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) is back in the World Cup after failing to qualify for the 2018 tournament. Can these 26 young Americans — the youngest team in the tournament, in fact — force the rest of the world to respect American soccer? The answer is “maybe.”
Team U.S.A. coach Greg Berhalter released his final roster for the Cup on November 9. It had a couple of pleasant surprises, some not-so-surprising names, and a few players left off whose absence had some longtime fans scratching their heads. That is all in the past now, though. We have the players we have at this point, so let’s get this done.
First comes group play, for which the United States finds itself in Group B with England, Wales, and Iran. Only two teams will come out of each group, and with England likely being one, we hope to be the other. Our first game is against Wales on November 21. A win will make our chances of advancing to the knockout round of 16 almost 90 percent. A draw (tie) leaves everything up in the air, and a loss almost assuredly means a short run and failure to get out of the group stage. Needless to say, it is a huge game and we have to come out swinging against a tough Wales team.
For you new fans who are determined to enjoy what is one of the world’s greatest sporting events, but who maybe don’t really know what the hell is going on, here is the lay of the land for Team U.S.A. going in to game one against Wales.
The need-to-be-great players
Team U.S.A. needs a strong performance from its team talisman and best-known star, Christian Pulisic. He has got to play with a chip on his shoulder and be out for blood (and goals). We also need Leed’s United breakout star, defensive midfielder Tyler Adams, to be the force in the midfield that he has been for Leed’s in the English Premier League this season. Meanwhile, center-back Walker Zimmerman and goalie Matt Turner have to anchor the last line of defense like their lives depend on it. These four cannot afford to have an off day unless someone else in a similar position steps up and carries their load. Luckily, all four have been some of our most consistent players going into the World Cup.
The potential breakout stars
There are always players who make their name in a World Cup. They perform at a level higher than before and impress the world with their talent. Kylian Mbappe (of 2018 champions, France) is a good example of this phenomenon. We don’t necessarily need this level of “breakout” — although, it would be nice — but we need some players to take their game to the next level. I think Brenden Aaronson, Giovanni Reyna, and Tim Weah all have this potential on Team U.S.A.’s offensive side of the ball. Any of the three could play out of their minds and make the difference as to whether the USMNT makes it to the round of 16. On defense, Tim Ream is an aging warhorse who made the 2022 roster based on his exemplary play this season for English Premier League team Fulham. He also has the potential to provide a defensive bulwark against Wales putting the ball in the back of the American net.
In every World Cup, some great players are inevitably going to come off the bench. For each team, there are so many quality players rostered, and yet only 11 spots on the field at a time. The U.S. team has some players who might just come off the bench to provide a spark or a goal that can make a difference. Specifically, they are Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie (if he doesn’t make the starting team due to a recent injury), center-forward Haji Wright, and center-forward Josh Sargent. Any of those three could come in and provide a needed catalyst for success. My hope — as a Missourian for the past decade — is that St. Louis native and Norwich City star, Josh Sargent, has a breakout role. Gio Reyna and Brenden Aaronson are also potential super-subs if they do not make the start against Wales. Both are dynamic and disruptive playmakers.
Strap in, everyone. Wales is coming up for the USMNT on November 21. The World Cup is here!