Fans of the United States Men's National Team are going into The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar with tempered expectations. After failing to qualify for the 2018 installment in Russia, falling in a harrowing defeat at Trinidad & Tobago on the final day of qualifying matches, the team has needed to face a bit of a reckoning.
I think handing the reins to Gregg Berhalter was an incredibly odd choice. However, he may be in it for the long haul. And that's got absolutely nothing to do with his coaching ability. Instead, he's leading what may be a golden generation of talent. Guys who were just 10 or 12 years old when Landon Donovan scored the equalizer against Algeria in 2010 were just into their teens when Tim Howard put up a record-setting display in a Round of 16 loss to Belgium in 2014 and are now in charge. Those moments inspired a group that finds itself smattered across not just Major League Soccer but some of the top teams in Europe. And, while they may not have had the experience to help direct the USMNT into Russia, they've felt that lowest of lows. And the perfect cocktail of circumstances could see them make a decent run in Qatar.
One of the Youngest Squads in the Tournament
The United States enters Qatar as one of the youngest teams in the tournament. And yet, there's still a decent amount of experience across those players. Christian Pulisic has won the Champions League with Chelsea. Weston McKennie, Sergiño Dest, Yunus Musah, Gio Reyna, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Brenden Aaronson, and Tyler Adams competed in that tournament. Representation exists across several leagues; this is the first generation whose core grew up together.
Pulisic, McKennie, and Adams have played together internationally for more than eight years. That's the consistency you want to see in national team players. One thing that makes it extremely difficult is the in-and-out nature of playing for your country. Each player has their club and spends only 10-14 days together (at most) at any given time throughout the year. Therefore, it is pretty exciting that these guys have been coming back to each other for so many years, and they're only in their mid-20s.
Playing a True Shot-Stopper
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It was a little scary thinking about what the national team would do in a post-Tim Howard world. Brad Guzan was getting most of the calls, and the Polar Bear was not the solution. The team was melting from the inside out. And the outside in. Bruce Arena's second stint as USMNT coach set us back a few years. But that's when we confirmed that US Soccer has its head so far up its own behind that they don't understand how to run the federation.
However, the best thing to come out of the Gregg era has been the emergence of Matt Turner. It looked like Zack Steffen was the sure number one for a while, and he hasn't even made the squad this time. It remains to be seen what the reasoning is, but it's irrelevant. Hear my words. Matt Turner is this generation's version of Tim Howard.
He proved himself with the New England Revolution and secured a transfer to his favorite Premier League team, Arsenal. And the exciting piece is that he's a backup to England's third-choice keeper, Aaron Ramsdale. And I'd argue that it's great he's been able to play for his favorite team, but he is good enough to find regular first-team football.
For a guy who came to the game a lot later than most, he's been able to surpass expectations. Playing for the Revolution, he quickly became the go-to guy between the posts, helping them to the Supporters' Shield in 2021. He also found his way into Gold Cup glory, assisting the US to win it that same year. Something about his leadership, yet calm nature, is something we need from our keeper.
This Team Has the Ability To Dig In
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The back line may not have the kind of strength as the Netherlands, but there's a lot to be excited about. Walker Zimmerman is the team sheet's first "who is that?" name. Dest has played for Ajax, Barcelona, and AC Milan. And Antonee Robinson and Tim Ream are the first choices at Fulham. While Carter-Vickers didn't get enough time at Tottenham, he became a Celtic's mainstay. Beyond that, Adams and McKennie are a pairing that is an absolute force. They're not afraid to battle with the best of them, which gives this team an edge we haven't seen in quite some time.
Adams, in particular, is a force to be reckoned with. He's a New York kid that started playing for the Red Bulls before heading to Leipzig. And now that he's at Leeds United, he's taking the Premier League by storm. Maybe that's because I've been watching him at the USMNT for years, but the 23-year-old should be the captain of this team. It's almost as if he doesn't realize who he's playing against, and that lack of being starstruck is precisely what this team needs.
A Plethora of Options Up Front
For once in our lives, there's a group of midfielders and forwards that I trust. Pulisic is supposed to be the second coming, Reyna is surpassing expectations before 20, and the supporting cast all can share that spotlight. Weah hasn't had the opportunity yet but is eager to follow in his father's footsteps. Aaronson is working with Adams at Leeds to bring a new American Revolution. Josh Sargent is taking Norwich by Storm. And the MLS guys provide the depth we could only have hoped for in the past couple of decades.
And then, of course, we have the likes of Pulisic and Reyna. These guys could play together at Borussia Dortmund and play with some top-tier guys. They are both already legends in their own right, without achieving anything significant for their country. And yet there's something about a 24-year-old and 19-year-old guiding the ship that brings me a sense of calm.
I don't have any absurd expectations that the United States will win the World Cup in Qatar. But they are setting up to be able to make a decent run and then prove that they belong when hosting in 2026.
Let's Set Some Realistic Expectations
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In recent history, the best finish for the USA was a Quarterfinal place in 2002. Before that was when both semi-finals finished 6-1 in 1930. The US lost to Argentina, and Uruguay, who went on to win it, beat Yugoslavia. This NFL-loving nation hasn't had high expectations in the history of this tournament.
These days, while I don't think we have the strength to beat Argentina or France, we can make some noise. And that's exciting. Because after a cycle during which the United States couldn't make the World Cup, they can come back with a vengeance.
When it comes down to it, I think they can exit the group. Depending on their placement, they can probably get out of the round of 16. And then we're facing another Quarterfinal matchup that I would not anticipate making it through.
But in 2026? Watch out. A still young team with more experience and is playing (mostly) on home turf? That will see a different kind of pendulum swing.
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