The U.S. men’s national team is set to kick off their 2022 World Cup campaign in Qatar on Monday with hopes of putting on a strong showing.
After a grueling series of qualifiers and unimpressive performances in the September tune-up games, now, this group of 26 is in the Middle East and expectations will be high for them to put up a challenge against their Group B foes Wales, England, and Iran. However, will head coach Gregg Berhalter hace them ready as they attmept to qualify for the knockout stages?
The guys at Yanks Abroad have come together to give their own predictions about how far the team can go in this tournmanent including their own picks to win the World Cup.
It’s going to be a wild ride over the next few weeks as we which country will lift the trophy on December 18.
It’s going to be a hard, but manageable road for the young U.S. team. With so much uncertainty, inexperience, and constant disruptions through and after the qualifying cycle from injuries and form, the team won’t come through a surprisingly quality group unscathed, or even close to it. Even though none of the four teams in Group B could be considered tournament contenders – England’s lofty #5 ranking came before Harry Maguire was named to the squad – this is the only group in the tournament where all four teams are in the top 20 of the FIFA rankings.
On paper, one would expect England to come first, and the U.S., Iran, and Wales to duke it out for the second spot, with none of the three being strong favorites (even if bookmakers likely favor the Americans). However, with this much parity, what is supposed to happen probably won’t be what really will happen, and things will stay tight until the end.
I could go through the mathematic permutations, but I’ll make it simple:
The first round goes roughly as planned for both the U.S. and England, with each taking narrow wins. The second round sees draws all around, setting up a tense final round where both Iran and Wales prevail over the USMNT and Three Lions, respectively. All teams finish with four points. However, England chokes at the death against Wales to finish last on goal differential, and Iran narrowly loses out to the second-place Americans due to total goals scored.
In short, Berhalter’s boys sneak through to a Round of 16 matchup against the Dutch, who easily won Group A. Fans know what’s next: standing in the firing line against one of the world’s best and eventually enduring a respectable exit from the tournament where the players can hold their heads high at holding off such firepower.
Except…it doesn’t happen that way. Whether it’s through penalties, a last-gasp winner from late substitute Haji Wright, an unexpected performance from injury-sub Cristian Roldan that vaguely annoys half of the U.S. fan base, or simply a good game, the US prevails against all odds.
And then it all comes to an end against eventual tournament runners-up Argentina in the quarterfinal. The less said about that, the better. It won’t be pretty.
For those who keep paying attention to the tournament after the U.S. exits, Belgium wins, convincingly and deservedly. The South American drought continues. Messi and Ronaldo end their international careers with as many World Cup titles as Harry Maguire.
It was a good run, U.S. fans are moderately satisfied but still have room for endless armchair coaching, and it spawns “Project 2026”, which has the much more moderate goals of its predecessor Project 2010; this time with the simple aim of not being completely embarrassed in the next tournament.
USA – Wales – This is a WIN! The boys will come out hot, and it will be a 2-1 win. Pulisic will score the opener, and Aaronson will score the second goal. It will be tight, the game-winner coming in the last 15 minutes.
USA – England – Ooof. Can we nutmeg their keeper again? I honestly like our attack against their defense, and our defense against their attack….is okay at best. Dest and Robinson will be able to handle it. Will Zimmerman? I think so. Who’s his partner? If it’s Ream, he’s made a case for himself. I think this is a draw. There’s way more firepower for England than we have. If we lose, I won’t be mad. But I think 1-1 would be fair.
Iran – USA MUST WIN GAME. These three points put us firmly in second place and out of the group stages. I think Iran will be out by this point with zero points, so they’ll have nothing to prove. Go out and play hard. We’ll have everything to play for. I think it will be a very nervous 2-1 win, defending for the last half an hour after taking the lead just after halftime.
Coming in second, we’ll play 1A which will be the Netherlands. A difficult, but winnable game. Another 2-1 win, defending for our lives in the last 10 minutes as the Netherlands looks for an equalizer.
And then we face Argentina. Messi and company will be gunning for a World Cup to cement his legacy. We won’t be able to stop them, and it will be a glorious way to end the tournament. 3-1 loss and Jesse Marsch is the new coach.
Since Gregg Berhalter announced his 26-man roster for this World Cup, all I’ve been thinking about is whether this man is going to have a Steve Sampson moment before the team sets foot on the field, a la 1998, thinking he’s some kind of tactical genius only to see it all end in failure. The tune-up games in September against Japan and Saudi Arabia didn’t give me much confidence and I feel this is going to carry over into the tournament.
Granted, it’s ridiculous to have World Cup played in the middle of the club season, which did not allow for any proper preparation, but it is what it is. So on with the show.
The first group game against Wales will certainly set the tone for how the U.S. goes into their other games. This is a situation in which both are making their returns to the World Cup, with the Welsh not being on this stage since the Dwight Eisenhower administration (I still like Ike). There are certainly going to be jitters on both sides as they don’t want to make any mistakes. It’s a mixed bag among the oddsmakers as to which team is the favorite to win the game, but I see this one ending up in a disappointing 1-1 draw for the Americans as they will lack the quality in the final third to score more goals. However, they will contain “big game” Gareth Bale from having any influence on the proceedings.
Then comes the big one. The U.S. always seems to be the bogey team for England as the Three Lions have not won a game in their two previous World Cup encounters (1950 and 2010). This one may turn out to be the thriller of the Group B games. Christian Pulisic will put on a show to send a message to Graham Potter back in London that he can do the job at Chelsea if given the chance. However, this time around England will get their first win over the U.S. in the World Cup following a 4-3 win.
That leaves it all on the line as usual with the final game against Iran. It was 1998 when these two teams met in their final group game in France, with the Iranians coming away 2-1 winners which brought huge celebrations in Tehran. After a 34-year gap, it’s time for some payback as the U.S. will finish with a 2-0 win.
The draw with Wales will come back to bite the Americans as they will be tied for second in the group, just missing out on passage to the next round on goal difference. As difficult as it may seem, there will be no time to fret as they’ll be getting ready to put on a much better performance on home soil in 2026. Unfortunately, for most national team supporters, U.S. Soccer may deem that Berhalter did a good enough job and will have to suffer through another cycle minus the qualifiers.
As for the rest of this World Cup, now that there’s a team built around him, this will be the perfect ending for Lionel Messi to ride off into the sunset from the international stage with a third trophy for Argentina.
It’s not going to be an easy run for our boys in the tournament’s most boring national team shirts – thank you Nike and US Soccer for that honor – but crazy me, I not only see the boys advancing but also winning the group.
First, up will be against Wales, the 19th-best team in the world, according to FIFA. (The USA is at 16.) This band of Brits from the west of Great Britain is led by their once-upon-a-time Real Madrid star who scored 81 times for the Spanish giants. Like all soccer stars eventually do, the 33-year-old got old and gave up on the beautiful game, choosing to add to his millions by joining the retirement league that is the MLS. He scored twice for Los Angeles FC this season.
The only other well-known player for the Dragons is Aaron Ramsey, who left Arsenal in 2019 for Juventus and since then has struggled to have any impact anywhere. He is currently in Ligue 1 with Nice. With 20 national team goals, the much-injured Welshman is also on the wrong side of 30.
The rest of the team consists of a few Premier League players but most are from the English lower leagues.
Having said that, this is Wales’ first World Cup appearance since 1958, so it would be foolish to think that they are just there to make up the numbers. The team plays with passion and will feel that they can beat everyone in their group but I personally don’t feel that they will be successful against the USA. A lot depends on the performances of Berhalter’s boys too. I see this game as a narrow 2-1 win. If he is healthy, I see Weah playing and scoring in this one.
Up next will be yet another team from the island kingdom in the North Sea – the mighty Three Lions. Well, they’re a much better team in qualifying for tournaments than they are in the actual tournament, which gives the USA a half-decent chance of defeating the boys from Enger-land. We’ve had mixed fortunes against them in the past but this time I honestly feel that we are going to come out of this one with three points.
I say this because the English defense is pretty sketchy. Harry McGuire? Please start him, Mr. Southgate! It’s not only that he is bad but I think it makes the rest of the back line a bit nervous to be playing alongside him. The pace of the American attack can really do some damage. On the other hand, the main objective will be at the other end where Matt Turner and his defenders must keep the ball out of the back of their net. Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden are probably the biggest threats. But the USA will be triumphant. Let’s call this a 2-1 as well.
The unknown entity in the group is, of course, Iran. Nobody that I know watches any soccer in that West Asian country. I’m guessing that their players are unknown by most as well. Saman Ghoddos is on the books of Premier League Brentford and striker Sadar Azmoun has scored a solitary goal for Bayer Leverkusen. Other than that, they suit up for teams in smaller leagues, mostly in Europe. That’s not to say that they’re not a very good team. FIFA has them ranked 20th, just one place behind Wales.
I am probably more nervous about this game than the others because of the unknown factor. Still, I trust FIFA in this case and although we’re not too far ahead of them in the rankings, our Premier League, Spanish League, Italian League, etcetera players should handle them.