The United States begin their 2022 World Cup campaign in a few short hours against a likely underestimated Wales team, with Gregg Berhalter’s young squad having 90 minutes to help fans forget about the recent years of angst and heartbreak.

After a seeming eternity of buildup, planning, preparation, second-guessing, fine-tuning and nail-biting, the first 90 minutes of the USA’s run in Qatar will finally show whether the complete overhaul of squad in recent years has yielded results, or is simply the sad prelude to renewed hopes for 2026.

Even though Gregg Berhalter has, by the numbers, enjoyed one of the most successful terms of any USMNT head coach, a lack of game-to-game consistency, often spurred by untimely injury issues, and perception that the team is underperforming in spite of its high level of talent has left left the fan-base largely at unease.

In the end, the only thing that will be remembered will be how the incredibly young squad performs over the minimum (although hopefully not maximum) of three games in the coming weeks in Qatar.

Their adventure begins with a matchup against Wales on Monday night, a team that is often overlooked, apart from its one superstar, but is still the 19th-ranked team in the world.

The weeks immediately leading up to the tournament felt increasingly like the prelude to a hopeless cause, with injury after injury impacting both key starters and first-line backup players. Miraculously, all importance pieces have recovered and are available for selection tonight, meaning that there are surprisingly few uncertainties in the starting XI that will take the field at 2pm Eastern time in the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan.

With Tyler Adams having been named captain of the team by Berhalter, a midfield-three of the Leeds man flanked by Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah will remain as the steady core, and true strength of this team.

In the attack, Christin Pulisic‘s spot is assured, and all indications point to the resurgent Gio Reyna staking out the other wing. This leaves the central forward position with a slight question mark, with Josh Sargent and Jesus Ferreira likely candidates, although few would complain – aside from weary Wales defenders – if Brenden Aaronson lined up as a false-nine.

In the defense, Sergiño Dest and Antonee Robinson will man the flanks, while the “dueling Thors”, Walker Zimmerman and Tim Ream, are likely to get the nod in the center, in front of keeper Matt Turner.

By all means, this lineup should be enough to hold their own, if not hold a definite edge over the Wales team, apart from one obvious exception.

In short, while the Wales team, on average, has enough quality to give themselves a fighting chance against the Americans, their fortunes will almost certainly hang on the influence of one man – the 33 year-old superstar Gareth Bale.

In terms of top-flight pedigree, the Wales squad has a similar number of key players littered throughout several of the best leagues in Europe, albeit outside of the top teams, however there should be no misconceptions that their current, and likely fleeting spot in the upper echelons of the world’s game is due to the career of Bale.

Bale’s durability is certainly to be an issue in the tournament, as he was mostly reserved for the late-impact role by his MLS club LAFC on their way to the MLS Cup, and has hardly been an every-game starter for Wales in their recent outings.

Nevertheless, the supporting cast of veterans such as Juventus cast-off Aaron Ramsey, Tottenham mainstay Ben Davies and veteran keeper Wayne Hennessey will take some of the pressure off of Bale’s shoulders, and keep the game on a knife’s edge, where a single moment of brilliance from the former Real Madrid man could be the difference.

The teams will kick off in a few short hours in the nighttime Qatar heat, already knowing the outcome of the group’s opener between England and Iran which takes place several hours prior. The ball starts rolling at 2pm Eastern time, 8pm Central European time.

By David Smith

I'm YA's resident doctor, but not the kind of doctor you would want giving you an examination anywhere outside of a lecture hall. I've been YA's feet-on-the-ground in Germany since 2008, have an affinity for overly verbose descriptions of irrelevant minutiae, keep an eye on YAs in most of the destinations on mainland Europe, and watch a whole lot of Serie A.

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