Make it matter.
It has been eight arduous years. Therefore, make it count.
This is the responsibility of the United States men’s soccer squad when it competes in the World Cup on Monday for the first time since 2014.
When you think you’ve improved as a soccer nation in that period, as the United States does (despite failing to qualify for the world’s greatest athletic event four years ago), you must grab the opportunity.
For the United States, this must begin immediately, as in Monday at 2:00 p.m., when the team plays its opening group match against Wales in Qatar.
For the U.S. to survive and move from Group D and reach the knockout round of the competition, a solid outcome is essential. Without a win or at least a tie, the U.S. will find itself in a hole it may not be able to climb out of with England, one of the tournament favorites, and Iran remaining on the schedule.
When the match between the United States and Wales begins, it will have been 3,066 days since the United States fell to Belgium in the Round of 16 in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, their most recent World Cup encounter.
For Wales it’s been much longer – since 1958.
In the years since the United States’ previous appearance at the World Cup, a total of 118 different players have appeared in 68 matches for the national team, including 91 after Gregg Berhalter was named as coach in December 2018.
At the World Cup, the USMNT must get out to a quick start.
With a mean age of 25 years and 175 days, this team is the youngest of the 32 competing in the 2018 World Cup. Sunday, Berhalter appointed 23-year-old midfielder Tyler Adams, a native of Wappingers Falls, New York, and a product of the Red Bulls Academy in New Jersey, as captain.
U.S. midfielder Weston McKennie told reporters in Qatar prior to Monday’s opening match, “Three years, four years of just building up to this moment, I believe all the boys are ready to play.”
There will be huge obstacles, the first being who will score goals?
The United States has always struggled to identify goal-scoring players in World Cup competition. Even though they advanced out of group play in 2014, the United States scored only five goals in four games.
In 2010, the United States advanced to the quarterfinals after scoring five goals in five games. It scored only two goals in three games in 2006. The United States scored seven goals in five games in 2002, compared to only one goal in three games in 1998.
Concerningly, the United States scored only three goals from the forward position throughout World Cup qualification.
Josh Sargent, a striker for Norwich City, has scored five goals in 21 national team matches; Jess Ferreira, a striker for FC Dallas, has scored seven goals in 15 national team matches; Gio Reyna, who plays for Dortmund, has scored four goals in 14 national team matches; and Haji Wright, who has played in only three matches.
New York Post coverage of the whole 2022 World Cup tournament.
In June, the 21-year-old Ferreira scored four goals in a match and had an outstanding MLS season in Dallas with 18 goals.
Christian Pulisic, who plays for Chelsea, is often regarded as the finest American player. He has scored 21 goals in 52 international appearances.
Beginning on Monday, Berhalter requires not one but two of these guys to step up.
A further obstacle for Berhalter’s squad is the lack of cohesion in their play.
For example, the team’s MLS players completed their regular season a month ago. On October 23, Ferreira played his final competitive match. DeAndre Yedlin, the lone player on the roster who participated in the 2014 World Cup, last played for Inter Miami on October 17. Walker Zimmerman last played for Nashville SC on October 15.
Some American players stationed in Europe have struggled to earn playing time with their respective teams. Matt Turner, the anticipated starting goalie, has previously served as a backup for Arsenal. Pulisic has not been starting for Chelsea, but rather coming off the bench late in games. Sergio Dest’s playing time has been inconsistent at A.C. Milan.
Weston McKennie engages in practice drills prior to the USMNT’s opening match against Wales.
Berhalter has conducted a training camp and played many 90-minute scrimmages against the U.S. Under-20 squad to keep his guys sharp.
The issue is how realistic this simulation will be on Monday, when it becomes actual.
Beginning with the match against Wales at 2:00 p.m., the answers to these urgent issues will begin to emerge.
Long has been the wait. Eight years have passed. Make it matter.
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