It's finally here (5 months too late)! World Cup 2022 will kick off on November 20 at 11 AM ET with hosts Qatar taking on Ecuador in Group A.
I just want to take a moment to say that it sucks that this tournament is taking place in Qatar. I'm sure everyone knows about what's gone on in terms of the process to award the tournament to Qatar, the human rights issues (putting it mildly) in the buildup, and the general badness of the Qatari government.
The USMNT opens their campaign against Wales on Monday, November 21 at 2 PM. Then, they take on England in the Revolutionary War on Black Friday also at 2 PM, and finish up the group with Iran on Tuesday, November 29 at 2 PM. It's a group of medium difficulty - not the hardest but not easy by any means - and the USMNT looked pretty poor last time we saw them in friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia in September.
If you don't know anything about soccer, the World Cup or the USMNT, check out this short podcast episode- a primer for non-soccer or casual soccer fans to help get you up to speed. Scuffed Podcast
- Chris Richards, CB - As of Oct. 28, was about a week to 10 days from returning to training. It's going to be close, but I think it might be too late for him. Even before the injury he wasn't playing much for Crystal Palace. An unfortunate miss for an already thin position group. EDIT - Chris has posted on Instagram that he will miss the World Cup due to injury.
- Sam Vines, LB - Broken leg over the weekend (Nov. 5). Was on the bubble anyway, but is definitely out now.
- Luca De La Torre, CM - Reported leg injury on Oct. 28, returned to training on Nov. 5.
- Weston McKennie, CM - Thigh injury reported on Oct. 30, out at least 15 days. Reportedly returned to training Nov. 7.
- Josh Sargent, ST - Calf injury reported on Oct. 29. Doesn't sound serious, but haven't seen any updates since then.
I will update this post with the roster when it is announced on November 9, but here is my best guess (not what I would do, and sadly it is not quite the same).
Projected Squad (26 player max):
GKs: Matt Turner (Arsenal), Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough), Sean Johnson (NYCFC); Just missed: Ethan Horvath (Luton Town), Gaga Slonina (Chicago Fire)
FBs: Sergino Dest (AC Milan), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami), Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach), Reggie Cannon (Boavista); Just missed: Shaq Moore (Nashville SC)
CBs: Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC), Aaron Long (NY Red Bulls), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic), Tim Ream (Fulham); Just missed: Mark McKenzie (Genk), James Sands (Rangers), John Brooks (Benfica), Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes), Auston Trusty (Birmingham City)
DMs: Tyler Adams (Leeds United), Kellyn Acosta (LAFC)
CMs: Weston McKennie (Juventus), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Luca De La Torre (Celta Vigo); Just missed: Christian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Eryk Williamson (Portland Timbers)
AMs: Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Brendan Aaronson (Leeds United), Malik Tillman (Rangers); Just missed: Djordje Mihailovic (AZ Alkmaar)
Wings: Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Tim Weah (Lille), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas); Just missed: Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)
STs: Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Josh Sargent (Norwich City), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen); Just missed: Jordan Pefok (Union Berlin), Brandon Vazquez (FC Cincinnati)
If Richards is able to return in time, I would drop Ream, but it looks like a pretty long shot at this point.
Opponent previews (Summary from The Athletic - paywall):
Cymru (Wales) - Squad
Cymru qualified for the World Cup via the European playoff by finishing second in their UEFA qualification group behind Belgium with 15 points from 8 matches. In the 4-team playoff, they defeated Austria 2-1 in the first round and Ukraine 1-0 in the final. They most recently played the USMNT in a friendly in 2020, which finished in a 0-0 draw.
Their key players are GK Danny Ward (Leicester City), CM Aaron Ramsey (Nice), Winger Dan James (Fulham), ST Kieffer Moore (Bournemouth), and Attacker Gareth Bale (LAFC). They generally play a fairly conservative gameplan and rely on the star power of Bale and the aerial prowess of Moore to grind out results. While Bale hasn't played recently due to injury and hasn't been in good club form for many years, he alwasy seems to turn up for the Dragons. This is not an easy game by any means, but it is one the US should hope to get all three points from and get off to a good start. Cymru will likely look to keep their defense compact and organized and nick a goal on the counter or from a set piece.
England - Squad
England topped their UEFA qualification group with 26 points from 10 matches, which automatically qualified them for the World Cup. Their most recent match against the US was the famous 2010 World Cup group match where Clint Dempsey scored a long-range equalizer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIkAxHsr62Q) after a tame shot was spectacularly mishandled by England GK Rob Green to allow the match to finish in a 1-1 draw. Despite the famous proclamation of "EASY - England Algeria Slovenia Yanks" by the British media (https://www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/4714590924), the US finished first on the goals scored tiebreaker although England also went through to the knockouts.
I'm sure most people will recognize just about all of their players from watching the Premier League every weekend, but a few of their key players are GK Jordan Pickford (Everton), CB Harry Maguire - not for good reasons (Manchester United), CM Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Wingers Raheem Sterling (Chelsea) and Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), and ST Harry Kane (Spurs). Despite having one of the most star-studded squads in international soccer, manager Gareth Southgate tends to set them up in a conservative 3-4-3 formation. They have had trouble scoring goals recently, but they are certainly a sleeping giant waiting to be awoken if Southgate can implement some more progressive tactics. Even so, they were semi-finalists in the 2018 World Cup and finalists at Euro 2020. While the USMNT will certainly be up for this match against some of the best in the world, some of whom are their teammates, England is one of the tournament favorites and a point from this match would be a very good result for the USMNT.
Iran - Squad:
Iran also topped the AFC qualification group with 25 points from 10 matches, automatically qualifying them for the World Cup. They haven't played a match against the USMNT since 2000, a 1-1 draw in a friendly. They recently (September) fired the coach who brought them through qualifying and replaced him with Carlos Queiroz, who managed them previously from 2011-2019. So, they are in a bit of disarray, but should not be discounted.
They have a few players performing at a high level throughout Europe. I will not pretend to be an expert on their squad, but some names I recognize: Winger Alireza Jahanbaksh (Feyenoord), Winger Saman Ghoddos (Brentford), ST Sardar Azmoun (Bayer Leverkusen), and ST Medhi Taremi (FC Porto). In particular, Taremi and Azmoun are big, big threats. Taremi is one of the top strikers in Portugal and has had a good season thus far following a very good season last year.
I believe with Queiroz back at the helm they will adopt some conservative tactics, but they will be very, very dangerous when they do generate good chances with their talented strikers. This will be the final match of the group, so it's possible that one team will not have much to play for. Or, it could be the decider for who goes through. I kind of have a bad feeling about this game - it feels like the Algeria game from 2010. Landon Donovan (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrGbhNYW030) famously rescued the points and secured qualification in the dying moments, but we were very nearly eliminated. Obviously, Harry Kane is not going to surprise anyone since everyone knows he is one of the best strikers in the world, but I feel Iran's frontmen could sneak up on us and punish us if we are bombing forward needing a result.
USA EDIT - Adding a quick summary of the US for anyone who may not be familiar with the team
The USMNT finished 3rd in the CONCACAF (North America and Carribean) WCQ group, the last of the automatic qualification places, with 25 points from 14 matches. Their coach is Gregg Berhalter, a former USMNT defender and former coach of the Columbus Crew. He generally sets the team up in a 4-3-3 formation. Their playing style varies a bit, but they generally try to keep possession, have the striker drop into the high midfield space and combine with the midfielders while the wingers make aggressive vertical runs in behind. They can also be a very effective pressing team due to their youth and athleticism. The midfielders in particular can cover a ton of ground. However, they have shown vulnerability when pressing against teams who are composed in possession and can find big switches to more advanced wide players and bypass the midfield. They have also had some trouble breaking down teams who like to sit deep and defend in a low block as opposed to pressing them high up the pitch. Some key players: LW Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), RW/AM Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), DM Tyler Adams (Leeds United), FB Antonee Robinson (Fulham), CB Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC), and GK Matt Turner (Arsenal).
If the USMNT performs as they have previously in big games (basically whenever they play Mexico), they should advance. If one of the strikers rounds into form during the tournament, the CB opposite Walker Zimmerman (please don't be Aaron Long) is competent and the starting GK doesn't have any howlers (cough - Zack Steffen), we will go through. If we continue to lack ideas in final third, fail to generate chances against low block defenses, and remain vulnerable to the counter, we could be looking at an early exit.
I don't particularly have a lot of confidence left in the manager, Gregg Berhalter, to choose appropriate tactics or to adjust them if Plan A doesn't work. But the players seem to like him and they play hard for him, so here's hoping we can produce another vintage American try-hard performance.
Enjoy the tournament, and discuss below!