Sports Take: Young USMNT is unprepared for 2022 FIFA World Cup

United States' players pose for a team photo prior to a qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 against Costa Rica Wednesday, March 30, 2022 in San Jose, Costa Rica. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

By AnnaGrace Hale | Sports Writer

On March 30, all United States soccer fans let out a deep sigh of relief as the U.S. men’s national team secured a place in the 2022 FIFA World Cup. After a haunting loss to Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10, 2017 caused the United States to drop its ticket to Russia for the 2018 World Cup, the return of the U.S. was long anticipated, yet never felt secure.

Now that this team has clinched a spot in this prestigious international tournament, what are the odds they find success?

To put it plainly, no one should expect the USMNT to win this World Cup. Making it out of group play would be nice, but is by no means a given.

The farthest the United States has gone in the tournament was in the first World Cup in 1930, when they were one of 13 teams to participate, and lost in the semifinals to Argentina. Besides that loss and their loss in the quarterfinals in 2002, the men’s team has continuously fallen in the round of 16, if surfacing from the group stage.

For the U.S., Qatar’s World Cup is looking similar to the rest of their appearances regarding how far this team will go. The Round of 16 is their ceiling.

In the past few months of qualifying matches, the team has displayed a case of the injury bug. Many key players, such as FC Red Bull Salzburg’s Brenden Aaronson and Juventus’ Weston McKennie, missed the last couple of matches due to injury. Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, the most notable player, missed earlier national team games due to injury as well. These are only a few of the multitude of injuries the U.S. has suffered.

That being said, this could mean that the USMNT has yet to display their full capabilities on an international stage, but the likelihood of them being able to be in top form in November seems slim. Now that the World Cup is escaping the heat of the desert and being played in the winter, players are released from their club teams only a week before group play begins. For past World Cups, there has been longer preparation time for the team to build chemistry and prepare for the weeks ahead. The likelihood of club season injuries are high, as the USMNT knows firsthand, and because of this short window, there is little time for full recovery.

Additionally, this United States team is young. Players such as Pulisic, McKennie and Tyler Adams are still up and coming on the global stage. These players have found great success with their club teams. Pulisic aided Chelsea in winning the 2021 UEFA Champions League and McKennie has become a starter for Juventus, winning the Coppa Italia with them in the 2020-2021 season.

However, because of the fateful day in 2017, most of the players who have the possibility of being placed on the 23-man roster will not have experienced a World Cup, or any national tournament in this capacity. Their lack of experience will be felt in Qatar.

Similarly, with injuries, this team has had little time to get to know each other. Even though November is seven months away, opportunities for international play are limited. Playing together is important, but playing quality teams seems to be vital in preparing for World Cup-level play.

The only quality team on the schedule as of now is in June against Uruguay. With the former attacking partner of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Manchester United’s Edinson Cavani this game will be a good test for the Americans.

It will be interesting to see how the physicality and style of play of CONCACAF and CONMEBOL teams compare to the style of play that Gareth Southgate and his England team will present in group play.

World Cup Group B is composed of the United States, England and Iran. In June, the fourth spot will be determined between Scotland, Wales and Ukraine. Although the United States is the second favorite to win the pool behind 2018 World Cup Semifinalists and 2020 European Championship Runner-Up England, upsets in tournaments are not unusual for the Americans.

In 2014 they scraped by with four points due to goal differential to make it to the Round of 16. They need at least one win out of three games to progress.

As the team continues to prepare for this upcoming tournament, it will be interesting to see how head coach Gregg Berhalter prepares his young squad as they enter into long-awaited yet uncharted, territory.