Qatar 2022: Here We Come

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(U.S Soccer)

U.S Men’s National Team players holding a “qualified” banner after defeating Costa Rica 5-1 at home.

It’s been over four years since the infamous USMNT game against Trinidad and Tobago. The 2-0 loss disqualified the team from the Russia 2018 World Cup. The game marked a low moment in U.S soccer that sent the U.S soccer federation into utter chaos. Long-time fans and casual American sports fans alike all asked how a sports superpower like the U.S failed to qualify in the top four of World Cup qualifying.

Russia 2018 Qualifying Campaign

Throughout the qualifying campaign, the USMNT struggled at times and was inconsistent. The team featured an aging roster past its prime and opened with a 2-1 loss to Mexico. By the time they got to their last game, they were in a position where they needed at least a draw against Trinidad to qualify for the World Cup. There were high expectations for the team playing against the team at the bottom of the table. As the game went on, everything began to go wrong for the USA. Panama and Honduras both got wins that put them above the USA in the qualifying table. It was clear that if the U.S did not get a win against Trinidad, they would get eliminated from the World Cup. The U.S went on to lose 2-0 by the end of the game. Heartbreak and questions followed.

17-year-old USMNT superstar Christian Pulisic brought to tears after the final whistle blows. (Getty Images)

The USMNT players were left at home on their couches watching the World Cup in the summer of 2018. It was traumatizing for superstar Christian Pulisic who showed flashes of greatness but wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s struggles.

The Rebuilding Process

As fans demanded a fix to the soccer structure in the U.S, the U.S Soccer Federation worked swiftly to implement changes from the ground up. With the U.S selected to host the 2026 World Cup, the ultimate goal was to develop youth that would build a qualified team to compete for the trophy at home. The U.S Soccer Federation invested millions of dollars into youth academies and training facilities. Major League Soccer invested more money into their youth development academies to produce talent. Many MLS clubs such as F.C Dallas and Philadelphia Union started to build quality talent. These players began to catch the eyes of prestigious European clubs who signed them to deals with their clubs. 

Weston Mckennie, one of the most prominent players on the USMNT, is a product of FC Dallas’ youth academy. He now plays for Juventus in Italy. (Getty Images)

Players such as Weston Mckennie, Brenden Aaronson, Josh Sargent, and Gio Reyna are examples of star players who are products of MLS youth academies.

2019 U-20 World Cup

The 2019 U-20 World Cup was the first test for America’s new youth products after the 2018 World Cup qualifying failure. The U-20 USMNT showed strength and courage as they defeated strong teams and got to the quarter-finals before falling to Ecuador. The team netted a 2-0 win against Nigeria, 1-0 against Qatar, and knocked out France 3-2 in the group stage. U.S soccer fans were stunned by the talent they were witnessing on the world stage.

The U-20 lineup featured players who are now vital to the success of the USMNT such as Timothy Weah and Sergino Dest. (Soccer America)

U.S soccer fans got a glimpse of the future in Timothy Weah and Sergino Dest. Weah plays for Ligue 1 club Lille, while Dest plays for La Liga club Barcelona. Both players have been successful at the national team level.

CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup

CONCACAF Nations League was the first tournament for the senior USMNT after World Cup qualifying and Covid. Soccer fans would see where the team stood before the 2022 World Cup and if the U.S soccer federation improved the team and structure. The team that competed in the Nations League was new and fresh. Led by Christian Pulisic, the team fought their way to the final with Mexico. Goals from Pulisic, Gio Reyna, and Weston Mckennie gave the USA the gold trophy.

Tyler Adams lifts up CONCACAF Nations League trophy to end his international soccer duty for the summer. (Omar Vega/Getty Images)

The U.S went on to beat Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup shortly after their Nations League victory. The future looked bright for the USMNT and their newly found young players.

2022 World Cup Qualifying Campaign

Immediately after the summer tournaments, the USMNT shifted its focus to the road to Qatar. The boys opened up the first window of qualifiers with a 0-0 draw against El Salvador, a 1-1 draw against Canada, and a 4-1 win over Honduras. The USMNT continued to battle through qualifiers with star players injured. Giovanni Reyna, Christian Pulisic, and Weston Mckennie all missed crucial matches with injuries.

With injuries plaguing the team, the USMNT found themselves in a position where they needed a win and a draw to qualify for the World Cup. The last window of World Cup qualifying would decide the fate of the national team. USMNT fans did not ignore the team’s position as the U.S previously found themselves in a similar spot in 2017 and ultimately lost to Trinidad. With an away game in Mexico and Costa Rica, USMNT fans felt stressed.

The USMNT opened up the window with a crucial 0-0 draw in Mexico. They then pounded Panama 5-1 at home with help from Christian Pulisic’s hat trick. By the end of the game against Panama, the team was confident that they would make it to the World Cup

Christian Pulisic celebrates after banging in a goal against Panama. (CBS Sports)
The USA was drawn with England, Iran, and the Euro-playoff winner for the 2022 World Cup. (US Soccer)

To make it to the World Cup, they would have to not lose to Costa Rica by six goals. The USMNT ultimately lost 2-0 to Panama but did enough in the first two games to qualify for the World Cup in third place on goal differential.

The U.S Soccer Federation got the job done as they avoided a crisis and successfully qualified for the world cup with a team loaded with talent.

 

 

 

 

 

Qatar 2022, North America 2026, and Beyond

With new talent, culture, and a new mentality, the future looks bright for the USMNT. Shock and regret were felt deeply throughout the U.S soccer fan base after the Trinidad game in 2017.

In the years after, the new U.S squad and new coaching staff fetched two trophies in one summer and qualified for the World Cup. 

The U.S is producing talent on a scale never seen before while young players are challenging themselves and moving to Europe to develop. With stars such as Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna, Sergino Dest, and Weston Mckennie leading the way, USMNT fans are sure the team can do some damage in Qatar. 

More importantly, USMNT fans are ecstatic that with things moving in this direction, the USA can compete for the trophy at home in 2026.

There are issues with inconsistency that need fixing before the World Cup. But now is the time to celebrate and appreciate the depth and talent that the team has built. England should be nervous having to play the USA in their group. 

Qatar, here we come.

 

 

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