USA’s Greatest Soccer Generation will be in Qatar

USA's Weston McKennie
USA's Weston McKennie

It is sometimes hard to realize that despite the USA National Team’s great years with Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Claudio Reyna, and Tim Howard, to pick some obvious heavyweights, it is today’s generation with Christian Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna, Ricardo Pepi, Brenden Aaronson, Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest, Yunus Musah, Timothy Weah, Matthew Hoppe, and Ethan Horvath that is populated with talent at every turn.

The team that defeated Mexico in the Gold Cup and Nations League is for real. Those were not fluky wins, those were statement victories announcing a new sheriff was in town for CONCACAF and those players in red, white, and blue, will be around for years to come. Now it is time to take the next step and show the rest of the world what they can achieve.

In the World Cup in Qatar the USA National Team (ranked 16th in the world by FIFA) will showcase its best generation of players ever and in England (ranked 5th), Wales (ranked 19th), and Iran (ranked 20th) they have the perfect group to show what they are made of and how well they can play. A few ranking slots up or down are not particularly meaningful given the way FIFA does its counting, but once you get beyond five steps the differences are marked. So, for all intents and purposes, the USA is grouped with two peers and one better team.

A draw with England and wins over Wales and Iran would ensure the USA National Team progresses and those results are not out of the question if definitely a stretch. Just imagine, though, what that set of results could do for soccer in the USA. It would require the game of their lives against Gareth Southgate’s lads and two back-to-back, top of the line—Dos a Cero Mexico-style win—performances besides, a feat the USA has never been able to achieve since Gregg Berhalter has been in charge of the national team.

Yes, the 2021 CONCACAF Nations League Final was on June sixth, and the 2021 Gold Cup Final was on August first of that same summer, somewhat back-to-back, but that is 56 days between encounters. At the World Cup, the entire 64-match tourney will be played in that span. Teams play each other every few days, not weeks or months apart.

Progressing from Group B is the attainable stretch-reach this USA generation should be aiming for in Qatar. So, let us just dream that came true, and the Yanks progressed from Group B, then what?

Their Round of 16 opponents would most likely be either Senegal (18th) or the Netherlands (8th) and here is where the FIFA rankings fail. Senegal is not less of a team than the USA they are better than the USA. Beating Sadio Mane and company would be feat in and of itself. The Netherlands are deservedly on another plane, and given the Yanks’ lack of familiarity with the Dutch (as opposed to their comfort level playing the Brits), winning that match would be a super upset. So, it could be the Yanks leave Qatar at the Round of 16—not a bad result given their competition.

But if these North Americans were able to progress to the quarterfinals, then they would likely meet Argentina or France who are as high above the Dutch as the Netherlands are above the USA. Frankly, even this generation of Yanks would be hard put to deal with Kylian Mbappe’s or Lionel Messi’s troops. But just to have gotten far enough along in a World Cup to be playing the super big boys would be a feat that could propel the USA’s still fledgling men’s national team program to heights it has never experienced.

Photo: Weston McKennie – Shutterstock ID: 1276171648, by MDI

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