By Luke I ’23
Christian Pulisic falls to his knees and despair grips each American soccer player as the dream of a 2018 World Cup qualification falls apart. America’s two-one loss to Trinidad and Tobago, which eliminated them from World Cup qualification, was the cataclysmic punctuation on a depressing sentence in the history books of American soccer.
After a streak of qualifying for nine world cups in a row, the US failed to qualify for the 2018 Russia World Cup. This sparked great change within the USA soccer organization as a whole. Bruce Arena, the coach at the time resigned as he became the first USA head coach since 1990 to fail to qualify for the world cup. Additionally, the US Soccer president Sunil Gulati resigned, signaling the end of an era. Gregg Berhalter was brought in to be the new head coach and immediately turned to focus on the talented group of young American players. Christian Pulisic, Timothy Weah, Gio Reyna, and Weston McKinnie highlight the group of youngsters that are leading the “Golden Age of US soccer.” Following the 2018 qualifying debacle, the leaders of American soccer made a collective decision to focus on the future. This meant focusing on the development of youth instead of playing veterans like Brad Guzan, Jozy Altoire, Micheal Bradley, and more. A risky decision, but one that paid off in the end with a qualification to the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
With an average age of 25 years old, the USMNT has the second youngest national team out of the 32 competing in Qatar. In the attack, the USA is led by Brendan Aaronson, Christian Pulisic, Timothy Weah, Gio Reyna, and Jesus Ferreira. These players (excluding Ferriera) all play for major clubs overseas. 22-year-old Brendan Aaronson transferred to Premier League club Leeds United in the summer for a fee of $28 million. Aaronson is just one of a litany of American players who have moved overseas to play more competitive soccer. Previously, the lack of a competitive domestic league has hampered the USA national team, as most of its players used to consist of Major League Soccer players. The MLS is America’s top soccer league and it simply doesn’t have the same competition that is seen overseas in England, France, and Italy. 17 of the 26 players on the national team play their club soccer overseas, a record number in the history of the American national team.
In the midfield, players like Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, and Luca de la Torre have dominated the qualifying games. McKennie has been a prized jewel of American soccer for a long time and is a mainstay in Italian superpower Juventus’s starting lineup. Rising up alongside Christian Pulisic, he is considered by many to be the second-best player in the lineup because of his quick feet, crafty moves, and dangerous long shots. The stout Adams gets little love from the media, but his relentless play in his defensive role of the midfield gives opposing attackers fits, and he’ll be key to a good performance for America in Qatar. Musah and de la Torre add a little bit of midfield magic, as they always seem to be around the ball and have a knack for putting it in the back of the net.
Gregg Berhalter loves to play an aggressive 4-3-3. This allows his talented wingbacks Sergiño Dest and Antonee Robinson to create havoc on the wings of the pitch. Both players play overseas and are skilled defenders while contributing to the attack – in CONCACAF qualifying both Dest and Robinson scored a number of crucial goals.
Meanwhile, the center-back position is arguably the weakest in the XI for the United States. Walker Zimmerman, a locked-in starter, plays in the MLS and his ability against top-tier opposition is questionable. However, the biggest issue is who will play alongside him — whether it be Cameron Carter-Vickers, Tim Ream, or Joe Scally. With Vickers inexperienced, Ream 35 years old, and Scally a youngster in the MLS, the second center-back spot is weak. Finally, in goal, Arsenal’s Matt Turner has been exceptional. From the start of qualifying, he has outplayed Zack Steffen and has rightfully won the starting goalkeeper spot. With Turner between the posts, fans will be reminded of legendary keeper Tim Howard.
America has been overlooked throughout the World Cup process – and doubts abound over their inexperience, lack of goalscorers, and a difficult group consisting of England, Wales, and Iran. However, this will all be put to bed when America makes it out of the group stage. The golden generation of American soccer can not and will not be stopped in Qatar. When you turn on the television on November 21st, don’t be surprised when the USA produces some magic and starts off a magical World Cup run with a win over Wales. The youth movement is coming.