Will talent be enough for U.S. men’s national team at the World Cup?

Since the failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, there has been wholesale changes to the United States Men’s National Team and the United States Soccer Federation with the hopes of setting future teams up with a chance to not only qualify, but also compete for future World Cups.

After three different federation presidents, two head coaches and an overhaul of the national team player pool the nation sits three weeks away from their reintroduction to the world stage.

The USA “golden generation,” that has seen the rise of Christian Pulisic pave the road for players like Gio Reyna, Weston McKennie, Brenden Aaronson, and Tyler Adams to excel at big European clubs, will finally debut in a World Cup.

The USMNT were drawn with Wales, England and Iran in Group B of this year’s World Cup, and on paper this should be a group they could get out of and into the knockout rounds. However, the last couple of national team camps have left Team USA with many questions to answer going into the big dance.

“We know that we can do better, we’re gonna have to do better if we want to succeed in the World Cup,” Midfielder Weston McKennie said on the September matches. “This window as a whole is a big learning lesson and the last jitters out. Hopefully when we get the World Cup it’ll be how it used to be.”

This team has never had players skilled enough to play meaningful minutes at clubs like Chelsea, Juventus and Borussia Dortmund until now and this is cause for excitement from the team’s fan base and general soccer fans in the United States.

Gregg Berhalter, however, as the team’s head coach has never sold the fan base.

From his player selection, to the reliance on his “system”, to his falling out with national team regulars like John Brooks and Matt Miazga, Berhalter’s tenure has been filled with criticism in his direction for the failure to capitalize on the individual talent of this player pool.

Not to mention his on-field antics of bounce passes to get the ball in play and taking selfies with fans in a qualifying match while the clock was still running.

Berhalter is under as much pressure as he ever has been, and the lackluster performances of his team over the last 11 months, but particularly in the last team camp against Japan and Saudi Arabia, do not help his case and the team’s profile heading into the tournament.

As unpredictable as the USMNT have been, how will they fare with the world watching in Qatar?

United States vs. Wales – Nov. 21, 2022 at 2 p.m. ET

Wales come into the tournament ranked 19th in the world, although the FIFA world rankings are to be taken with a grain of salt.

The Welsh have two big impact players in Gareth Bale and Daniel James that the U.S. are going to have to keep tabs on. This is going to be an extremely rare occasion where Team USA enters a World Cup game with a better team on paper and in terms of technicality so they are expected to have the bulk of possession, but that’s not a reason to be get comfortable as Wales can be dangerous on the counter attack with the two aforementioned speedsters as well as striker Kieffer Moore.

Wales, however, will enter this game off the back of a September camp where they lost their two games against Belgium and Poland to cap off a last-place finish in Group 4 of League A of the UEFA Nations League. Much like the United States in their September camp, they struggled to capitalize on opportunities at goal even in the game where they had more possession. They did show an ability to create chances without much of the ball against Belgium though so if the U.S. do hold more possession the counter attacks will be something for the backline to keep an eye on.

The midfield battle will be crucial in this game since it’s where the USMNT is the strongest and the part of the field they can dominate Wales in. Team USA’s Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and one of Yunus Musah or Gio Reyna are going to be one of the most athletic and aggressive midfields at the World Cup that can connect into the attack better than most teams. While Wales’ Aaron Ramsey and Ethan Ampadu are respectable midfielders, this should be the part of the field where the game is won for the United States.

The U.S. should not expect an easy game, but if they play up to their standards they should beat Wales to open the World Cup.

United States vs. England – Nov. 25, 2022 2 p.m. ET

This is the marquee matchup that could have repercussions on the USMNT and soccer in this country for years to come.

On Black Friday, with many across the country at home, The U.S. will face England who go into the World Cup ranked fifth in the world.

Star power is a big factor in World Cups since they are who you turn to when games get unpredictable as they usually do in this tournament, and England is loaded with it.

Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden and Declan Rice are only a fraction of the star players the U.S. is going to have to watch out for. England, however, shares a similar weakness with the USMNT.

Both teams have coaches who impose a style of play on their teams that doesn’t benefit their strengths. The two teams are thought to have their best squads in years, but are underachieving because of their coaches’ tactical sets.

England are 16 months removed from making the Euro 2021 final, though, and a lot of the players that featured in that run will be in Qatar. But, like Wales, they enter the tournament on bad form having gone winless in their last six games and also finishing bottom of their group in the UEFA Nations League that featured Germany, Hungary and Italy.

The USMNT will have to rely on what’s gotten them by in previous World Cups if they hope to get a result in this game, and that is going to be their grit and grind.

As good as players like Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna are, England are loaded with star players all over the field. While the “Three Lions” win the star power battle, you can never count out the heart of the stars and stripes.

“Confidence is a tricky thing,” Berhalter said. “I think when the guys are playing confident, we’re a very dangerous team.”

The U.S. is going to have to play with extreme confidence and empty the tank over 90 minutes to prevent England from winning this game.

United States vs. Iran – Nov, 29, 2022 2 p.m. ET

ran is a team not enough people are paying attention to. This team had a September camp where they picked up good results against two World Cup teams with a win over Uruguay and a draw against Senegal.

They enter the World Cup ranked 20th in the world, just behind Wales, and have the biggest chance to advance from the group that they’ve ever had.

A lot of the players from the 2018 squad that took Spain and Portugal down to the wire will be returning with World Cup experience, something the United States do not have. Their squad will feature a load of talented attacking players like Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi, but their midfield could be their potential downfall.

Precisely where the U.S. excels, is where Iran struggles the most. Their inability to consistently connect with their talented attack could cause big problems for them if the Americans are able to exploit that weakness and pick up the ball in the middle-third of the field.

The USMNT may enter this game on three points and need a big result to advance. Iran is a gritty team with World Cup experience that won’t let anything come easy to them. The U.S. can win this game, but will have to be dialed in for all 90 minutes.

It may just come down to a Landon Donovan-esque moment from Pulisic or Reyna to see them advance. 

Look ahead

While Team USA’s “golden generation” may be underperforming under Berhalter, an appearance in the World Cup is something to get excited about in itself. It will have been well over eight years since the U.S. last played in a World Cup match when they kick off against Wales on Nov. 21st. Despite the struggles in September, the lack of a clear starting striker and questionable player selection by the team’s manager, this is the most talented group this country has taken to a World Cup.

A good showing could go a long way for soccer in this country, and the USMNT’s talisman Christian Pulisic is ready.

“I have to prepare, take care of myself,” Pulisic said. “And everything will fall into place once the World Cup comes around.”

Alfredo Banegas is a junior at Florida International University majoring in digital journalism hoping to combine his passion of sports and writing to become a sports writer. Alfredo looks to make positive changes in the way sports are covered in today’s media landscape.