(Disclaimer, I originally wrote this for my school's newspaper page but I am reposting this on SASFC, yes I know the games are over; I meant to post this earlier but I was having issues.)
It’s here, the USMNT has really stumbled into a World Cup spot in the group of death. With opponents like England, Wales, and Iran they will need to be on their toes and earn the maximum amount of points in the "easy" fixtures to be able to advance out of their group. So, I will go over the U.S. team as a whole and preview their fixtures, and ultimately make a prediction for the U.S. in Qatar.
Road to Qatar
The U.S. came third in a relatively easy Concacaf Qualifying Group, earning themselves the final automatic qualifying spot for the 2022 World Cup. The squad is the youngest in the tournament and lacks big-game experience. The U.S. have shown grit inside of Concacaf, but the nation as a whole has lacked pressure because of the sports culture inside of the U.S. However, they were able to come together and right their wrongs from the last qualifying cycle and actually qualified.
My worries for the U.S. are that the age of the players and the manager will hold them back from achieving their full potential. Outside of Concacaf the U.S. are winless since 2021. This a scary stat considering the U.S. will most likely not face anyone from Concacaf in the tournament this winter. Greg Berhalter has made some very questionable managerial decisions in the qualifying cycle and the U.S. nearly threw it all away had it not been for the young talent that they possess. In my opinion, Berhalter is the soccer equivalent of Mike McCarthy, coasting on high-end talent but the fact is that even his woes sometimes can’t bail the U.S. out of everything, hence his winless record outside of Concacaf is comparable to Mike McCarthy’s record against teams over .500 (Spoiler Alert: it’s not good).
At first, glance, when you see the group that the U.S. was drawn into you could see them finishing an easy second and having a matchup with the Netherlands in the Round of 16. But, that was not the case, initially, I came out of the draw happy because I recognized the strength of England’s squad but realized that they could just as easily bottle this one away too. Wales was a formidable team coming from the Euro Play-Off against Ukraine. Their best player is Gareth Bale, but other than him they don't pose a threat to the U.S. backline. The last opponent is Iran and they come into the world cup with great form. Initially posed to be the worst team in the group, some even have them topping it. This group is the hardest one to predict at the world cup because the teams are so close together in the rankings. This draw initially looked good but now it looks like the toughest group in Qatar.
The first match for the U.S. will be against Wales on the 22nd of November 2022. And trust me, it will be one for the ages. The U.S. will be riding high and trying to get a fast start in this world cup with all 3 points in the first match against Wales. For them however one man for the Welsh stands in their way, Gareth Bale; he will be the most dangerous player in this match and Wales go where he goes. This will be a tight affair with both teams having a chance to win it. The next match will be against England on the 25th of November 2022. A huge match for the U.S. and if they are unable to get all three points against Wales will put pressure on the U.S. for the win against England. However, England is a team that has much more talent than the U.S. and while their manager is inept himself, he has still led the team to a World Cup Semi-Final and a Euro Final in the past four years. This game will not be as tight as the Wales game but it will still be fun to watch. The final game for the U.S. in the group stage is against Iran on the 29th of November 2022. If the U.S. has gained the maximum points in one of their previous two matches, I feel that this game will decide if they go through. If they have 1 point through 2 matches, this game will need to be a must-win and then the goal differential will tell if the U.S. is going through or not.
Prediction vs Wales
The first match vs Wales will be the best first match of the World Cup on this day. The game will go down to the wire with both teams having 7 shots or more. The U.S. will draw first blood with a Sergino Dest curler in the top right to give the U.S. the lead in the 30th minute. The U.S. goes into halftime with all three points at hand. Until you realize how formidable Gareth Bale is. It takes bale nearly 15 minutes to equalize off of a header from the top of the six-yard box. With 30 minutes left there is a dogfight with both teams going at it. Gareth Bale wins a free kick in the 80th minute and puts a left-footed shot into the bottom left corner past Matt Turner shocking 300 million people in the U.S. watching on their TV and giving Wales the lead. The final whistle blows and Greg Berhalter drops to the ground as he is still winless outside of Concacaf. Wales celebrate their first world cup win in nearly 80 years as the U.S. gain zero points from the first world cup match and are staring down elimination in the first four days of Qatar versus a powerhouse English squad that won’t go down without a fight.
Prediction: United States: 1, Wales: 2
Prediction @ England
The second match will be depressing for the U.S. as they face an England squad fresh off of feasting on Iran. England will come into this game hungry to seal qualifying against the Americans. The English will take only 20 minutes to open the score through a Saka goal on the wing. They will then out of halftime score through a Phil Foden cross to a Harry Maguire head that makes the score 2-0 and the U.S. staring down elimination in the first four days of Qatar. Greg Berhalter subs on big Jordan Morris and he does absolutely nothing as the U.S. give up another goal via a Harry Kane tap-in. The U.S. will show very little offensive promise while England will have free shots left and right on the Americans. Matt Turner will do all that he can but will be unsuccessful as the U.S. are eliminated from the tournament in just four days.
Prediction: England: 3, United States: 0
Prediction @ Iran
The third and final match will be against Iran with the U.S. looking to salvage anything out of Qatar. Iran will be looking for a spot in the last 16 and the U.S. could spoil those hopes. The game will be low-scoring but still tight, the last 30 minutes will have both teams looking for a winner. But Christian Pullisic will notch his first-ever World Cup goal in the 81st minute and give the U.S. something to be happy about on the third matchday. The supporters will feel revived as the U.S. have something to build upon from the last time they were in this position. They will finish third in the group, one point behind Wales; the late goal that they gave up against them will prove to be the difference between a knockout tie with the Netherlands and going home early from Qatar. The U.S. will feel mixed emotions here, on one hand, they won against a formidable Iranian side, but they blew it against Wales and England horribly.
Prediction: Iran: 0, United States: 1
However, don’t let the false hope of the win against Iran be anything more than a consolation, I ask you U.S. federation; if your goal is to truly win it all in 2026 in front of your home crowd, this will not be the coach to do it. Qatar will be a dismal world cup, and the U.S. need to recognize that beating up third-world countries doesn’t mean anything when you come against a formidable opponent like England or Wales. Everyone feels that this team has the talent to be able to reach the Knockouts, but their coach is holding them back and they need to cut ties or it’s going to be a long 4 more years.
England 2 Iran 0
United States 1 Wales 2
Wales 1 Iran 1
England 3 United States 0
Iran 0 United States 1
Wales 1 England 2