One newspaper headline called England’s draw for this winter’s 2022 World Cup a “dream” scenario. Another article described the draw which placed Gareth Southgate’s team in the same group as the United States, Iran and ultimately Wales, who came through the final UEFA play-off, “easy.”
England could be forgiven for feeling relief at avoiding Germany and the Netherlands in Pot 2, but the Three Lions can’t be complacent in Qatar. Indeed, the team England did draw from Pot 2 – the USA – have been quietly improving to the point that they are now targeting a deep run at the 2022 World Cup.
The USA will arrive in Qatar this winter with one of the youngest teams in the whole tournament. After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the focus was placed on youth as the country vowed never to miss out on international football’s biggest party ever again. There have been growing pains, but the USA have grown nonetheless.
In Christian Pulisic, the US boast a difference-maker in the attacking third. The Chelsea winger hasn’t always found his best form for his country, leading to a debate over his best position for the USA, but he still carries a goal threat that is extremely important given the lack of a world class centre forward.
Gio Reyna is another generational talent, although the 19-year-old’s recent injury troubles means the USA can’t count on him at the 2022 World Cup. If, however, Gregg Berhalter can get the Borussia Dortmund playmaker on the pitch in Qatar, it could significantly elevate the overall quality of his team.
Berhalter has settled on a 4-3-3 formation over the last two years with Timothy Weah offering width and direct running on the right wing. In midfield, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie have been moulded into a very effective trio with all three players offering something different.
Even if McKennie, who missed the last few months of the 2021/22 season with injury, is missing, Berhalter has Brenden Aaronson to turn to. The 21-year-old has only just signed for Leeds United from Red Bull Salzburg and is expected to join the likes of Pulisic, McKennie and Reyna in the top tier of American footballing talent.
Sergino Dest gives the US genuine quality at right back while Nashville’s Walker Zimmerman has flourished as Berhalter’s dominant centre back in 2022. In goal, Manchester City’s Zack Steffen has been favoured as number one, although it’s possible Matt Turner, soon to join Arsenal this summer, could start in Qatar.
Berhalter has faced questions as USA manager, and doubts still persist over some aspects of his stewardship, but he has led his country to Gold Cup and CONCACAF Nations League titles in the last 12 months and secured World Cup qualification with an extremely young group of players. Progress is there for all to see.
Of course, true progress will be measured at the World Cup where the USA wants to make it out of the group stage at the very least. The country has big ambitions in the football world and believes, with some justification, that a deep run could happen in Qatar this winter. A good result against England could set them on their way.
England have never beaten the USA at a World Cup, famously losing in 1950 and drawing in 2010. That should be warning enough to Southgate and his players that they mustn’t underestimate their Group B opponents. And if that isn’t enough, England need only look at the improvement charted by the USA since the last World Cup.