July 1, 2014 was the last time anyone saw the United States men’s national soccer team at the FIFA World Cup Final. It was a 2-1 loss to Belgium in extra time in the round of 16 – you know that. Nearly eight years later, Chris Wondolowski misses and those 14 tackles from Tim Howard are still fresh. That defeat is still painful. Now the biggest stage in all sports will once again include red, white and blue, and with it will come the highest expectations this team has ever seen.
Wednesday night in San Jose, Costa Rica saw this young USMNT book his ticket to Qatar, even though he came after poor 2-0 loss Where the team was inconsistent and suffered from the physical strength of their opponent. It was more weather-resistant than electric, and would raise ridiculous questions because of the bad taste left in the mouths of players and fans, but let’s remember – children make mistakes. Young teams, at times, simply do not perform, especially on the road. They may not have followed the instructions to the T, they were at times advancing slowly, but there were some encouraging moments early on. As always, the road in CONCACAF is unlike anything else in the sport.
The qualifying moment came after a runaway qualifying session for the United States, where the depth was tested heavily by the COVID-influenced schedule that was even more crowded than it had been, a course that manager Greg Berhalter handled well. From sending Weston McKennie home early with off-field issues to trying to figure out how to deal with all the injuries, he was far from perfect. But, on the contrary, it has shown that the USMNT, in large part, is back.
In 14 games, only two players, Anthony Robinson and Tyler Adams, played more than 1,000 minutes. Only two others, center back Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman played over 800. So getting this job done was a real team effort, it required the mindset of the next man and a group of players committed to stepping up and meeting the moment,
“It was definitely a roller coaster,” Christian Pulisic told CBS Sports after the game. “It’s never easy to go down and play in these CONCACAF countries. We know that. We struggled for the most part, and eventually we’re in the top three and we’re going to the World Cup. We should be proud.”
Through ups and downs, through good and bad results, this team once again found a foothold under Berhalter and accomplished what it set out to do. Really qualifying in 2022 is a continuation of 2021 which was really the time when this generation of players came into their own world. That summer they won not only the Nations League but also the Gold Cup. Now 2022 is their chance to show the world that American boys can play, too. They’ve earned that right, with 14 grueling games and 1,260 minutes when qualification wasn’t guaranteed, when play wasn’t always pretty, but where there was heart and determination that inspired fans who were offended by what they saw not long ago.
Don’t let this match fool you – this team has been more good than bad, and they were much better than what we saw during the 2018 tournament. USMNT has never had this much talent, never had a team of this young man who wore these colors and took advantage of what they did. They won half of their games, conceded just 10 goals in 14 games, and averaged 1.7 points per game after earning just 1.2 in the 2018 tournament. Perhaps most importantly, this was the youngest USMNT team in playoff history – 23 years, 302 An average day, and they did what the team’s last session couldn’t.
The fan base is hurt by what happened in 2017. On this night, the healing begins with a future that couldn’t be brighter.