USMNT Qualify For 2022 World Cup


The USMNT is heading to their first World Cup since 2014. (Courtesy of Twitter)

After missing out on the 2018 edition, their first failure since 1986, the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) officially qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after finishing third in the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) World Cup Qualifying standings. For the 2022 World Cup cycle, the final round of World Cup Qualifying in CONCACAF saw eight teams play a round-robin style for a total of 14 matches with the top three (Canada, Mexico and the United States) advancing directly to the World Cup with the team finishing in fourth place (Costa Rica) advancing to an intercontinental playoff against the highest finishing team from the Oceania region (New Zealand). 

As expected, it was a rocky road for the USMNT, as they only won seven of their 14 matches but still managed to comfortably squeak into a direct qualification spot. There were lots of highs and lows from the first 11 matches of qualifying for the United States, including demoralizing losses in Canada and Panama, but also a comeback win against Honduras and a dominant triumph over their biggest rival, Mexico, en route to going undefeated in their seven matches at home. Despite mixed feelings from both the fans and media, USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter did what he was hired to do and brought his team to their first World Cup since 2014.

The Yanks were led by a squad of mostly younger players that averaged to about 24 years old throughout qualifying. Many of this exciting crop of players feature some of the best clubs in Europe, including Christian Pulisic of Chelsea, Weston McKennie of Juventus and Sergiño Dest of Barcelona. In the most recent FIFA window of qualifying, however, the team was plagued with injuries to Dest, McKennie, Brenden Aaronson and Matt Turner going into crucial matches against Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica. The United States sat in second place with 21 points heading into the final window, three points behind Canada in first and four points clear of Panama in fourth.

While the United States seemingly entered the window with one foot already in Qatar, they faced their toughest slate of matches yet, as they had a tough home game against a Panama team they had already fallen to sandwiched between trips to Mexico and Costa Rica, two countries where the USMNT have never won a World Cup Qualifier. 

In the opening match of the window against Mexico on March 24, despite calls from some fans and journalists to field a rotated lineup in fear of not having everyone available for the home match against Panama, Berhalter played a very strong starting 11 and it paid off. For the fourth straight match against their biggest foe, USMNT went toe to toe with Mexico and extended their undefeated streak against El Tri to four as they came away with a draw. While they never fully took control of the game, the United States had the better chances and looked more dangerous throughout the contest, leaving fans wanting more from the match than a 0-0 draw, an unthinkable result years ago.

Coming into the Panama game on March 27, the Yanks had confidence and a great home crowd on their side in Orlando, needing a win to bring them as close as possible to a World Cup berth. Fueled by an all-time performance from Pulisic, the Yanks hit the ground running, scoring four goals in the first half, including three goals within a 10 minute period. Pulisic netted two penalties and a third highlight reel goal in the second half to complete his hattrick and propel the Americans to a huge 5-1 victory over Los Canaleros, eliminating Panama and cementing the United States’ entry to the World Cup in Qatar unless they were to lose to Costa Rica by six goals or more in their final qualifier.

In that final qualifier, Berhalter trotted out another strong side and urged his team to push for the win while Costa Rican manager Luis Fernando Suarez rotated his squad heavily in fears of his more prominent players picking up yellow cards ahead of their probable intercontinental playoff against New Zealand. Berhalter’s decision backfired as the Yanks came out flat with tired legs. Costa Rica’s inexperienced squad, fueled by their typical brilliant home atmosphere, looked hungry and capitalized on two uncharacteristic defensive errors from the United States, leading the Ticos to a 2-0 victory over the Americans. This final win for Costa Rica ended what was an excellent second half to their qualifying campaign, picking up 19 of 21 points in their final seven matches. While the United States put out a poor performance, it was enough for them to officially qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

While the past has shown that it isn’t easy to qualify in CONCACAF, the young talent of this new age in American soccer has righted the ship with a great defensive record, conceding just three goals over eight matches with Walker Zimmerman and Miles Robinson at center back. With the World Cup set to kick off in Qatar this November, the Yanks were drawn into Group B for the tournament, along with England, Iran and one of Wales, Scotland or Ukraine. There is still a lot to figure out for the United States, but there is cause for celebration as the red, white and blue are back where they belong.