Overtime: What Constitutes a Successful World Cup for the USMNT?


The young USMNT roster looks promising down the line. (Courtesy of Twitter)

With the World Cup in Qatar kicking off in less than a month, the focus of the sporting world will soon shift to the Middle East for the biggest sporting event on the planet. While traditional powers like Brazil, France, Argentina and England will be seeking to win the coveted trophy, the situation for the United States is a little more complicated.

After failing to qualify for the 2018 edition of the tournament, the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) is looking to use next month’s competition as a springboard into a new era of national team play. The USMNT are likely to bring the youngest squad to Qatar out of all 32 competitors, further signifying that message. For the first time ever, the national team has players competing week in and week out for some of Europe’s top clubs such as Chelsea, Juventus, A.C. Milan and Borussia Dortmund.
With as young and as technically gifted a team as this country has ever seen, the expectations for this group to perform in Qatar are high, especially considering the failure of four years ago. Despite all the talent and promise, this is still an extremely youthful group with very little World Cup experience. At most, one or two players included on head coach Gregg Berhalter’s final roster will have that pedigree.
So, how do we measure success for the USMNT in Qatar? Is it a win to simply get out of Group B? Or is it about the type of soccer being played?

To start, the USMNT’s group is tougher than people are giving it credit for. Along with the U.S., Group B contains England, Wales and Iran. England have aspirations of winning the tournament and reclaiming their glory from 1966. For Wales, this is their second ever World Cup and first since 1958. In what could likely be his final act as a professional footballer, Gareth Bale will be looking to carry the Welsh into the promised land. As for Iran, they finished qualifying with more points than any other Asian team, including a Japan side that comfortably beat the United States 2-0 in September.

Getting out of Group B and into the knockout rounds is certainly not a given, especially if the team comes out and plays as poorly as they did against Japan and Saudi Arabia in their September tune-ups. But you have to think Berhalter will have his side fired up for their opening match against Wales on Nov. 21. It’s been eight years since the USMNT took the field at a World Cup. That’s something that this current crop of players are using as fuel, even though many of them weren’t a part of last cycle’s failure. That drive, combined with the talent on the field, could be enough to propel the team into the knockout stage, likely in second place behind an elite England team.

If they do reach the knockouts, a tough matchup awaits the USMNT in the Round of 16. Their opponent would come out of Group A, so either the Netherlands, Qatar, Senegal or Ecuador. But at this point, that’s all speculation. The Netherlands could crash out early, or they could look like contenders. To me, the main goal for the United States at this World Cup should be getting out of Group B. Anything after that is a bonus. We need to see how players like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Gio Reyna perform on the biggest stage. It’s an overwhelming success If the USMNT comes out next month and makes the Round of 16, playing like a cohesive unit with moments of individual brilliance.

For the brass of U.S. Soccer, all signs seem to point towards 2026, when the United States will co-host the World Cup along with Canada and Mexico. Everything is building towards that point, even when the team that is still so young now will have matured into a group of players entering the prime of their careers. A positive performance in Qatar can set the foundation for an even bigger performance in 2026.
Although it can be tough to be patient, it’s not realistic to expect the USMNT in their current state to go on an all-time run to the quarterfinals or beyond. For now, let’s start with a cohesive performance in Qatar.

If the United States can play their way into a potential knockout game in next month’s tournament, that should be seen as an absolute win by the American public.