US clinches World Cup qualification spot after four years of uncertainty

US clinches World Cup qualification spot after four years of uncertainty

Colin Madara, News Editor

The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) punched their ticket to the 2022 World Cup on March 30. Hosted in Qatar, the tournament will feature some of the greatest teams, as well as the biggest names in soccer. As celebrations kick off, it’s important to remember how far the USMNT has progressed, and how much still stands in the way of World Cup glory. 

Four years ago, the scenes were much different. For the first time since 1984, the USMNT failed to qualify for the World Cup. A devastating 2-1 loss against Trinidad and Tobago crushed the 2017 squad’s hopes of attending the 2018 World Cup in Russia. At the time, the US team was in a state of transition. Veteran players such as Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard played alongside various young rising stars, most notably the 19-year-old phenom, Christian Pulisic. In the game of soccer, chemistry between players is key. It was evident that the USMNT lacked such chemistry during their 2018 World Cup Qualifying campaign. 

Since the 2017 upset, the team has seen major improvements under manager Greg Berhalter. Prior to the 2022 qualifiers, the US began to reestablish a name for themselves at the national level. In 2021, the US defeated long-time rival Mexico, not once–but twice. El Tri fell to the US by a slim 1-0 margin in the Gold Cup Final, and 3-2 in the CONCACAF Nations League Final. Such achievements favorably benefited the US, as they now sit comfortably at 13th on FIFA’s international ranking list. 

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On April 1, FIFA held the 2022 World Cup Draw, during which the federation randomly selected the groups for the Group Stage of the upcoming tournament. The procedure is as follows. Prior to the draw, the teams were separated into four pots, with all the top seeded teams in pot one, and the lowest seeded teams in pot four. Each pot consisted of eight teams. Then, according to the FIFA website:

The draw will start with Pot 1 and end with Pot 4. Each pot will be completely emptied before moving on to the subsequent one. As per the standard draw procedure, a ball from a team pot will be drawn, followed by a ball from one of the group pots, thus determining the position in which the team will play. Teams from the same confederation will be kept apart in each of the eight groups with the exception of UEFA, which is represented by 13 teams. Five out of the eight groups will therefore have two European teams.

This draw determines which teams play who during the first stage of the World Cup tournament. Only two teams from each of the eight groups will advance to the knockout stage. 

The US saw itself placed into Group B, alongside England and Iran. Another spot has been left unoccupied, and will be filled by the winner of a European playoff between Wales, Scotland and Ukraine, which has been indefinitely postponed due to the ongoing Ukrainian invasion. This is a difficult assignment for the US, but reasonable. England will likely secure one of the two top spots with relative ease. Iran is a formidable opponent, having finished first in their World Cup Qualifying group in Asia. They do rank lower on FIFA’s international rankings, but this way of categorizing teams has its shortcomings, as no ranking can predict what kind of circumstances each team will face come the World Cup, nor can it predict what upsets may occur. The best situation regarding the European playoff would be for Scotland or Ukraine to qualify, as they are both lower ranked teams. Wales is the most likely to qualify, and they would pose a greater threat to the United States, with world class players such as Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey on their roster. Regardless of which European team qualifies, the US will face a tough set of squads, yet if they play the way they’re capable, they should be able to secure one of the spots into the Knockout Round. 

The 2022 World Cup will kick off on November 25, and will conclude on December 2nd. The 16 teams that advance from the Group Stage will compete in the Knockout Stage, which lasts from December 3 until December 14. The third place match will take place on the 17, and the World Cup Final will be held the next day on December 18, 2022. 

The tournament will be streamed on a multitude of services, so make sure to tune in later this year.