USA's road to redemption starts here

  • USA failed to reach Russia 2018 after seven successive qualifications

  • Gregg Berhalter was hired in December 2018 to return the US to the World Cup

  • Concacaf Preliminary Draw for Qatar 2022 on Wednesday 19 August

10 October 2017 is a day every US soccer fan wants wiped from their memory. In the final round of Concacaf qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, and in need of only a draw, USA crashed out in dramatic circumstances, losing to Trinidad and Tobago and seeing Panama get the result they needed against Costa Rica 2,000 kilometres away.

The two-and-a-half years since has been a period of real self-examination for the men’s national team. After a patient and thorough full-time head coaching search process, Gregg Berhalter was chosen as the leader to get the program back on track. The goal could not be clearer for Berhalter and Co: get back to the big dance.

With the Concacaf Preliminary Draw for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ set to take place on 19 August at the Home of FIFA in Zurich, looks at the USA’s prospects of redemption.

COUVA, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO - OCTOBER 10: Christian Pulisic of the United States mens national team reacts to their loss to Trinidad and Tobago during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Trinidad and Tobago at the Ato Boldon Stadium on October 10, 2017 in Couva, Trinidad And Tobago. (Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

The coach

After an extensive club coaching career in both Sweden with Hammarby and the US with the Columbus Crew, Berhalter decided to take up the responsibility of leading the USMNT. He gained a great amount of respect in Major League Soccer (MLS) and US Soccer circles during his five years with the Crew. Known for his astute tactics and adaptability and an almost-obsessive eye for detail for the nuances of the game, Berhalter has already shown during his stint as USMNT boss that he is prepared to take necessary risks in-game and adapt to the opponent.

Young talent

Most football fans will be fully aware of Christian Pulisic at this stage. The Chelsea star looked a world-beater after the Premier League’s restart, before his season ended with an unfortunate hamstring injury in the FA Cup final. While Pulisic has long been thought of as American soccer’s savior, with good reason, the biggest reason for optimism for USA fans should be placed on the crop of talented youngsters playing in Europe and in MLS.

Like Pulisic, Giovanni Reyna, Weston McKennie, Zack Steffen, Josh Sargent and Tyler Adams have found the Bundesliga to be a league to help their progress as players and to bring their game to the next level. Sergino Dest at Ajax is another player with a bright future. But there is also plenty of young talent in MLS as clubs continue to invest more and more in their own academies and rely less on the US college and university system to acquire talent.

INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 01: Tyler Adams, Eryk Williamson, Erik Palmer Brown and Joshua Sargent celebrate at the final whistle during the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017  Round of 16 match between USA and New Zealand at Incheon Munhak Stadium on June 1, 2017 in Incheon, South Korea.  (Photo by Alex Morton - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Berhalter can find encouragement in Brenden Aaronson, Mark McKenzie, Eryk Williamson, Jeremy Ebobisse and Ayo Akinola’s impressive performances in the recently-concluded MLS is Back tournament. The positive news for these players, despite the pandemic, is that they won’t be lacking in opportunity to show what they can do.

“If I’m a player right now, I’m licking my chops because there’s going to be plenty of opportunities for players now in 2021," Berhalter told ESPN. "We will have to rotate the squad for the Gold Cup and Olympic qualifying. Our strongest group will be there in June for the World Cup qualifiers, so it’s an exciting year for US soccer in 2021.”

USA at the World Cup: Did you know?

  • The country's best performance at a World Cup was in the inaugural finals in 1930 when they finished third, which is the best performance from any Concacaf side in history

  • Tim Howard holds the record for most saves in a World Cup match: a remarkable 16 in USA's Round-of-16 loss to Belgium at Brazil 2014.

  • Another goalkeeper, Tony Meola, remains the youngest captain in a World Cup match when he was 21 years old at Italy 1990.

  • Aldo Donelli, scorer of USA’s solitary goal at Italy 1934, was also a prominent American football player who later coached in the National Football League (NFL)

  • When USA caused a huge upset by beating England 1-0 at Brazil 1950, one British newspaper, assuming a misprint in the wires, reported that England had won 10-1.

What they’re saying

“We will be prepared now that we know what things look like going forward. We know that qualifying in this region is always difficult. In terms of the format being more or less difficult, it’s hard to judge right now. The basic idea is that before, three out of six teams automatically qualified – that’s 50 per cent of the teams. Now we’re at three out of eight automatically qualifying, so it’s less teams in the final group that are going to be going to the World Cup. It’s hard to get a full gauge if it’s going to be more or less difficult – we have to see who the three teams are that make up the final eight.”

Gregg Berhalter [US Soccer]

“There’s so much individual talent, so now it’s just a matter of, when we put that national team jersey on and all represent our country at the same time, building that chemistry and continuing to grow. When a World Cup rolls around we know that a lot of us will need to perform and most importantly qualify for the World Cup. We have a lot to prove still, but we all have the right mentality and we’re going to take it game by game and continue to prove ourselves.”

Tyler Adams [ESPNFC]