BRAD FRIEDEL: USA’s World Cup squad is SCARY, and the scariest game is Wales
It’s a few days before the first game of the World Cup when it hits you.
You manage to walk into the stadium where you are going to play, where it starts, and it starts. You manage to train there and suddenly, the session is a little less physical. Taking care of your body becomes more intense. People are afraid of getting hurt.
This is what you have wanted all your life: the World Cup. And for this American team, with the exception of one player in DeAndre Yedlin, this is their first World Cup.
I spoke to some of the USA coaches in Qatar and texted goalkeeper Matt Turner saying ‘good luck’. At the moment, the atmosphere at camp is excellent from what I hear. It sounds really good.
But great challenges lie ahead. I think it’s a scary group. And the game that scares me the most is the first, against Wales. The United States, historically, hasn’t done well when it’s not the underdog. When you’re an outsider, you take care of it.
Brad Friedel thinks USA have a tough World Cup group against Wales, England and Iran
Berhalter’s USA team starts the World Cup on Monday in the game against Wales
Friedel said he was told the atmosphere in the American camp was “excellent” in Qatar
A lot of people think USA should beat Wales, but this Welsh team is good. They have great players and I’ve seen up close how special their star Gareth Bale is.
I played with him at Tottenham and even though he’s a bit older and not the Gareth Bale of eight years ago, when he’s there and he wants things he’s so good. Watching him in the MLS Cup final showed me how the fire still burns inside.
He came off the bench and scored with a towering header off a six-foot-6 defender, leading his LAFC team to a historic win. Forget USA, no team has defenders who can stop Gareth when he wants to.
If we lose this first game, it becomes a really tough group. The Iranian team is very well structured, technically good and child’s play. And yet, it’s a game that on paper people think the United States should win.
We could lose against England, but that doesn’t scare me. Getting up for this game is simple. Can this American team motivate themselves to do really well against Wales and Iran?
Gareth Bale is Wales’ star man and a player Friedel played with during his time at Tottenham
Friedel has seen firsthand how well Welsh star Bale can play when it’s his day
Bale scored a brilliant header that helped LAFC win their first MLS Cup earlier in November
BRAD FRIEDEL STATS
– 82 selections in the United States, 21 shutouts and three World Cups – 1994, 1998 and 2002
– 450 Premier League games, for English giants such as Liverpool, Tottenham and Aston Villa and 132 shutouts
– He holds a Premier League record for playing 310 straight games from 2004-05 to 2012
In 2002, the American team I played for did well – we lost in the quarter-finals to second-placed Germany. It was impossible not to be motivated in our group. We had Portugal a favourite, South Korea a co-host and Poland – any team from Europe at a World Cup is good.
I think midfield will be the key to success for any team in Qatar and one player I can’t wait to see is Weston McKennie. He is one of my favorite players the United States has ever produced.
It worried me when Juventus said they had a quad problem last month. If he plays slightly injured, it’s a big dilemma. It is the engine room of a team.
I know intimately everything he does. I took over as head coach of the U.S. U19 team in 2016, right after the U17 World Cup and he didn’t make the final roster. The Wes I met was a little depressed.
But I watched it the first training session we had – we were in the Canary Islands – and wow.
Wes is the kind of kid who will run the ball in his own box, he has the trickery and skill to squeeze out of tight areas, a range of passes, a powerful shot at him, a powerful offensive header – the child has everything.
I had just arrived from Tottenham and told my staff that ‘if he was at Tottenham he would be captain of the Under-21 team’.
Friedel was the USA team goalkeeper who impressed fans at the 2002 World Cup
He thinks Weston McKennie will be vital if USMNT progresses in Qatar
He was a bit raw but he had abilities like no other. His improvement since then depends on him. He really got in shape, he cut himself and man, he took it under his own power.
The words of his Dallas coaches at the time will have helped, as will playing for Schalke in Germany before Juventus. But the hard work that followed is his. For me, he is the most important player – the key figure for success.
He, Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah are exceptionally fun to watch in midfield and if they control the middle of the park it will be huge in tournament play. I think a lot of those games will be won and lost in the transition, in the conditions where the heat takes over.
When I spoke to the American staff there, asking how it was, they all said the same thing: “hot!”. Each of them! The games are in the evening, of course, but when they move on in the daytime and go to training, they all say “hot”.
Christian Pulisic is interesting – it’s hard to say if his lack of playing time at Chelsea is hurting him. Of all the players on this American team, this is the one I have never met, remarkable as that may seem. By the time I was calling USA U19 teams, he was already on the main team.
It is our player who attracts attention and the look is not ideal. But if he aspires to stay at Chelsea, he has to do well and impress Graham Potter. And if he wants to leave, he has to do well. I think he will be super focused.
US star Christian Pulisic heads to tournament after tough start to season at Chelsea
Friedel thinks his relationship with players like Haji Wright could help him in the tournament
What I do know is that Christian has a very good camaraderie with Luca de la Torre – another midfielder who feared injury with a leg problem – and the surprise inclusion of coach Gregg Berhalter, the striker Haji Wright. They are all from the same group of players in the national youth system.
I wonder if that played a bit too – off-pitch relationships and camaraderie. They have hopefully been together for several weeks.
Wright’s strike rate is now very good with nine goals in 12 games for Antalyaspor in Turkey, but he has been inconsistent throughout his career. He’s pretty good technically and maybe he’s in the team in his current form. I was surprised that Jordan Pefok wasn’t included.
It’s hard to choose a team. But for me, that’s all I like when they win. You play the best in the world, so you have to do your best on the pitch.