USA return to World Cup against Wales after 8-year wait


When the United States take to the field on Monday, 3,066 days will have passed since their last World Cup game.

United States striker Christian Pulisic, left, and other players take part in an official training session at Al-Gharafa SC Stadium, in Doha, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
The Associated Press

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Gio Reyna, Joe Scally and Yusuf Musah were 11 the last time the United States took to the field in a World Cup match. On the 3,066th day after that defeat in Brazil, the Americans return to the football showcase with a new team dreaming of lofty goals and hoping for real goals.

Filled with novelty, nerves and naivety, this young American team takes the field against Wales on Monday night in a match that a growing fan base at home has been pining for since 2014.

“Three years, four years of work until this moment, I think all the guys are ready to go,” said midfielder Weston McKennie.

A Friday game against England will follow and group play ends on November 29 against Iran, who eliminated the United States from the 1998 World Cup in France.

Only DeAndre Yedlin, a 29-year-old defender, remains from the United States side knocked out by Belgium in the second round eight years ago. Yedlin, Christian Pulisic, Kellyn Acosta and Tim Ream are among four survivors of the group that collapsed on the pitch in anguish after the crushing loss to Trinidad in CONCACAF qualifying in October 2017 that ended the U.S. World Cup streak at age seven.

McKennie made his debut a month later in a 1-1 draw against Portugal with Cameron Carter-Vickers and Tyler Adams, who was named captain on Sunday aged 23.

A total of 118 players have been tried in 68 matches in a pandemic-interrupted World Cup cycle, including 91 after Gregg Berhalter was hired as coach in December 2018. He debuted with 56 players and took the second youngest roster at the tournament at an average age of just over 25, older than Ghana alone.

Some are already looking at four years, until the United States co-hosts the tournament and the core group is at its peak.

“We want to build a ton of momentum through 2026, but it’s all starting now,” Berhalter said.

Berhalter becomes the first American to play and coach at a World Cup – his 50th-minute shot from Claudio Reyna’s corner hit German defender Torsten Frings’ arm on the goal line but did not qualify hand ball in the 1–0 quarter-final loss of 2002.

“I was in my mother’s womb,” joked Gio Reyna, Claudio’s son, who was born in November.

Berhalter installed a pressing style and led the Americans to a 36-10-10 record that included titles in the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup and Nations League.

“The final determination of this group,” he said, “will be at the World Cup. That’s how generations are measured. We can all talk – it’s great, we beat Mexico three times. Or we won the Gold Cup or the Nations League. But the real yardstick for this group will definitely be how you perform in Qatar.”

Wales are back in the World Cup for the first time since 1958, led by Gareth Bale, 33, and Aaron Ramsey, 31, but without injured midfielder Joe Allen. The Dragons qualified for the semi-finals of the 2016 European Championship before losing to eventual champions Portugal and advanced to the second round of last year’s Euros before a 4 -0 against Denmark. Lack of World Cup experience makes the Welsh as cautious as the Americans approaching the match at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, a renovated 44,000-seater venue west of the capital.

“It’s a good young team and they have fantastic players,” Bale said. “We have no illusions that they are here to win the game, just like us, so we know it will be a tough game tomorrow and I’m sure they know the same too.”

With Miles Robinson and Chris Richards injured, the US central defense will start a pairing of Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Carter-Vickers or 35-year-old Tim Ream returning to the national team for the first time in 14 months.

“Tim is the grandfather of the band,” Adams said.

Right-back Sergiño Dest and McKennie are fit enough to play, but maybe not fit enough to start.

The striker, who has produced just three goals in qualifying, is also a doubt for US Josh Sargent, Jesús Ferreira and Haji Wright are the picks.

Following Berhalter’s surprising decision to drop Zack Steffen, Matt Turner will likely start in goal against Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson. Turner was limited to four Europa League appearances in his first season with Arsenal on October 20.

“I showed the coaching staff here how much I’ve grown as a person and a player,” Turner said.

Pulisic has also struggled to earn playing time, getting just five starts for Chelsea this season. Dest has only made two starts for AC Milan.

As the opener approached, Pulisic recalled gathering for World Cup games in the basement of his home in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and watching Landon Donovan score the goal in the additional time that beat Algeria in 2010 to gain advancement.

“The family getting together, wearing all our red, white and blue, just getting excited,” Pulisic said. “It’s always been a dream of mine. I wanted to be there so badly. But now to be here as a member of this team at the World Cup is special. And, yeah, I don’t want to take a moment of that for granted.

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