When the United States takes the field against Wales to kick off their 2022 World Cup opener on Monday, that’s how many days will have passed since the most disappointing day in our country’s soccer history. Failing to qualify for a World Cup was unfathomable for a country that had established itself as a regional powerhouse, having been to seven straight at that point. That fateful day over five years ago in Couva that sent shockwaves through the soccer world set in motion a change that will reach its climax when it takes the field against Wales Qatar.
The team that suffered that humiliation was old, tired, and void of ideas. But maybe that day had to happen for us to reach this point of seeing a USMNT that is now vibrant and full of endless potential. While there may be a few leftovers from that 2017 squad, the turnover in both talent and energy from then until now is quite remarkable. Gone are the days of relying on aging veterans hanging onto the strands of their careers. This iteration of the USMNT is chock full of young and exciting stars that are as lovable as they are fun to watch.
“Potential” is a word you’re going to hear thrown around a lot when the USMNT is discussed during this World Cup. That’s because the transition from that cold and lifeless team five years ago has been a long process that hasn’t reached its final stage. Young and exuberant stars up and down the roster are enough of a reason to think this team has a chance in almost any match they play.
Christian Pulisic may be the most noticeable face from a mainstream perspective. The “LeBron James of Soccer” — as the hilarious internet meme has made famous — is recognizable as one of the few players remaining from that previous cycle. A photograph of the then 17-year-old prodigy bent over at the knees balling his eyes out went viral after the loss to Trinidad and Tobago. Today sits a more mature and developed star — with a Champions League winner’s medal in his back pocket — approaching his opportunity to finally take the biggest stage in the world and make an impact. Thankfully this time around he will have some help around him.
There may not be a more in-form player in the U.S. squad entering this tournament than Leeds United man Tyler Adams. As a defensive midfielder, he is the heart and soul of the team. As energetic and passionate as they come, if the Americans are going to have success in Qatar, Adams will play a massive part. Throw in players like Dortmund’s Giovanni Reyna and Juventus’ Weston McKennie and this team just inspires hope that anything is possible just like the young crop in 2002 did. While they have their work cut out for them to reach the lofty level that Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley did in South Korea, the potential is there for it to happen.
Having talented young players and potential doesn’t guarantee World Cup success. There’s really no predicting how the crucial opener against an experienced Wales will go. It could easily be the beginning of something special or a harsh reality check for all USA fans. However, the potential that this team possesses should make it all the more exciting to find out which one it will be, even it simply means we must delay those expectations another four years.
As the USMNT take the field for the first time in eight years on the world’s biggest soccer stage, take the time to appreciate the moment and get excited that this team has the potential to do great things.