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USMNT analysis

USMNT handed an emotional draw with England, Iran, and possibly Ukraine (or Wales/Scotland)

The United States national team learned its opponents for the Qatar World Cup. While it wasn't the Group of Death, it was a group loaded with overtones, subpots, drama, and emotion. England, Iran, possobly Ukraine/Scotland/Wales will make it a group with games loaded with extra motivation - which will present its own challenges. ASN's Brian Sciaretta offers up his thoughts. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
April 02, 2022
2:05 AM

Just two days after qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the United States has learned its draw for the tournament in Qatar. It will be a difficult path and while it is definitely not the "Group of Death" that it was handed in 2014, it could potentially be the group that is faced with the most emotion and drama given the history, politics, and current events involving the teams in the group.


Unlike the normal editions of the World Cup, the U.S. team will only have about six days of preparation for the World Cup given that the team plays on the opening day of the World Cup. Then there is only four days between games, which is far more frequent compared with previous tournaments.


Here is the U.S. schedule in Group B


November 21: United States vs. (Wales vs. Ukraine/Scotland)

November 25: United States vs. England

November 29: United States vs. Iran


Here are some thoughts on the draw


Emotion and Drama abound


While only two of the three teams are known, the biggest takeaway is that the group is loaded with drama and emotion. It is not the hardest group on paper. For example, if Costa Rica gets by New Zeland, it will be in a group with Spain, Germany, and Japan.

But having emotionally charged opponents is sometimes – even often times – harder. Unlike a typical club season, talent will win out in the end. Over 34-38 games, the cream will rise to the top and the emotional aspects of games will fade.

“Sometimes you win games on emotion alone,” Jose Mourinho once said after his Chelsea team suffered an upset in the Premier League.

But in these brief round robin-type games, emotion can be the decisive factor.

Consider this, the United States could face Ukraine in the tournament’s first day. The horrors of the Ukraine war at the hands of a Russian invasion would make them the darlings of the tournament. Every non-U.S. fame would understandably be pulling for Ukraine.

On the other hand, if either Wales or Scotland advances, then it would be a heavily emotional game with England.

The United States and England could potentially be emotional in favor of the United States. England deserves to be the heavy favorite. But American players, fans, and coaches all grew up watching the English game. The Premier League is a huge industry in the United States. English fans have typically given some aspects of U.S. Soccer a difficult time – as evidenced by Leeds United’s Jesse Marsch having to deal with the Ted Lasso jokes.

But that game will not be an ordinary game.

Finally, the United States will have to face Iran. With this game taking place in the Mideast and in close proximity to Qatar, Iran will be heavily motivated. Iran famously defeated the United States at the 1998 World Cup and the political differences between the countries made the game even more dramatic. It was one of the low points in the history of the U.S. program.


Preparation & newcomers


As mentioned, there is only minimal preparation time ahead of this tournament. In a typical World Cup, teams are sometimes together for weeks ahead of the opening game. This will see that time reduced to only six days before the opening day of the tournament – when the United States plays.

With that, most of the team’s preparation will have take place during the June window ahead of the Nations League game or in September. The U.S. team is going to have to get the most out of those windows in terms of preparation.

It also could make it very tough for a player to break into the team. The European season has about five weeks remaining. Then there is preseason in July and the season starts in August and only three months after that is the September window. There just isn’t a lot of time for a new player to break into the team. It won’t be impossible, but it will take something special.

In the meantime, the U.S. team is going to have to schedule some relevant friendlies in June before the Nations League and in September. Berhalter indicated that the federation will try to find similar opponents to the ones they are drawn with.


Between now and then


There is a lot of time but limited international breaks between now and the World Cup. There are positions open on the team, although not many.

The backup left back position is one where there is serious competition. Berhalter knows some of his central defenders although maybe not all four or five – or the order.

The big question will be the No. 9 center forward and no player has firmly taken hold of the position. Between Josh Sargent, Ricardo Pepi, Jesus Ferreira, Jordan Pefok, Daryl Dike (who is now injured for an extended period) or Gyasi Zardes – it will come down to the hot hand. There could be others in this role similar to how Edson Buddle and Herc Gomez forced their way onto the 2010 team after the injury to Charlie Davies.

There will be injuries and there will be changes in form. Unlike other cycles, club form is going to be more decisive.

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