More than two months after the 2022 World Cup draw in Qatar, the US men’s national team finally has its full marching order for November’s group stage.
Wales’ 1-0 win over Ukraine in last Sunday’s UEFA World Cup qualifying play-offs means Gregg Berhalter’s side will open the group stage against the Dragons on 21 November, the first day of the competition they take on England on November 25 – Black Friday in the US – and then Iran on November 29 to round out the action in Group B.
When the draw was made, the USA were placed with the wildcard UEFA playoffs, with the group that included Ukraine having one of their semi-finals and the final postponed to June due to the Russian invasion of the country. Russia, who had played in a separate playoff group, were disqualified and eliminated from the competition entirely, while Ukraine’s semi-final against Scotland was suspended until June 1. Ukraine impressively defeated Scots 3-1 in Glasgow and set the stage for Sunday’s playoff final in Cardiff. Wales had beaten Austria in a regular semi-final in late March before qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1958 on Sunday, ending Ukraine’s brave performance given what is currently unfolding at home.
Not only were the USA in a group with this undecided playoff winner, but they also preferred to face this team in their first game, leaving a rather important element of their World Cup preparation in limbo for a few months. The first match sets the tone – if not the end; Spain, for example, lost their first game in 2010 and then won it all – and has traditionally been an indicator of success or failure on the World Cup stage for the USA. In the four modern World Cups (1990 and later) where USA have won or drawn their opening game, they have advanced to the knockout stages. In the three it lost in the first game, it didn’t get out of the group.
The heightened urgency in the middle game against England will certainly depend on how USA fare against Wales and now Berhalter and his staff can work flat out to prepare for that first game, even if it’s not for another five and a half months.
“Although Ukraine fell to Wales, US Soccer was inspired by the spirit and bravery of their national team,” US Soccer wrote in a tribute to the Ukraine team. “During this horrific attack on their country, the Ukrainian players have brought much-needed hope and confidence to all their compatriots back home. We are inspired by all the people of Ukraine and once again offer our unwavering support to our friends within the Football Union of Ukraine and to all the people of Ukraine. We stand by your side to find a reasonable and peaceful solution. US Soccer congratulates Wales on today’s FIFA World Cup qualifying win and is honored that you will be our opponents when we open the tournament on November 21.”
The Americans have little experience against their opening opponent. They have played against the Dragons in two friendlies, going 1-0-1. The win, a 2-0 result in 2003, came at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, California with goals from Landon Donovan and Eddie Lewis. More recently – and far more relevant to this team – the two sides played to a goalless draw behind closed doors at Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium in November 2020 in the first international window since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Gareth Bale was among those who missed the match.
After Wednesday night’s 3-0 win over Morocco, who are tied with Qatar, the USA have five more games spread across two camps to prepare for the World Cup, beginning Sunday night at Sporting Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Park against the 13th place Uruguay. From there, two Concacaf Nations League games against Grenada will follow at Austin FC’s Q2 Stadium (June 10) and in El Salvador (June 14), before a camp expected to be held in Europe and two matches at the end of September will include opponents yet to be determined.
In the meantime, here’s the full World Cup Group B schedule after the quartet is complete (all times East):
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England vs Iran, 8am
USA vs Wales, 2 p.m
Wales vs Iran, 5am
England vs USA, 2pm
Wales v England, 2pm
Iran vs. USA, 2 p.m
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