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Far-Fetched Friday: USMNT Don't Lose a Group Stage Game
By: Jake Lofgren
It has been eight long years since the U.S. played in a World Cup, but somehow the pessimism is at an all-time high. Well, maybe not, since technically, the USMNT is tied for third with bets-on to win the World Cup, but it feels like most people expect the USMNT to fail out of the group. For the most part, I think the pessimism is acceptable, considering the team struggled throughout the qualification stages and has looked poor recently against Japan and Saudi Arabia. Although, I think the script is set up for a pretty fun World Cup tournament for the Americans.
Welcome back to Far-Fetched Friday, where every Friday we give you a bold prediction that we believe will come to fruition. This Friday, we look at one of the youngest teams at the World Cup.
If there is anything that the American sports world loves, it's an underdog. Whether the USMNT should be an underdog in this group doesn't really matter because they are one. When it comes to the World Cup, the men's team always seems to bite off more than they can chew. The 2002 team surprised everyone and made it to the quarter-finals, the 2010 team finished on top of a group with England in it, and the 2014 team made it out of a group that contained Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. Now we see a USMNT roster that is the second youngest in the entire competition that is as hungry as ever to show who they are.
Group B doesn't have any games that the US should look at and automatically assume they will win, but there also aren't any they should assume they will lose.
England made it to the semi-finals at the last World Cup and was in the EURO final just last summer, so naturally, one might think they could even win this competition. They certainly could, but England entered this tournament without a single win in their last six matches. Not a lot to feel too confident about leading up to the World Cup. As much as England would hate to admit it, the US is basically just a worse version of them. Both teams are full of pretty physically gifted players with decent technical skills and a few players that can open the game up with little creation, all managed under two coaches no one is really sure should even be the manager.
Wales, on the other hand, is lucky to even be in the tournament. They needed a heavily deflected free kick and one of the greatest goalkeeping performances ever by Wayne Hennessy against Ukraine to even get to the World Cup. That final qualification game saw Wales lose on xG to Ukraine 0.73-2.21. Wales' pragmatic style will make them incredibly hard to beat but fairly easy to draw. Wales have plenty of talent not named Gareth Bale, which they will need considering Bale might be on his last dance. And when you factor in Wales have not won a game in their prior five, I don't see why the USMNT can't get at least a point out of this game either.
Iran might turn out as the hardest game of this entire group. Now ranked 20th in the world, nobody should really be shocked to see them make it out of this group. Recently, Iran have picked up a draw against Senegal and beat a talented Uruguay team. Led by talented striker Mehdi Taremi, Iran may prove to be the trickiest game of them all. However, no matter how much I could rave about how this could be the most talented Iran roster of all-time, they have only made it out of the group stage once, and it was in 1978. There will be a reason that the USMNT should be the favorites in this game.
Due to the timing and lack of preparation for this World Cup, it isn't crazy to think that this could be the least entertaining World Cup we have ever witnessed. Most teams will likely be very defensive and look to avoid mistakes, especially in the first game or two. With three other teams in the group already well known for their defensive structures, the US should look to match their counterparts' approach. Sitting deeper and looking to play off the break is something the US will encounter if they play a high line and press like Berhalter swears he wants to do. Although, the US has the personnel to match that approach and make these group games look like a chess match. Which will unfortunately lead to some pretty dull, low scoring affairs.
The Berhalter era has been interesting to say the least, but when the lights shine bright, the team always seems to be ready. I mean, look at how electric the last Nations League final was against Mexico. I fully expected this USMNT to put on a good showing at this World Cup. I'm not saying they walk this group easily for nine points, but I do think it's possible they get at least one point in all three games and advance to the round of 16.
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