“It’s Called Soccer”: The USA’s long road to the 2022 World Cup Round of 16


Daniel Figueredo, Sports Editor

December has finally arrived which means that the holiday season is in full swing. It’s that special time of year in which you spend time with your family, put up your decorations and of course, watch soccer? That’s right, this year has brought a bit of a twist to people’s usual holiday activities, that twist coming in the form of one of the world’s largest sporting events, the FIFA World Cup. The World Cup is typically held during the summer,from June to July, but due to the intense heat of Qatar, this year’s host nation, the tournament was ultimately moved to the late fall, putting it right in the middle of the school year. This change in schedule, however, has had little effect on the buzz surrounding the event both around the world and in the United States, in fact there is greater American interest in this year’s tournament due to the simple fact that the USA is back in the tournament.
“The World Cup is the first time I’ve seen the US come together for something without any conflict,” junior Brian Wyatt said.
After the U.S. Men’s National Team’s (USMNT) campaign to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia ended in a catastrophic failure headed by a 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago in their final matchday, many took it as a sign that the modern generations of U.S. soccer were not prepared to compete internationally. Many believed that this failure would mark the beginning of some bleak years for the USMNT and would leave a stain on U.S. soccer as a whole making it a laughing stock. In the four years since then, the coaching staff and players of the USMNT have worked tirelessly toward achieving redemption, and finally eight years removed from the USA’s last World cup appearance in 2014 in Brazil, an opportunity for redemption opened itself up.
The United States managed to snag the final spot in the CONCACAF qualifiers to make it into the 2022 World Cup, but qualifying was only half the battle, now the USMNT needed to prove that they could compete with the rest of the world, especially with Europe. The group that the U.S. was drawn into provided them with such an opportunity, pitting them against two solid sides in Wales and Iran, as well as a European giant that the United States knows very well, England. A good performance in a group of that level would earn U.S. soccer a good amount of international respect.
In their first match against Wales the USA struck early going up 1-0 and largely controlled the tempo of the match while keeping the Welsh attack at bay. A crucial defensive mistake, however, led to Wales being awarded a penalty near the end of the match, and ultimately the contest ended in a 1-1 draw. Despite the less than incredible result, the way the USMNT played made it clear that while the team still had work to do, the USA would be no push over.
The USA’s second match against England was the most anticipated of their three group stage matches, given the history between the two countries as well as the perceived gap in talent between their respective national teams. The overall consensus for this match was that it would be a runaway victory for England, but in the end it was much more even than many expected, as the USA fought back and for a time even dominated play, neither side was able to deliver the killing blow, however, as the final whistle blew on a 0-0 draw. For the United States, this result was more than a draw, and even felt like a win after all of the doubt that was cast on the USMNT.
The USA’s final group stage match was a must win, as they required three more points to move on to the knockout stage, their opponent would be an Iran side that only days earlier had shocked Wales and put themselves in prime position to continue in the tournament. The USA delivered yet another good performance, controlling the match and riding a Christian Pulisic goal just before half to a 1-0 victory over Iran that officially put the United States in the Round of 16 of the World Cup.
The last time the USA made it to the knockout stage was in 2014 in Brazil, which is the last time they made an appearance in the tournament, where they fell 2-1 to Belgium despite a heroic effort and a record setting performance from then goalkeeper Tim Howard. After being put on hold for an extra four years, the United States’ chance to redeem their 2014 loss has finally arrived, as the USA takes on another European giant in the Netherlands who also seeks World Cup redemption. This match even happening is monumental in itself as it shows how far the USMNT has come from that disastrous 2018 campaign, and provides a positive outlook for the future. The USA versus Netherlands match will take place this Saturday at 10 am and will have the hopes of millions of Americans riding on it, in the hopes that the USA takes yet another step toward World Cup glory.