Home Sports USMNT predictions: are the Americans the Knicks of the World Cup?

USMNT predictions: are the Americans the Knicks of the World Cup?

If this US team were a franchise they would be …

The Cleveland Guardians. A very young group bursting with promise that’s probably still a few years away. A mostly empty trophy case, too, despite occasional blips of success over the years. BAG

The New York Knicks. A team perennially laboring under the misapprehension that the cultural and economic might of the place it’s from entitles it to success. AT

The New Orleans Pelicans. Basketball took tentative steps in New Orleans a few decades ago, then returned this century with occasional progress, and they now have some good young stars. It’s still a “small market” compared with other places that live and breathe the game. BD

The Buffalo Bills. Became consistently good in the 90s, have never won the big prize but are on the up, implausibly imploded in a recent big game (see Kansas City 2022 and Couva 2017), have a blue-collar ethic, a few outstanding individuals (although the Bills have a much better chance of a championship in the coming months) and a late-fortysomething coach with more hair on his chin than his head. Also known for playing in snow and ice. TD

The US’s biggest strength is …

The midfield. Beyond the presumptive starting trio of Weston McKennie (Juventus), Tyler Adams (Leeds) and Yunus Musah (Valencia), there’s a surplus of energetic, talented youngsters including Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Brenden Aaronson (Leeds) and Luca de la Torre (Celta de Vigo). BAG

The wingers. There’s no questioning the quality of a midfield composed of Adams, Musah and McKennie, but the US’s real power is on the flanks, with Timothy Weah, Aaronson and Christian Pulisic a blur of running, close control, and invention. There’ll be chances enough. The question is: who will finish them off? AT

Attack. Pulisic has proved himself to everyone but a few coaches and fans at Chelsea. Weah, McKennie and Reyna have uncommon vision. Josh Sargent is on a hot streak, as is Haji Wright. Jesus Ferreira is a dangerous poacher. Aaronson is acquitting himself nicely at Leeds. As with the overachieving 2002 World Cup team, a lot of these players are young and eager to prove themselves. BD

An abundance of zippy, tricky, wingers and attacking midfielders – and full backs Antonee Robinson and Sergiño Dest are also attacking assets. This side could swarm opponents – if they’re good enough to build sustained periods of possession in dangerous areas. Pretty big if. TD

The US’s biggest weakness is …

The lack of a goal-scoring central striker. In the end Ferreira, Sargent and Wright edged out Jordan Pefok and Ricardo Pepi, but none of them has managed to establish himself as a reliable No 9 during Berhalter’s tenure. Ferreira, the likely starter against Wales, scores in bunches for FC Dallas but far less so for his country: four of his seven international goals came in a Concacaf Nations League rout of Grenada this summer. BAG

The US. The eternal frustration of US soccer: America can throw its weight around on the world stage as it pleases, but this easy power finds no translation on the football field. Too often American teams, emerging triumphant from qualification in a mediocre confederation, arrive at World Cups high on their own supply, with none of the agility and rat cunning needed to succeed on the highest stage as a small footballing nation with no real superstars. AT

Defense. Recalling long-serving Fulham center back Tim Ream smacks of – well, not desperation, but the recognition of a need. The outside backs are erratic and more interested in attacking. And for the first time in generations, the US lacks a top-class, meme-worthy goalkeeper like Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller or Tim Howard. BD

Scoring against non-Concacaf opponents. Going back to 2020, the US have played nations from outside their region eight times and been shut out on four occasions – including the past three, which featured a combined five shots on target. It’s not a promising sign for a team who lack a top-quality striker and often underwhelm on the road. TD

Key player …

Walker Zimmerman could be crucial in a group of defenders likely to come under pressure
Walker Zimmerman could be crucial in a group of defenders likely to come under pressure. Photograph: Patrick Smith/Fifa/Getty Images

Christian Pulisic. No need to overthink it. As arguably the United States’ only world-class player, the team will go as far as he takes them. BAG

Walker Zimmerman. Most will pick Pulisic but the way Gregg Berhalter sets his team up means that defence, as the cliche has it, is the first line of attack. The fate of the US press lies with the defenders, and Zimmerman above all. AT

Christian Pulisic is perhaps too obvious a choice here, but he will obviously be the key to the US attack and will obviously draw extra attention from opposing defenders. Obviously. BD

In a brief and intense tournament it might not be who you’d expect (ie, Musah). Chances are that at some point the US will need a rescue act, a momentum shifter, a magician who can conjure a great goal from nowhere. And though his health issues may limit him to a role off the bench, Gio Reyna may just be that difference-maker. TD

Unheralded player to watch …

Yunus Musah. The probable midfield starter alongside McKennie and Adams is the least known of the three, but his ability to dribble out of pressure, carry the ball into the final third and create attacking chances for his teammates will prove vital. BAG

Tim Ream, partly because his ponytail and beard make him easy to spot (at a World Cup, aesthetics matter), but also because he’s been in quietly efficient form for Fulham and could finally be the defensive foil to Zimmerman that Berhalter has spent years searching for. AT

Christian Pulisic. Seriously. He’s tied for the lead at Chelsea with 0.43 non-penalty goals-plus-assists per 90 minutes in Premier League play. He’s second on the team in key passes per 90 minutes in all competitions. Basically, he’s one of Chelsea’s best playmakers, and yet he’s often stuck on the bench and ridiculed by the club’s fans as if it’s somehow his fault they’re in eighth place. BD

Walker Zimmerman was very solid in Concacaf play but so much attention has been paid to the vexed question of who’ll partner the Nashville man at center back that few have stopped to wonder how the 29-year-old MLS lifer will fare against the likes of Harry Kane, Kieffer Moore and Mehdi Taremi. Which seems pertinent. TD

Gregg Berhalter is …

Someone who will forever be remembered by American fans as the player whose left foot nearly sent the US into the semi-finals back in 2002. Twenty years later, he’s at the helm of another US team looking to punch above their weight. BAG

An innovative coach who unfortunately only has one innovation – a high, hard press. If the press fails, so does the team: American fans will be hoping Berhalter has no cause to call on his Plan B, because on the evidence so far, it doesn’t exist. AT

A bit unfairly accused of benefiting from nepotism because his brother Jay was an unpopular executive with the US Soccer Federation. He earned his place. That said, he’s not really the inspirational figure these talented young players need to fight through adversity, and his decision to omit goalkeeper Zack Steffen and goalscorer Ricardo Pepi from the World Cup roster is dubious. BD

A likable and ruminative details guy who’s started to talk about the importance of luck. A careful planner who’s called up five players who didn’t feature in the qualifying campaign and who may come to rely on a defender he hasn’t been picked for 14 months and a striker who’s only played 119 minutes of senior international football. TD

The World Cup winner will be …

Brazil. The Seleção are 15 matches unbeaten with an embarrassment of attacking riches – including Neymar, Vinícius Júnior, Richarlison, Raphinha and Rodrygo – that will end the country’s two-decade wait for a record sixth title. BAG

Brazil, a team that seemed vaguely underrated at the last World Cup despite playing well and now has an irrepressible cast of attacking talent to reduce a historical dependence on Neymar. There’s some weakness in defence but that only confirms this team’s status as a canonical Selecão: iffy at the back, irresistible up front. And who doesn’t want to see that kind of Brazil team lift a World Cup? (Argentinians, probably.) AT

England. We’re talking about a cricket World Cup, aren’t we? No? Oh, well, Still, England. They’re due, and they have as much talent as anyone else. BD

There’s a strong statistical and sentimental case for Argentina. They haven’t lost a game since July 2019, and what a way it would be for Lionel Messi to crown his career. The top European nations are flawed and Lionel Scaloni’s men beat the favorites, Brazil, in last year’s Copa America final. TD

The US will get to …

The last time England and the United States were drawn together at a World Cup, the Americans won the group. Sixty years earlier? USA 1-0 England. There’s plenty of reason for hope in the US camp and enough talent to survive the only group in the field with all four teams ranked among Fifa’s top 20. Which they will. But Senegal or the Netherlands in the last 16 will be a bridge too far. BAG

The end of the group stage with a handful of points, some modest promotional opportunities in breakfast cereal and regional bank credit cards for Ream, Pulisic’s status as a world class dribbler who can’t score burnished, the usual platitudes in the media about American “courage” and “grit”, many rueful reflections on how Iran are “pretty good, actually”, and no progress to the round of 16. AT

Funny thing – both the Fifa rankings and the Elo rankings have the US, Wales and Iran hovering around the same place. It’s not so much the Group of Death as the Group of Questions. But Wales’ best attacker has been outshined in MLS by the next generation of Western Hemisphere talent, and Iran barely beat Nicaragua at home in their last match. The US barge into the round of 16, then score an early goal against the Netherlands, only to lose 4-1. Did I mention the defense? BD

The round of 16, where they’ll exit to superior opponents – much like 2010 and 2014. It’s simply too hard to see them overcoming the Netherlands or Senegal, their likely opponents in the first knockout stage. Given the team’s lack of experience a win against Wales in the opener seems vital to bank points and breed belief. If that’s achieved the US have an excellent chance to progress from Group B. TD

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