US soccer qualifies for 2022 World Cup

Mark Keplinger, Sports Editor

USMNT World Cup
Matthew Tate

The United States Men’s National Team has qualified for the 2022 World Cup in the final game of the qualifying cycle. Held in Qatar, the World Cup will run from Nov. 21 through Dec. 18.

Manager Gregg Berhalter called in his best players for the final three games of the qualifying cycle, although he was without Weston McKennie, Sergiño Dest and Matt Turner due to injury.

The U.S. began the last leg of qualifying away in Mexico on March 24, where the teams would draw 0-0 in a tense and gritty game. The Mexican Football Federation only allowed 30,000 to 40,000 fans in the 87,000 seat Estadio Azteca, as Mexican fans had used homophobic chants in previous home matches.

The game was physical with both sides committing hard fouls on the other. The Americans missed two golden opportunities, as both Christian Pulisic and Jordan Pefok failed to convert open chances from within 10 yards. Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa also had athletic saves against Timothy Weah and a second Pulisic shot. 

Mexico rarely threatened to score, with the home side only having chances right at the end of the game. All of Mexico’s offense seemingly came from a single source, Hirving Lozano. Because of this dull performance, the Mexican fans booed their own team off the field at the final whistle.

On March 27, the U.S. dismantled Panama 5-1 in Orlando, Florida. Pulisic opened the scoring with a penalty before a Paul Arriola header doubled the lead. Jesus Ferreira scored the Americans’ third goal when he poked home from close range, before Pulisic ended the first half by converting a second penalty.

Pulisic completed his hat trick when his superb close control beat out two defenders before he scored his third goal. Anibal Godoy, who conceded both penalties earlier, scored a consolation goal for Panama at the end of the match.

Heading into the final match against Costa Rica, the U.S. needed a six-goal loss in order to not automatically qualify. However, the Americans have never won a World Cup qualifying match in Costa Rica.

Los Ticos continued this run of homefield dominance with a 2-0 victory. Costa Rica, clearly looking ahead to the intercontinental playoff in June, opted to rest several starters who were in danger of suspension due to yellow card accumulation. Despite the weakened lineup, second-half goals from Juan Vargas and Anthony Contreras were enough to see off the Americans.

Despite the loss, the Americans were jubilant at full time, as they automatically qualified for the 2022 World Cup in third place, behind leaders Canada and runners-up Mexico. Costa Rica will now play New Zealand in a one-off playoff in Qatar on either June 13 or 14 to qualify.

The U.S. was drawn into Group B for this winter’s World Cup. They will play England, Iran and either Wales, Scotland or Ukraine.

England boast one of the finest teams in the world and are hungry to win it all after coming just short in the 2018 World Cup and 2021 European Championship. Harry Kane will be the center of attention, but the Three Lions have world class talent at every position. Kane has scored an astounding 49 goals in 69 games for England. 

Iran has consistently been a regional powerhouse in Asia but has never made it out of the group stage before. The Iranians will lean on the attacking talents of Sardar Azmoun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh.

For the last spot in the group, Wales, Scotland and Ukraine all have compelling underdog stories, but all three have solid squads in their own right. With the current war in Ukraine, it is easy to predict who neutral fans will be rooting for.