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Like it or not, America’s 2022 World Cup hopes are in the hands of their young players


Of the 11 players who started for the United States Men’s National Team on Wednesday night against Costa Rica, none were alive when that country hosted the FIFA World Cup. It was in 1994, only 27 years ago. Some of the games were played in Dallas, where forward Ricardo Pepi now plays in Major League Soccer. At that time, he was eight years from his birth.

The USMNT started their all-time youngest roster in this World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, a decision made because “kids” are just good, but also because their elders aren’t. are simply not. This has an impact on the attempt to reach Qatar 2022 which is dismissed too casually by many supporters of the team.

MORE: USMNT scores big World Cup qualifying victory after first scare

The 2-1 win over Costa Rica was needlessly heartbreaking as this team – whose players are on average 22 years and 199 days old – sometimes played like children. The defense tripped in the first minute against a forward swing that forced goalkeeper Zack Steffen out of his crease to clear the ball with a header. His effort was not strong enough for the ball to cross the sideline and was saved by Costa Rican left-back Ronald Matarrita, who sent a cross over the US defense to unmarked winger Keysher Fuller . He once had a putt that Steffen seemed not to see until he was behind him.

Right-back Sergino Dest tied the game in the 25th minute with a left foot golazo strikes after a nice recovery from teenage midfielder Yunus Musah, who prepared Dest to move into space above the box and shoot the ball into the far left corner.

With the game tied 1-1 at the start of the second half, defender Miles Robinson sent a soft, lazy side pass to center partner Chris Richards, who didn’t react to Robinson’s mistake and saw Ticos veteran Bryan Ruiz intervenes to intercept the ball and take off with no one between him and Steffen’s goal. It helped that Ruiz was 122 – OK, only 36 – so Robinson was able to catch him near the top of the box and clear the ball.

In the 65th minute, Weah broke free from the right side of the box, accepted a pass from Dest, and unleashed a shot so sudden and forceful he could only have been stopped by one of the best goalkeepers. of the world. Luckily for the United States Men’s National Team, the Costa Rican player who fit that description, Keylor Navas of Paris Saint-Germain, left at halftime due to strained muscles.

Weah’s shot hit the right post and hit Navas’ substitute Leonel Moreira on the left side. He then crossed the goal line. Official scorers in Wednesday’s game said it was an own own goal.

MORE: USMNT’s Berhalter defends squad selection in Panama loss

In added time, Costa Rica fouled 30 meters from the area and had no choice but to send the free kick into the box and hope for the best. The United States slid the ball with a tangle of legs that never really connected until it landed in front of Steffen, who covered it. There was a fault from Costa Rica along the way, but it could have been a disaster.

And that’s pretty much what to expect from this team, provided they’re met with an avalanche of energy and creative talent. This is what happened to Columbus.

“I’ve said it before, I don’t think we talk about it enough,” coach Gregg Berhalter told reporters. “Twenty-two years and 199 days was the average age of our starting XI. It’s fundamentally unheard of in international football. You’re going to see Germany, France, Brazil – they’re basically playing 28 and 29-year-olds.

“So for us to navigate through this CONCACAF qualification – which is a bear, a monster – with this group, and the amount of balance they showed on the pitch today, especially in scoring a goal , then in the second half a goal and good management of the game … I’m proud of the effort. The guys showed a lot of balance. And they are growing, they are growing as a team. “

MORE: Why no VAR in the 2022 CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers?

The United States is in this predicament because the country has produced virtually no outstanding national team player between Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore (who turned 20 in 2009) and Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic (who turned 20 in 2018). You could call it the period between the Freddy Adu generation: no Landon Donovan or DaMarcus Beasley or Clint Dempsey emerged to replace the originals.

Among the players who represented the United States at the 2009 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, only midfielder Mix Diskerud and winger Brek Shea have won more than 25 caps for the senior national team. Perhaps this team’s most successful product was Josh Lambo of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who scored 527 points as an NFL spot kicker.

The 2011 Under-20 team, which included striker Bobby Wood and midfielder Sebastian Lletget, didn’t even make it to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup. The 2013 squad only produced right-back DeAndre Yedlin and midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who have a total of 110 senior caps.

Given this relative void, Berhalter tried to build on the experience of Lletget, 29, and Acosta, 26, to control the midfielder in Sunday’s road game against Panama. His faith was not rewarded. The burden was too heavy for these two to bear, and the United States stumbled to a 1-0 loss. And many fans – and some former players turned analysts – have been hammering the coaching staff for the result.

“What I try to avoid, especially with the team, is to put pressure on them because of outside forces,” said Berhalter. “We have enough internal pressure to want to play a certain way. We want to play well. And we want to win games. All qualifying for the World Cup is difficult. All qualifying for the World Cup is difficult. And sometimes I feel like people have forgotten that. And people think it’s a piece of cake. And we’re going to face the youngest team in American football history in a game and we’re just going to get through those games with flying colors. It is not realistic.

MORE: World Cup qualifying schedule and standings

If you are wondering if there has been any progress since the Couva Calamity, the night four years ago and three days ago that the USMNT failed to qualify for the World Cup, consider that the defeat 2-1 against Trinidad and Tobago was the 10th and final game of the 2018 final qualifying round for Russia. The loss left USMNT with a total of 12 points, which was neither enough to qualify. automatically (yes, I know you know) nor enough to enter the intercontinental playoffs awarded to the team that placed Fourth.

This team has played six games so far: three at home, three away. Wednesday night’s victory put the US total at 11 points. That’s 1.83 points per game. Four years ago, the average was 1.2 points per game.

The Americans won three games in what was then called “the Hex”. They’ve already matched that total in just over half the time. They lost their first two games in 2016-17. They have suffered just one loss in half a dozen matchdays, placing second in the Octagonal and three points ahead of fourth-placed Panama.

“We weren’t sharp enough at first, but we did well afterwards,” Dest told reporters. “We just work as a team, and it’s really nice to see.

“We’re like brothers to each other, and I think it’s really important to compete at the highest level and to win games. Because football doesn’t always have to be like a good game of possession and all that. The points are the most important.

“We have a very young team. We are like talents, talents that are really in the making. We all work together and we all gain experience. Because these games are difficult. We are not used to playing against these opponents. . “


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