The United States Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) has just six game remaining of its CONCACAF qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup Finals in Qatar, which begin in late November this year.
Those final six games will be played between now and the 30th March 2022 and the top three teams out of the Final Group of eight teams, will qualify for the finals outright, with the fourth placed team entering an inter-confederation playoff, which will likely be against New Zealand in June in Qatar.
Currently, the USMNT lie in second place in the table, one point behind Canada and a point ahead of Mexico in third and Panama in fourth. There is then a five-point gap to Costa Rica in fifth, which does give the top four teams a little breathing space.
Trio Of Stars Join The European Exodus
However, also this month, manager Gregg Berhalter has seen three bright young prospects secure moves to European teams. Ricardo Pepi left Dallas to join German Bundesliga side FC Augsburg in a $20m deal, Daryl Dike moved from Orlando City to West Bromwich Albion in England for $9.5 million while NYCFC loaned defender or midfielder James Sands to Glasgow Rangers.
The three will likely miss the start of a planned USMNT training camp later this month, but may well join up with the squad, if selected, when they meet in Columbus, Ohio ahead of the next round of games later in January.
Later this month the USMNT face a potentially decisive game away to Canada on the 30th January, but before that they have a very winnable home game against El Salvador to play on the 27th.
They then play another home game on the 2nd February against bottom team Honduras. A good points haul from those games would put the team in a very strong position to qualify for the World Cup.
That will be decided upon completion of the final three group games in March which will see the US travel to take on Mexico, before a home game against Panama, followed by another tricky trip, this time to Costa Rica to conclude their qualifying campaign.
Does Playing In Europe Help Or Hinder The USMNT Chances Of Qualifying?
Having top players playing in Europe is a problem that many nations have. It is an issue that many top South American nations have had for 50 years or more and the USMNT have seen their top players playing in Europe for several years too.
There’s no doubt that the standard of football in Europe is higher than the MLS, especially when these players move to top division sides. That can, and does, have a positive impact for the USMNT.
However, the sheer number of players now playing in Europe does make coach Berhalter job difficult.
If you look at what Berhalter probable first choice team is, then the vast majority of those players play in Europe.
- Goalkeeper – Zack Steffen (Manchester City)
- Right Back – DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray)
- Left Back – Sergino Dest (Barcelona)
- Center Back – James Sands (Rangers)
- Center Back – Antonee Robinson (Fulham)
- Defensive Midfielder – Tyler Adams (Red Bull Leipzig)
- Attacking Midfielder – Weston McKinnie (Juventus)
- Right Midfielder – Yunus Musah (Valencia)
- Left Midfielder – Tim Weah (Lille)
- Attacker – Christian Pulisic (Chelsea)
- Attacker – Ricardo Pepe (Augsburg)
Yet, the issue runs deeper than that, a whole host of other players play in Europe too including Giovanni Reyna (Dortmund), Josh Sargent (Norwich), Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg), Matthew Hoppe (Mallorca) and Daryl Dike (West Brom).
And all those players are just alternative attackers that Berhalter could call on.
Logistical Nightmare For Footballing Benefit
With six crucial games coming up, it is going to be important for coach Berhalter to be able to call on his best players for these games. That will include some careful negotiations for the January set of games, which is going to cause some fixture issues for players playing in Europe.
However, these logistical issues are outweighed somewhat by the benefit these players have playing against top quality opponents every week. That will benefit the USMNT a great deal not just now, but in the future too.
Which is why I make them, along with Canada and Mexico to be the three teams that qualify for the World Cup later this year.