The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) soccer team is going to win the 2022 World Cup. I am exaggerating here because I was very surprised to see them make it out of the group stage. Over the past 20 years, the USMNT has not been great. There have been a few great players, such as Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, but overall the team has been mediocre. Most of the players were playing in Major League Soccer (MLS). This isn’t a terrible league to play soccer in, but when I watch Real Madrid play in the Champions League final and then try and watch an MLS game, I have to turn off the game. But since those years with Dempsey and Donovan, the USMNT has gotten a lot better and this year they are showing that.
The players of the team are definitely better than in the past. This is evident in the leagues they are playing in. Forward Brendan Aaronson and midfielder Tyler Adams both play for Leeds United in the Premier League. Midfielder Weston McKennie plays for Juventus, which is one of the best teams in the Serie A. Defender Sergino Dest plays for the world class team, F.C. Barcelona in the LaLiga. Forward Giovanni Reyna plays for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. Then of course you have “Captain America” himself, Christian Pulisic, who plays for Chelsea F.C. of the Premier League. As you can see, the team has more talent than it has ever had before. Not only does it have talent, but it has young talent. The USMNT has the second youngest team at the World Cup this year, with an average age of 25.2. So far some of these guys have played like some of the best in the world. Adams has played phenomenally in the World Cup so far. Every time I watch him, it seems like he’s all over the field. Dest has also played very well with multiple great crosses coming from the wing. Then there’s Pulisic. It seems like the offense runs through him. He always wants the ball. Although he isn’t the captain—Adams is—he sometimes acts like it on the field.
So how did the USMNT make it out of the group stage? Their first game against Wales was a bit of a disappointment. They led for most of the game after Tim Weah scored a great goal in the 36th minute off an assist from Pulisic. But a bad foul in the box gave Wales superstar Gareth Bale a penalty kick in the 82nd minute. His goal evened the game and led to a 1-1 final score. The game seemed so winnable, but all that came out of it was a tie. Then came the game against England. It was such a hyped-up game. Most people believed that England was going to absolutely dominate this game. To put this into perspective, the USMNT has a few players from some of the top leagues in the world. The entire England team comes from these top leagues. If the USMNT were going to win the game, they needed a miracle. Somehow, the two teams tied. I laughed at all the headlines after the game as they kept saying that the USMNT won the game 0-0. It was both great for the team and also terrible. For me it was sad to see how low the standard is for the team, but that is just what the reality is. It was good for the team, though, considering they competed with some of the world’s best. Some of these teams have world class players and England is one of them. The tie against England set up a must win game against Iran. It was simple. If the USMNT won, they would move on. If anything else happens, they would lose. Every moment of the game was tense. Every shot from the USMNT felt like it was going in, while every shot from Iran looked like it was going in. Then in the 38th minute, McKennie had an incredible pass to Dest, who headed the ball into the box towards the man who had all the pressure, Pulisic. Sometimes it seems like Pulisic has the entire country on his shoulders considering he is marketed as the team’s star player. Before this, in the World Cup, he hadn’t scored but was playing well overall. However, everyone was waiting for him to score. Then, just like it was destiny, Pulisic came flying out of nowhere before kicking the ball into the net. The USMNT had taken the lead in the must-win game and who else but Captain America to do it. Although everyone was celebrating, the goal came at a cost. Pulisic went down with a pelvic injury that would cost him the second half of the game. Nothing really happened in the second half, but every single time Iran took a shot, I felt my heart drop. The 10 minutes of extra time were especially excruciating considering Iran kept flailing hoping to get a penalty kick. But eventually the game was over and the USMNT advanced to the Round of 16.
I am not an expert in soccer, and I have definitely not watched all these players on the USMNT play before, but I do think that the team could make some changes. For one, Reyna should definitely be playing more. I have no idea why he’s not playing, considering he plays for one of the best teams in the world. I also think Aaronson should be playing more. When the guy somehow has the nickname “Medford Messi,” that alone warrants more play time. Also, a few substitutions during games have been a bit questionable, and the experts of Twitter have often agreed with me. Again, I probably have no idea what I am talking about, but if people are talking about these guys being the best players on the team, then you should probably play them, especially considering they are playing a very good Netherlands team on Dec. 3. The Netherlands also did not lose a game during the group stage, but they led their group after winning two out of three games. The USMNT did not play perfect soccer in the group stage, but in order to stay competitive, everything is going to have to go well. Play the best players and hopefully Pulisic is well enough to play. Then maybe the team has a chance to go far.
Soccer is not one of my favorite sports to watch, but I definitely see the appeal of watching the World Cup. Most Americans probably do not watch a lot of soccer, but when it comes to cheering for your country, it’s completely different. The match between England and the United States set the record for the most watched men’s soccer match on American English television ever, with 15.4 million viewers. This year, it’s even easier to watch because the players are so much better. Do I genuinely think that the USMNT is good enough to compete with teams like France or Brazil? Nope. However, it’s fun to cheer for them now and it’s great to see how the future of the team is bright.
But, soccer can also be unentertaining to watch at times. In incredibly low scoring games, like Croatia vs. Belgium, it can feel like nothing’s going on. The players clearly have immense talent that a mere Brandeis student can never hope to match, but there’s no payoff for all of the long trips down the field the players take. And, there are the gratuitous flops that so many players perform. It’s just overkill: they fall down in apparent agony after a tap on the shoulder in an attempt to draw a foul. It’s not the worst thing in the world to watch, but soccer can feel simultaneously boring and overly dramatic.