Golden opportunity awaits young, potential golden-generation USMNT at 2022 World Cup

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United States forward Christian Pulisic, left, and other players participate in an official training session at Al-Gharafa SC Stadium, in Doha, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) is back in the World Cup for the first time since 2014, eight years after bowing out in the knockout stage against Belgium in Brazil and four years after an embarrassingly disappointing failure to qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia in what was its first miss since 1986. 

While it’s one one of the more painful moments in the program’s history, it has also been a turning point. 

The organization was overhauled, Gregg Berhalter was called in to manage, and he has overseen a bountiful crop of youngsters that are on the precipice of redefining what soccer is in America. 

No longer is this a veteran-laden, MLS-heavy roster. This is a brash, young, fearless group with an average age of 25 years, 214 days. That’s the second-youngest team in Qatar behind only Ghana. 

So it was only natural that on Sunday, 23-year-old midfielder Tyler Adams — who plays his club soccer for Leeds United in the English Premier League — was announced as USMNT’s captain following a 35-player vote back in September.

“For the last three-and-a-half years, we’ve been working with the leadership council,” Berhalter said. “We asked them, well, what do you guys want to do for the World Cup? And they thought it’d be better to have a captain named for the World Cup.

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Head coach Gregg Berhalter, left, and Tyler Adams, both of the United States, attend a press conference on the eve of the group B World Cup soccer match between United States and Wales, at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

“Tyler’s a guy that’s just mature beyond his years, and you notice it from the minute you start talking to him. He’s a guy that teammates know exactly what they’re going to get from him. They know that he’s going to go out on the field and compete. They know that he’s going to be thinking about the game. They know that he’s going to be into the details of the game — not just a competitor, he’s also a strategist. And I think that helps the group because he calms people down and he’s a guy that people get behind.”

Of the 26-man roster, 18 Americans are currently playing in top leagues over in Europe.

Christian Pulisic, who was the poster child of USMNT’s culture change, starred at Borussia Dortmund in Germany before winning a Champions League with Chelsea.

Adams and Brenden Aaronson have created a scintillating midfield with Leeds as they try to keep the side up in the Premier League.

Fellow midfielder Weston McKennie is a mainstay within Italian giants Juventus. Sergińo Dest is rising to prominence as a wing-back with another traditional Italian power in AC Milan. 

This is the most talented and promising roster USMNT will ever field at a World Cup — so there are no more moral victories of simply being there or potentially getting out of the group stage in a foursome with England, Wales, and Iran.

They play like they know those expectations are high, too. They press, they attack, and they pursue the game rather than play reactively.

Under Berhalter, the Americans are 36-10-10 with a CONCACAF Gold Cup and Nations League title secured. But that means nothing if the display in Qatar is disappointing. 

“The final determination of this group will be at the World Cup,” Berhalter said. “That’s how generations are measured. We can all be talking — that’s great, we beat Mexico three times. Or we won the Gold Cup or the Nations League. But the real measuring stick for this group is certainly going to be how you perform in Qatar.”

USMNT’s quest for World Cup glory begins on Monday (2 p.m. ET, FOX) against Wales before a mammoth clash against England on Friday.

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