USA World Cup primer: A beginner’s guide to the USMNT, the World Cup, key players, and more

How does the World Cup work?

Every four years, nations from around the world compete in the World Cup. 

This year’s tournament will be held in Qatar, with 32 teams competing for a single trophy. Back in April, those 32 teams were drawn into eight different groups. The United States was drawn into Group B, along with England, Iran, and Wales. 

After playing three games in the Group Stage, one against each opponent in the group, the top two teams from each group advance to the Round of 16. From there, it’s a single elimination tournament that moves into the Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and the Final.

The World Cup Final will be held on December 18. 

What is the United States’ schedule?

U.S. vs. Wales on November 21 at 2PM ET

U.S. vs. England on November 25 at 2PM ET

U.S. vs. Iran on November 29 at 2PM ET

Who are the USA’s key players?

The United States have one of the youngest rosters in the world, which means many of their best players are teenagers or are in their early 20s. 

Christian Pulisic, 24, is certainly one player to watch. Pulisic, who plays for Chelsea in the Premier League, is from Pennsylvania. He’s also an aggressive, skillful winger who helped pave the way for other Americans in Europe by impressing at Borussia Dortmund as a teenager. For more on Pulisic, click here.

Weston McKennie, also 24, is another player to monitor for the United States. McKennie plays for Juventus, one of the biggest clubs in Italy, and is a dynamic central midfielder. McKennie has a larger-than-life personality, which can be seen on the field with his energetic playing style and his goal celebrations. For more on McKennie, click here.

Tyler Adams, 23, is going to be an impactful presence in central midfield for the U.S. at the World Cup. Adams plays for fellow American Jesse Marsch at Leeds United in the Premier League. He’s a fearsome competitor, loves to step in and make a tackle, and is a key figure in the locker room. For more on Adams, click here.

Who is the USA’s coach?

Gregg Berhalter has been the United States’ head coach since December, 2018 and helped lead the U.S. back to the World Cup after the team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup under manager Bruce Arena. He also led the U.S. to wins over Mexico, their biggest rivals, in multiple tournaments in the summer of 2021. 

Berhalter, 49, is a former U.S. men’s national team player from New Jersey. He played professionally in the Netherlands, England, Germany, and the United States before becoming a coach. Berhalter coached in Sweden and the U.S. before taking the U.S. men’s national team job at the end of 2018. 

While he helped get the U.S. back to the World Cup, Berhalter’s time in charge of the United States hasn’t been without difficulty. The U.S. lost the 2019 Gold Cup Final to Mexico, played very few games in 2020 due to COVID-19, and struggled for parts of 2022 World Cup Qualifying. Most recently, the United States put in two very poor performances against Japan and Saudi Arabia in their final pre-World Cup tuneups, leaving a sour taste ahead of Qatar.

Tell me about the USMNT’s recent history

Five years ago, the United States lost 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago in their final qualification game before the World Cup. With that defeat, the U.S. men failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986. It was a crushing blow to the United States. 

It’s been a long and winding road for the United States since that loss to Trinidad and Tobago, but with a young, talented group of players, the U.S. is a much different team than the one that failed to qualify for the last World Cup. The United States is still a tier or two below the world’s biggest international soccer powers, but there have been clear improvements in the talent pool since the team missed the last World Cup in 2018.

What’s the deal with the U.S.’s jerseys?

We’re going to be honest with you: they’ve bad. There’s just no getting around it. With a nearly plain white home jersey and a weird, splotch blue away jersey, there’s not a lot to like about the United States’ World Cup kits.

Even the players don’t look happy to be wearing them.

How far will the USA go at the tournament?

The United States were placed in a difficult group with England, Wales, and Iran, but they have the talent to finish in the top two and make it to the Round of 16. With that in mind, getting out of the group is where many people will draw the line for this team. If they finish below at least two of their group stage opponents and head home after just three games, this World Cup will largely be considered a failure for the United States. Still, with how chaotic World Cups can be, is it possible for them to make a deeper run? Absolutely.