22WC-finals-chances

There is MLS representation abound as the 2022 FIFA World Cup begins, with 36 players from 22 clubs at the game's pinnacle event.

Going to the World Cup is a milestone moment in itself for any player. The question now becomes: Who actually can make a run to the Dec. 18 final at Lusail Stadium? Many might be considered long-shot bids, but at least a few names could advance deep into the knockout rounds.

We hit on all ranges of that spectrum, ranking which MLS representatives could go furthest in Qatar.

World Cup: Argentina, Group C

We started compiling this list before the news dropped Thursday that Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada is going to Qatar after all, getting named to Argentina's roster as an injury replacement.

With immediate effect, the Five Stripes standout is the easy choice for the MLS player with the most legitimate chance at World Cup glory. The 21-year-old, with just one senior cap, has an "enormous future," per manager Luis Scaloni.

Argentina and Brazil are the tournament favorites, while La Albiceleste carry a 36-game unbeaten streak into Group C play. It's also Lionel Messi's fifth World Cup, just about the only trophy arguably the sport's greatest all-time player doesn't have.

2
Facundo Torres (Orlando), Martín Cáceres (LA)

World Cup: Uruguay, Group H

One of South America's top teams has an MLS duo in Qatar: Orlando City SC winger Facundo Torres and LA Galaxy defender Martín Cáceres are part of manager Diego Alonso's (formerly of Inter Miami CF) 26-man Uruguay squad.

Expectations are high for the two-time World Cup champions La Celeste, who have made at least the quarterfinals in two of their last three appearances – part of a rich and proud history in the competition.

Torres was as advertised for Orlando during his debut MLS season, which saw the 22-year-old score nine goals and dish out 10 assists in 33 games. Cáceres, meanwhile, was steady as ever after his late-season arrival at the Galaxy, and is a longtime stalwart for his country with 115 senior caps since his 2007 debut.

World Cup: Switzerland, Group G

Shaqiri, who's coming off his debut campaign as Chicago's club-record signing, will be Switzerland's most experienced player at their fifth straight World Cup. He has 109 caps since 2010, with 26 goals to his name as part of a career that has seen him star for the likes of Bayern Munich and Liverpool.

Shaqiri has a history of stepping up in the World Cup, memorably scoring a hat trick in a Brazil 2014 group stage victory over Honduras (3-0). They'll need some of that magic, entering the tournament in solid form via UEFA Nations League victories over Portugal and Spain.

World Cup: Poland, Group C

The Charlotte FC striker is part of a Polish side that produced a disappointing finish at Russia 2018, bowing out in the group stage. If they can make it out of a tough Group C this time, Poland have top-end talent to lean on, including a generational striker in captain Robert Lewandowski.

Swiderski had a productive first MLS campaign leading the line for Charlotte during their expansion season, netting 10 goals and six assists in 30 appearances. Their club-record signing may partner Lewandowski, the FC Barcelona star, up top.

World Cup: Mexico, Group C

The 32-year-old Houston Dynamo FC midfielder, entering his third World Cup, has over 100 caps for El Tri. Herrera has been there, done that.

But Mexico enter the World Cup a bit subdued after a Concacaf qualifying campaign that was underwhelming by their usual standards. And manager Tata Martino, an MLS Cup 2018 champion with Atlanta, doesn't have much public fan support at the moment.

Mexico always seem to reach the knockout stages, falling in seven straight Round of 16 appearances. Perhaps veterans like Herrera can change that fate, and never underestimate the power of having goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa in a tournament setting.

World Cup: Group F, 11 MLS players

Eleven MLS representatives (and six from CF Montréal) are in Qatar for head coach John Herdman, and Canada have every reason to feel they can make more noise at the tournament than people might think.

It wasn't the US or Mexico that finished atop the table in Concacaf qualifying. It was Les Rouges, powered by their own golden generation of young talent and a disciplined, cohesive group that booked their country's first World Cup trip in 36 years.

Canada have arguably the toughest road of any of these more dark-horse candidates. Group F includes a pair of European powers in Belgium and Croatia, plus a Morocco side that doesn't figure to be an easy out.

World Cup: Group B, 9 MLS players

USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter named nine MLSers (two apiece from Nashville and Seattle) to his roster as they enter a tough Group B alongside with England, Iran and Wales.

There's a wide range of outcomes for the USMNT at this World Cup. It's not hard to envision a scenario where their inexperience (second-youngest team in Qatar) comes to light against more seasoned international opposition. There's also a world where their highly-touted collection of young talent comes together and gets them to the knockout stage.

After missing out on Russia 2018, the pressure's on this new generation to galvanize the program.

World Cup: Wales, Group B

The Welsh star played sparingly for LAFC following his blockbuster arrival to MLS in late June. But Bale ended it theatrically with a legendary MLS Cup equalizer against the Philadelphia Union, offering a reminder of his world-class ability and propensity for big goals.

Now, Bale sets his sights on captaining Wales at their first World Cup since 1958 (a 64-year span). No matter the outcome, the ex-Real Madrid forward will play a massive role. The 33-year-old is his country's all-time leading goal-scorer with 40 in 108 senior caps.

9
Jose Cifuentes, Diego Palacios, Sebas Mendez (LAFC) | Xavier Arreaga (Seattle)

World Cup: Ecuador, Group A

Seattle Sounders defender Xavier Arreaga joins the LAFC trio of Jose Cifuentes, Diego Palacios and Sebastian Mendez in Qatar, where Ecuador will be pitted against the host nation in Group A, along with Senegal and the Netherlands.

La Tri won't be a trendy pick for a deep run, but they showed a lot of moxie in South American qualifying to book their fourth-ever World Cup trip. It's a young, hungry generation that could become one of the tournament's surprise squads.

10
Nouhou (Seattle), Olivier Mbaizo (Philadelphia)

World Cup: Cameroon, Group G

Seattle defender Nouhou and Philadelphia defender Olivier Mbaizo form the MLS duo that will represent Cameroon in Qatar. The Indomitable Lions had one of the most dramatic roads of any country during qualifying, getting a last-gasp equalizer against Algeria in March that punched their CAF ticket on away goals.

Nouhou burst onto the scene for Cameroon after starring in the Africa Cup of Nations as part of his 18 career caps. Mbaizo has 11 senior caps since debuting in 2020.

11
Ronald Matarrita (Cincy), Bryan Oviedo (RSL), Daniel Chacon (Colorado Rapids 2)

World Cup: Costa Rica, Group E

Costa Rica endured a rough start in Concacaf qualifying, but they were the hottest team in the region to end it, taking 19 of the final 21 points that were available. That clinched fourth place before winning their intercontinental playoff against New Zealand.

Might Los Ticos have more magic after a quarterfinal run at Brazil 2014? Left backs Matarrita and Oviedo will be important, while defender Daniel Chacon (Colorado Rapids 2) is the first-ever MLS NEXT Pro player to make a World Cup roster.

World Cup: Australia, Group D

Columbus center back Milos Degenek made the final roster for Australia, who successfully qualified for a fifth consecutive World Cup, but are trying to make the knockout stage for just the second time in their history.

Degenek has 38 caps for the Socceroos since 2016, including five in 2022 as they capped a dramatic qualifying campaign with a dramatic penalty-kick triumph in their intercontinental playoff against Peru.