USMNT base-level expectations at World Cup: Reach the Round of 16

More than two months after the initial draw, the US men’s national team knows their complete Group B path at the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Wales defeating Ukraine last weekend in Europe’s final playoff booked a Nov. 21 meeting with The Dragons. That joins a Nov. 25 test against England and a Nov. 29 clash with Iran, both predetermined. All games are set for 2 pm ET/11 am PT.

Does it leave head coach Gregg Berhalter’s team poised to reach the knockout round upon the program’s World Cup return?

“Yes, but these teams are good,” Matt Doyle said on the latest Extratime episode. “The US could very easily walk out of Qatar with zero points. They’re going to have to play really well to beat Iran and Wales.”

The USMNT reached the Round of 16 during the World Cup’s 2010 and 2014 editions before missing out on 2018’s version entirely in heartbreaking fashion on the final day of Concacaf’s qualification process.

Rediscovering that pattern, highlighted by a quarterfinals trip in 2002, means finishing top-two in a group that features four teams ranked in the top 25 of FIFA’s latest men’s rankings. England are No. 5, the USMNT are No. 15, Wales sits at No. 18 and Iran clocks in at No. 21.

So, where should expectations be?

“The US is in a better place in a group that they can qualify out of and I think it’s fair to set the expectation that they should,” David Gass said. “I don’t really then care what the points look like or the results, in what order, to get out of it. I think it’s right to say that the 2022 expectations are that the US gets to the Round of 16.”

How the USMNT stacks up against Wales

Starting with a win over Wales would set a positive tone, though solving a team making its first World Cup trip since 1958 won’t be easy. The USMNT should push the tempo against manager Rob Page’s side, but back-to-back runs at the Euros prove they're experienced in pressure-packed scenarios.

“[The US are] going to dominate the ball and get a chance to come out in the World Cup and really dictate the game and get comfortable and get confident and sort of play the soccer that Gregg Berhalter works on,” Gass said. “I think there’s an element there that’s really exciting, but I watch this Wales team and it scares me because they are, ‘We can play like crap, we can play well, but we’re going to sit deep and we’re going to have the best player on the field.’”

The deciding factor could be that Wales boasts Gareth Bale. The forward’s just left Real Madrid and is the program’s leading scorer with 38 goals in 103 appearances.

The USMNT, conversely, should have difference-makers like Christian Pulisic (Chelsea). But Bale’s dynamic abilities can snatch a result in lightning-quick fashion.

“He’ll be the best player on the field, he’ll be the most dangerous player on the field,” Gass said. “Daniel James is good in transition as well. It will be a tough matchup for the US.”

For more USMNT analysis, check out Extratime’s latest episode here.