First off, I want to congratulate the US men’s national team for qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. It’s such a great accomplishment for this group, and this is only the beginning!
Only one set of emotions comes with realizing that you have just qualified for a World Cup: a sense of relief. It comes over you after the long qualifying process, followed by the utter feeling of happiness and joy that you have completed the goal.
Then, there's the indescribable feeling when you receive the phone call confirming your placement as officially one of the 23 players to represent your country at the tournament. At that moment, all your dreams, wishes and goals become a reality. And in my experience, each time was a totally different emotion.
Getting the call
I remember so much from the day I got that call in 2002.
I was an inexperienced 19-year-old playing for the Chicago Fire, and I was about to start training when the phone rang. I had to quickly answer because we were not allowed to take phones calls inside the training facility. It was Dave Sarachan, then the USMNT assistant coach and all I remember him saying was: “Beas, you are going with us to the World Cup.”
I don’t remember how I trained, if I trained, I just remember those words. I was stunned and shocked.
Later that afternoon, I got a call from Bruce Arena. He also congratulated me and went on to confirm that I was going to South Korea. And then he asked, “You ready?"
Twenty years later it becomes a blur to remember anything that happened after he congratulated me. I can’t even remember what I said to my family. I was in disbelief that I had made the squad. I knew I had a good Gold Cup that year and scored my first international goal, but I wasn’t a mainstay in any right.
I never expected to go to South Korea. As a kid, I dreamt of the 2006 World Cup because I was going to be the “right age” at 23-24. I guess I could say I was either very realistic or I completely underestimated myself.
That first World Cup experience
It didn’t really hit me that I could potentially play a role at the World Cup until after the warmup match against Uruguay, which I consider to be one of my best performances in a USA shirt.
Everything went right for me that day. I scored the goal that ultimately ended up being the game-winner in our 2-1 victory. I beat my defender, cut towards the goal with my left foot and took a shot right at the keeper. My initial attempt was saved but the rebound of the keeper left the ball right in my stride to slot home. Luck was on my side that day.
I left that match with a newfound confidence that I hadn’t had before. Some of it was rooted in the coaching staff and my teammates, but also from having self-belief that no matter what happened or what anyone said, I knew I belonged on that field. That’s a special feeling.
When we got off the plane and landed at the World Cup, the energy and vibe of the city were immediately felt through our bones. I thought the World Cup was just about the games, which are the most important part, but it was also so much about the experiences and memories that happened off the field as well.
We always had two security guards on our floor and them trying to teach us how to speak Korean was hilarious. Coming back from training or meals, we all got a little lesson in how to communicate. I think by the end of the tournament, Frankie Hejduk and Pablo Mastroeni were the only ones who could say a full sentence.
The visit to the Korean Demilitarized Zone was a surreal experience and I learned a little bit about North and South Korea's history. We had to be cautious of where we stepped once we got into the meeting point within the zone because if you walked too far inside the meeting point, you would be in North Korea!
While those experiences were incredible, that was not why we were there, nor the highlight of South Korea. For me, it was standing in the tunnel about to walk out to my first ever World Cup match against Portugal (I just got goosebumps writing that).
I couldn’t help but glance over and there was Figo, Rui Costa and the rest of the “golden generation” of Portugal. Listening to our national anthem being played and standing there with my brothers. I was nervous as hell, but ready.
Looking forward to Qatar and this USMNT
Speaking of ready, is that a good word to describe this USMNT team today? I think they will be!
Most, if not all, of these players will be experiencing the World Cup for the first time, and at a young age… I can relate.
From the starters that will play from the beginning to the ones on the fringe of the roster waiting to get the call from Gregg Berhalter, they all have that power of the unknown and I think that's an advantage, just like myself and Landon Donovan back in 2002.
Younger guys like Yunus Musah and Gio Reyna will have a big role and most likely will play a significant amount of time in the World Cup, just as Landon did in 2002. And I would also add Jesus Ferreira. Coming from FC Dallas, he might start, or he might come off the bench, but when you watch him play, you can see that nothing fazes him. One glaring difference between their team and our team in 2002 is that these players won't have nine or ten veterans to lean on during the World Cup. Will that play a part come November? Only time will tell.
But I'll say this: They are young, fearless, and talented. If you ask me, that is a dangerous combination… it's a young man's game now anyways!
You can talk to a million people about what the World Cup feels like as a player, but you really don't know until you experience it. Come November, they absolutely will, and it will truly be the most prideful feeling they'll have ever had in a USA shirt.