The US men’s national team's 2022 FIFA World Cup run is over.
There will be a lot of questions asked, but there won’t be many answers just days after getting knocked out by the Netherlands in the Round of 16. It doesn’t matter if the team played well or not – the bottom line is that, for me, this US team was not ready to go home yet. A quarterfinal opportunity vs. Argentina was there for the taking. It is a tough pill to swallow.
There were some doubts surrounding the USMNT before their first match against Wales. We didn’t have a clear idea about who would be our No. 9 and who would partner with Walker Zimmerman in the center of the defense. Since those two positions are the most important when you name a starting XI, it was all a bit of a concern.
I said from the beginning this team would and should get out of their group. It’s a minimum standard for the USMNT. It doesn’t matter who else is in the group or if you are placed in the “Group of Death”... the USMNT should be advancing to the World Cup knockouts every single time.
They accomplished that in Group B's last match vs. Iran. Full credit to them.
And they were the better team in five out of those six halves. I think we were better than Wales and Iran. Now, are England regularly a better team than us? Sure. But on that particular day, we were the better team and were a bit unlucky not to come away with all three points.
So, what happened?
After those performances, and before the Round of 16 match vs. the Netherlands, it was natural to feel optimistic about the USMNT's chances. I know I was. People say you either go with your head or your heart, and I went with both. I truly thought we had a good chance of beating the Netherlands, not just because I am a former national team player, but because I thought this USA group got better as the tournament went along.
This is why it was especially disappointing that they had their worst performance in the game that mattered most. I do not think the stage was too big for them or they were overconfident in the way they approached the match. I just think they didn’t play well. We can talk about formations and who started and who didn’t, but every mistake we made was individual. Lack of concentration and communication on certain plays will turn into errors and, ultimately, chances for the opponent.
Satisfactory is probably the word I'd use to sum up this World Cup for the USMNT. They did what was expected of them. It was good, but not great. They didn’t back down or play scared. That no-fear attitude they brought to each match was exciting. They played in a way that made me relive my own World Cup debut back in 2002 in South Korea/Japan. I know they have inspired a new generation of kids hoping to play in a World Cup one day with their performances. And that right there is something to be proud of.
This World Cup exit for the USMNT will sting for a bit. In my own experiences as a player, it is not easy to just turn the page and look forward, but as a fan of the game and a fan of the USMNT, I am already looking forward to 2026.
Those players will never forget the experiences they went through together. We already know they will be more experienced in four years and they’ll have the maturity that will be needed to make a far run in North America 2026 (on home soil!). And I love that we were the second-youngest squad in this year’s World Cup.
We have talent here in the United States, but we will need some experience sprinkled in for 2026 and we will have that in abundance in four years. There will be some new faces and hopefully, they are ready to compete with our already talented squad for positions. Still, don’t think that we don’t have work to do. We are moving in the right direction, but it is far from perfect.
A message to our players
If there's any advice I can give our current players on what they just experienced, it's this: do not be content. To reach such a high level early in your career is special, it's a blessing, and it does not happen often at all. Stay motivated and use that disappointing feeling in a positive way.
This current group of players is special. I am hesitant to call them a “golden generation” but I do think they could live up to that title.
You could see it in their faces after the final whistle blew vs. the Dutch. They felt they should have won. Obviously, they would have had to play better against the Netherlands for that to happen, but as a group, they felt they came up short in their own achievements. That right there should tell you that this group is different.
I don’t know what their goals were for this World Cup. Was it the quarterfinals? Semifinals? Final? Whatever it was, it wasn’t just getting out of the group. As a former player and as a current fan, that gives me hope that the players we have today are not satisfied with just making it to the Round of 16.
If I look back at my own experiences with getting eliminated at a World Cup, I go back to the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/Japan. No one expected us to make the run that we did in the quarterfinals. I think it even surprised some of us as well. Our goal was to just make it out of the group and see where the cards lie. And after losing that last game against Germany, yes, there were some tears and sadness. Still, it was because of how we lost the match not because our goal was cut short of making the semifinals. The mentality is changing.
I hold our USMNT to a very high standard. When it comes to World Cups, it's not good enough to just make it out of the group anymore. We are striving for something bigger. Come 2026, the mentality of these players will be to try to win the World Cup. I don’t know if that will happen, but as a fan it makes me want to believe.
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