USMNT roster for World Cup in Qatar is young but talented, with few big surprises | Opinion
Joe Scally is still a teenager. So are Gio Reyna and Yunus Musah — for a few more days, at least. Christian Pulisic is a multimillionaire and famous the world over but, at 24, there are some states where he couldn’t rent a car. Jesus Ferreira was in junior high the last time the U.S. men were in the World Cup.
So, yes, the U.S. team headed to the World Cup in Qatar is young, with more than half the roster 25 or younger. Inexperienced, too, with DeAndre Yedlin the only player left over from the 2014 World Cup team.
But young does not necessarily mean naïve. Inexperienced does not mean incapable.
“This group has been together for four years now. We’ve had a lot of good experiences with each other and come so far,” defender Antonee Robinson said after the 26-man roster for the tournament in Qatar was announced Wednesday night.
“When I look at this team, I see young talent playing so well on so many different levels at so many clubs,” Robinson said. “The only thing I see is hunger, determination, intensity.
“I don’t think anyone feels young and inexperienced or anything like that. They’re just fired up and ready to go.”
The Americans begin the World Cup on Nov. 21 against Wales. They play England on Nov. 25, and finish Group B play on Nov. 29 against Iran.
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Had things gone differently four years ago, it’s a good bet many of the youngsters on their way to Qatar would still be trying to catch the coach’s attention or be stuck behind a more veteran player. But because the USMNT missed out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia, U.S. Soccer was able to start fresh.
Talented young players got opportunities years before they might have otherwise. When Gregg Berhalter came in as coach in 2018, he decided the player pool couldn’t be too big or too broad.
A generation that was supposed to peak for the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico was suddenly on the fast track.
“It’s a little bit underrated how this young group has developed, how this program has developed,” Berhalter said. “We virtually started with a new player pool in 2018, and now we’re back in the World Cup.”
These players weren’t just making an impression with the USMNT, either. The United States was cranking out players talented enough to play in Europe. And not in some of those lower-tier leagues where Americans used to go.
Fourteen of the 26 play at top-tier clubs in England, Germany, Italy, Spain and France, and five are playing in the UEFA Champions League this year. When Leeds stunned Liverpool at Anfield last month, Tyler Adams was man of the match. Pulisic helped Chelsea win the Champions League title two seasons ago.
They might not have World Cup experience, but they are not strangers to the big stage.
“(Not qualifying in 2018) lit the fuel to the fire that built this team and built this young group,” Yedlin said. “You see guys stepping up in huge moments these last four years, whether it was Christian scoring a penalty against Mexico, Tyler having a man of the match game against Liverpool, Sergino (Dest) playing at Barcelona and now A.C. Milan.
“There are so many instances of where guys stepped up.”
If there is a weak spot for the Americans, it is not their ages but their limited playing time together recently.
Reyna, Dest, Musah, Tim Weah and Weston McKennie have all missed time because of injuries, with Reyna absent for much of the last year. Scally and Haji Wright made their USMNT debuts in June.
There is no gradual learning curve at a World Cup. A team has to be ready to play, and play together, from the first whistle.
And that’s where the post-2018 reset was also beneficial. This team has, in many ways, grown up together. They have shared similar paths and shouldered the burden together of rebuilding the USMNT. Their affection for one another is both obvious and genuine.
Robinson used the word “love” several times when talking about his teammates. Spend more than a minute or so with anyone on the team, and he will invariably find a way to bust on McKennie — who takes the ribbing good naturedly. Off-season plans often include visiting those players who are still in season.
When a team has that kind of chemistry, it doesn’t take long to settle back into a rhythm.
“It’s like a best friend that you don’t need to keep in contact with, but whenever you link back up, everything is normal and it just flows,” McKennie said.
This group has already won Concacaf Gold Cup and Nations League titles, and they beat Mexico three times in a calendar year last year. But Berhalter, and his players, know it’s how they fare in the World Cup that matters.
The USMNT has been focused on Qatar for four years now. It’s time now to see what the youngsters can really do.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USMNT World Cup roster: Time to see what next generation can do