World Cup 2022: Good Luck Figuring Out The United States

Christian Pulisic and his teammates are among the biggest unknowns heading into Qatar
2022 USMNT World Cup preview

After missing out on the World Cup four years ago for the first time since 1986, the United States went into the wilderness of international soccer, looking to rebuild after its embarrassing flameout in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying.

The only thing known was that the team would be built around Christian Pulisic, the Chelsea attacking winger who nearly dragged the U.S. to Russia at the tail end of a dismal qualifying cycle that included the firing of Jurgen Klinsmann and the inability of Bruce Arena to take the Yanks to the World Cup for the third time.

The reset went deep, as the overhaul went beyond the coaching position. Earnie Stewart, who named Gregg Berhalter as coach of the national team when he was USMNT general manager in December 2018, is now sporting director. Brian McBride, the starting striker on the 2002 team that reached the World Cup quarterfinals, is now general manager.

The CONCACAF qualifying cycle leading to Qatar was far less dramatic in the new final-round format, with eight countries instead of the hexagon of cycles past. The U.S. claimed the last direct qualifying spot as the third-place finisher behind Canada and Mexico, but was comfortably ahead of Costa Rica via goal difference. Berhalter got four of a possible six points in the round robin versus “El Tri” and picked up regional silverware outside qualifying by winning the Nations League for the 2019-20 cycle and the Gold Cup in 2021.

Despite those positives, the U.S. has arguably the biggest range of potential outcomes for Group B play, which starts Monday against Gareth Bale and Wales. The Yanks are fully capable of reaching the knockout round; they’re also capable of going three-and-out without a victory in a group that also features an England team tipped by some to win it all and an Iran side that is also somewhat of a mystery package. The match against England on Black Friday could be the biggest sports wagering event of the World Cup in the U.S.

Berhalter raised some eyebrows with his final roster decisions, most notably leaving keeper Zack Steffen and strikers Ricardo Pepi and Jordan Pefok home while including Haji Wright and veteran center back Tim Ream. Wide back DeAndre Yedlin is the only player on the 26-man roster with previous World Cup experience as a member of the 2014 side that reached the round of 16. Nine players are 23 or younger, which means this World Cup is also serving as a crucial springboard for 2026, when the U.S. co-hosts soccer’s biggest event with Canada and Mexico.

Most sportsbooks rate the U.S. and Wales nearly level when it comes to pricing for a second-place finish behind England and a spot in the round of 16, and Monday’s matchup will likely go a long way in determining who has the inside track for that No. 2 spot. Berhalter’s team will face England second in group play, leaving the finale against Team Melli with possibly everything at stake.

Dude, who’s our striker?

Berhalter has used a 4-3-3 formation for practically all of the qualifying cycle, trying to evolve the U.S. playing style beyond the longstanding stereotypes of being industrious and able to hit on the counterattack. It has played to mixed results post-qualifying, though the 2-0 loss to Japan and subsequent 0-0 draw versus Saudi Arabia in the September friendlies shined a harsh light on the lack of a true No. 9 to lead the line.

After leaving Pepi and Pefok home, Berhalter’s options at center-forward are Wright, Josh Sargent, and Jesus Ferreira. Wright is arguably the most in-form attacker for the USMNT heading to Qatar with nine goals for Antalyaspor of the Turkish Süper Liga, including four in his last four matches. Sargent is trying to help Norwich City return to the Premier League and has eight goals with the Canaries, while Ferreira enjoyed a breakout season with 18 goals for FC Dallas in MLS and added another five with the national team in 10 appearances this year.

The push-pull midfield of Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie is vital for both possession and success, so someone among the trio of Tim Weah, Gio Reyna, and Yunus Musah will likely be coming off the bench. Weah has the pace to stretch defenses, but Reyna has the ability to dribble in tight spaces and Musah has come into his own as a central midfielder with Valencia in Spain.

It would be equal parts overly optimistic and foolish to consider Pulisic for top goal-scorer and Golden Boot honors — the Kambi platform is offering +25000 and +30000, respectively, if you insist on dropping a dollar or two — so the proper market to consider is top U.S. goal-scorer. The best value for Pulisic to lead the U.S. in scoring can be found at PointsBet and Hard Rock at +350, with Sargent (+600), Ferreira (+700), and Wright (+900) rounding out the top four for the Aussie-based sportsbook.

But there is no consensus favorite among oddsmakers. FanDuel rates Ferreira (+270) higher than Pulisic (+300), while there is a sharp fall-off to Brendon Aaronson (+850) and Sargent (+1000). Wright is the ninth option at +2300, behind Weah, Reyna, and Jordan Morris (all +1600), as well as McKennie (+1800).

DraftKings is offering Pulisic at +300 as the favorite over Ferreira (+400) and Sargent (+650). Pulisic and Ferreira are also +300 and +400 at BetMGM, where Aaronson and Sargent are joint-third at +800. Hard Rock split the difference and made Pulisic and Ferreira co-favorites at +350, with Sargent (+700), Aaronson (+850), and Weah (+1000) rounding out the top five.

PointsBet is offering +250 for Pulisic to score two goals and +1000 to bag three or more, with the former a play worth weighing since he is the team’s designated penalty taker. Ferreira is also on the board for two-plus goals there at +450.

Group B and knockout round offerings

There is a relatively narrow band of pricing at most books for the U.S. to reach the knockout round, with BetMGM leading the way at +100, followed by FanDuel, DraftKings, and PointsBet at -105. The Kambi platform for Barstool Sportsbook and BetRivers is at -106, while Caesars Sportsbook is the most bullish at -120.

For the Yanks to repeat history from 2010 and win the group over England, BetMGM, Caesars, Hard Rock, and FanDuel are all offering +550, while Kambi and DraftKings are at +500. Interestingly, DraftKings (+400) and Kambi (+350) are also taking action on the U.S. to finish last in Group B.

The band is far wider for the U.S. to go home after three matches, with PointsBet offering the best price at -110 and Caesars at the other end at -175. FanDuel and BetMGM were the only common offers at -140, while Kambi was at -125 and DraftKings -135.

With the expectation the U.S. will finish runner-up in Group B and likely face projected Group A winner Netherlands in the round of 16, the top play for the Americans to exit the World Cup at that point is +225 via Kambi, Caesars, and PointsBet, followed by +220 at FanDuel. For the bold who think the U.S. can make its first quarterfinal appearance since 2002, Caesars has the best value at +450, followed by FanDuel at +430. For those thinking the last eight is the end of the road, PointsBet and DraftKings are the top options at +700.

Photo by Harrison Barden/USA TODAY


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