The United States men’s national team has finally received its complete set of marching orders for the group stage in November, more than two months after the 2022 World Cup draw in Qatar.
Wales’s 1-0 win over Ukraine in their UEFA World Cup qualifying playoff final Sunday means that Gregg Berhalter’s side will open group play on Nov. 21, the first day of the competition, against the Dragons, before facing England on Nov. 25—Black Friday in the U.S.—and then Iran on Nov. 29 to round out the action in Group B.
The United States was grouped with the UEFA playoff placeholder when the draw was made, with one of the semifinals and the final in the bracket that included Ukraine being postponed to June due to Russia’s invasion of the nation. Russia, who had been in a different playoff bracket, was disqualified and knocked out of the competition, while Ukraine’s semifinal match against Scotland was postponed until June 1. Ukraine defeated Scotland 3–1 in Glasgow, setting up a playoff final in Cardiff on Sunday. Wales had beaten Austria in a regular-season semifinal in late March before qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1958 on Sunday, putting an end to Ukraine’s valiant attempt, especially given what is going on at home.
The United States was not only placed in the same group as the open-ended playoff winner, but it was also assigned to play that team in its opening match, leaving a crucial aspect of its World Cup preparation hanging in the balance for a few months. The opening match sets the tone—though it is not the be-all and end-all; Spain lost its first match in 2010 and then went on to win the tournament—and has traditionally been a predictor of success or failure for the United States on the World Cup stage. The United States has gone to the knockout stage in each of the four modern World Cups (1990 and later) in which it has won or tied its opener. It did not advance out of the group in the three matches in which it lost the first match.
The level of heightened urgency vs. England in the middle game will certainly depend on how the U.S. fares vs. Wales, and now Berhalter and his staff can get to work full throttle to prepare for that first game, even if it isn’t for another five and a half months.
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“Despite Ukraine’s defeat to Wales, U.S. Soccer has been inspired by their national team’s energy and bravery,” U.S. Soccer said in a tribute to the Ukraine team. “The Ukrainian players brought much-needed hope and belief to all of their countrymen and women at home during this horrible assault on their country.” We are inspired by the people of Ukraine and pledge our unshakable support for our friends in the Ukrainian Football Association as well as all Ukrainians. We stand with you in the pursuit of a proper and peaceful resolution. U.S. Soccer congratulates Wales on its victory tonight to qualify for the FIFA World Cup and are honored that you will be our opponent as we open the tournament on November 21.”
The Americans have scant history against their opening opponent. They have played the Dragons in a pair of friendlies, going 1-0-1. The win, a 2–0 result in 2003, came at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif., with the goals scored by Landon Donovan and Eddie Lewis. More recently—and considerably more relevant to this team—the two sides played to a scoreless draw behind closed doors at Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium in Nov. 2020 in the first international window after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Gareth Bale was among those who missed the match.
After defeating Qatar-bound Morocco 3–0 on Wednesday night, the U.S. has five more matches spread across two camps to prepare for the World Cup, beginning Sunday evening at Sporting Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Park against 13th-ranked Uruguay. From there, it’s a pair of Concacaf Nations League games vs. Grenada at Austin FC’s Q2 Stadium (June 10) and at El Salvador (June 14) before a camp in late September that is expected to take place in Europe and feature two matches against opponents that have yet to be determined.
In the meantime, here is the full World Cup Group B schedule, now that the quartet has been completed (all times Eastern):
England vs. Iran, 8 a.m.
U.S. vs. Wales, 2 p.m.
Wales vs. Iran, 5 a.m.
England vs. U.S., 2 p.m.
Wales vs. England, 2 p.m.
Iran vs. U.S., 2 p.m.
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