By Wyatt Parks
The final round of Conacaf World Cup qualifying is in full swing and presently, the second international window has closed.
The results were an additional six points (two wins, one loss) and with the five points (one win, two draws) from the first window, that brings the USA to eleven points, seating them at second — one point above Canada and three points below Mexico.
The United States is coming off of a very successful summer with two final wins against Mexico in both the Nations League and the Gold Cup. Expectations were high for previously untested coach Gregg Berhalter, formerly of Columbus Crew SC, but the start to the window has been…rocky.
First off, the national team is young.
Like, really young.
According to transfermarkt.us, the average age of the USMNT roster is 23.7 years old.
It’s an age when one can experience moments like this:
But, it’s also when can create moments like this:
The national team is chaotic, disappointing, exciting and full of talent; but this is where the charm is. They are not guaranteed to win.
Contrast this with the national basketball team. There were some worries at first about how they would perform in the Tokyo Olympics due to some early losses. However, at the end of the day they still won gold because that’s just what they do.
That’s not the case with our soccer team.
The men’s team has shown that they’re talented and skilled enough to win in big games with the two nail-biting summer wins against Mexico. A lot of people began to say that the work was done and the World Cup qualification was already guaranteed. Now, it’s unlikely that the USA will not qualify for the 2022 World Cup but a USA with two draws and a loss is finding that it’s not as easy as you would think.
The USA soccer project is still young, as is the team. If the national team qualifies for the World Cup, they will be punching above their weight no matter who they play. Even though the USA dipped into the top ten in the FIFA power rankings for a bit after the Gold Cup win they will still be considered the underdogs in almost any World Cup matchup.
The expectation for the national team cannot be a World Cup win. It’s not fair to such a young team and a first-time national team coach. Being an underdog is fun. Punching above your weight is fun. Winning is fun, but if winning is the only thing a team does then they have a lot to lose and the USA has nothing to lose. Yes, they should qualify for the World Cup, but being in a position to have low expectations introduces the opportunity for upsets and surprises like this past summer’s two wins against Mexico.
The USA have not been performing as well during the past two qualifying windows which leads into the third window which begins on Friday, November 12 with a home match against Mexico.
There will be a lot of Mexico fans, a borderline away game for the USA, and with the mediocre performance during the past two windows the tensions will be high. The call to perform well against their biggest rivals at home will be pressing on the minds of players and fans. It’ll be stressful but that’s part of the fun.
Besides, what other national team gets off inter-continental flights and decides to have dinner at a zoo and meet a cheetah?