The moment is finally here.
After an eight-year drought, the United States men’s national team has laced up the cleats in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Through 22 minutes. the USMNT remains tied with Wales -- a country in another lengthy drought, though the Red Dragons’ 64-year wait easily surpasses that of the U.S.
On offense, the Americans have found plenty of opportunities early but have yet to convert for their goal in Qatar.
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How will both nations fare in their Group B opening match? Getting all three points in the first group stage game can be decisive for the final two, especially with the U.S. facing England, the group favorite, next.
Let’s preview the rest of the USMNT-Wales 2022 World Cup fixture by looking at key storylines, players to watch, tactical analysis and more:
USMNT vs. Wales key storylines
Here are three key storylines for each nation:
- Is the USMNT ready?: It’s been eight years, and the U.S. has one of the youngest squads competing. Will the moment be too big for Gregg Berhalter’s side? Or will they come out with high intensity and focus? The opening 15 minutes will be crucial against a side that can capitalize off mistakes.
- Dealing with Gareth Bale: The U.S. has kept just two clean sheets in its last 27 World Cup matches. The context is much different now, but Matt Turner is making his presumptive debut as the nation’s No. 1 between the sticks, with star winger Gareth Bale on the other side. Antonee Robinson and Aaron Long, another presumptive starter, will have a huge test to pass.
- Jesús Ferreira’s time is now: Ferreira can do it with FC Dallas, but scoring goals for the U.S. hasn’t been there. Christian Pulisic is the nation’s biggest attacking threat, but now – more than ever – is Ferreira’s big moment.
- The Gareth Bale dilemma: The most prominent Welshman in the team’s history, the 33-year-old Bale will shoulder a heavy burden in Qatar. Premier Leaguers Kieffer Moore (Bournemouth) and Dan James (Fulham) will likely join him up top, but neither three have been prolific scorers in recent years. How much can Bale give Wales in at least 90 minutes per game?
- Wayne Hennessey or Danny Ward?: Hennessey has 106 caps with Wales since 2007, but he has not been a regular starter for Nottingham Forest this year. Meanwhile, Danny Ward has bounced back after a rough start with Leicester and is in far better form. Who does manager Rob Page page for the opener?
- Bench depth: Wales should field a solid starting XI, but if it needs a spark off the bench, who provides it? Particularly at forward, Brennan Johnson (Nottingham Forest) and Mark Harris (Cardiff City) are not known to score, and Wales has not scored at least two goals in a game in eight of its last 10 fixtures. Shaky defense vs. moot offense? Let’s see how things pan out.
USMNT vs. Wales players to watch
Here are three players to watch for each nation:
- Christian Pulisic: The Chelsea winger will surely command plenty of attention, but his form at the club level leaves a lot to be desired. Both Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter have not utilized Pulisic much, which shows in his shots total compared to European wingers (28th percentile), shot-creating actions (16th) and expected assists (22nd), per Football Reference. Can this tournament spark Pulisic’s creativity?
- Tyler Adams: The new Leeds United midfielder has been exceptional under Jesse Marsch, and it makes sense why Berhalter gave him the captain’s armband for Qatar. His high-pressing, duel-winning and ball-playing abilities in a single or double pivot midfield are top notch, and he might even be the best center midfielder in this game.
- Yunus Musah: The 19-year-old could be a breakout star for the U.S. Box-to-box midfielders with his pace are extremely difficult to find, and he was once coveted by England, Italy and Ghana before he ultimately landed with the Stars and Stripes. A healthy Musah roaming the field in the No. 8 spot could make a significant difference.
- Gareth Bale: The LAFC winger is similar to Pulisic in the sense that he’ll need to do the heavy lifting offensively in both scoring and creating chances. The left-footed right winger has long been one of the sport’s most dynamic wide threats, despite injuries taking a toll on his pace and effectiveness. It won’t be surprising if Wales’ best chances come from the right-hand side.
- Aaron Ramsey: The former Arsenal and Juventus midfielder has also been plagued by injuries and inconsistent play over the last few seasons, and now he’s with OGC Nice in France’s Ligue 1. The 31-year-old creates 4.05 shot actions per game, good for the 95th percentile, per Football Reference. If he’s operating on the right side with Bale, that could be a tricky duo to keep up with when they have momentum.
- Harry Wilson: The 25-year-old plays as a right winger with Fulham, but Bale pushes Wilson into the left-sided center midfield role that makes sense given he doesn’t have dynamic pace and is a solid creator, generating 5.16 shot actions a game in England. Expect Wales to line up with a back five to have more defensive stability with Ramsey and Wilson being more attack-heavy options in midfield.
USMNT vs. Wales predicted starting lineups
Let’s take a look at how each team could line up:
Berhalter usually likes to a run a 4-3-3 with a single pivot holding midfielder, which is Adams:
GK: Matt Turner; LB - Antonee Robinson, CB - Aaron Long, CB - Walker Zimmerman, RB - Sergiño Dest; CDM - Tyler Adams, CM - Yunus Musah, CM - Weston McKinnie; LW - Christian Pulisic, ST - Jesús Ferreira, RW - Tim Weah
Page is new to the role, but he ran a 3-4-2-1 in Wales’ September Nations League matches that included two wing backs to drop into a back five out of possession and in low blocks. However, Ramsey and Wilson were not in those squads, so he could change it in Qatar:
GK: Wayne Hennessey; LWB - Neco Williams, CB - Chris Mepham, CB - Joe Rodon, CB - Ben Davies, RWB - Connor Roberts; CM - Harry Wilson, CM - Aaron Ramsey; LW - Dan James, ST - Kieffer Moore, RW - Gareth Bale
USMNT vs. Wales prediction
The USMNT’s September friendlies suggest otherwise, but you have to think the U.S. has enough to get the three points here – at least on paper. The roster is much healthier compared to the Japan and Saudi Arabia lineups, and Wales, albeit having some solid players, have not been significant threats in front of goal. You never know what could happen in a one-game scenario, but let’s go with a USMNT win. As long as the U.S. doesn’t go into the England fixture with zero points, there’s hope of advancing into the round of 16:
Prediction: USMNT 2 - 1 Wales