Will 2026 co-hosts USA make an impression at World Cup 2022?
Team USA are a long shot in Qatar, but how far can Christian Pulisic’s Stars and Stripes go?
Previous World Cup appearances: 1930, 1934, 1950, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014
Best finish: Semi-finals (1930)
World Cup record: W8, D6, L19
Biggest win: 3-0 vs Belgium (1930)
Player to watch: Christian Pulisic
Fixtures: Wales (November 21), England (November 25), Iran (November 29)
The United States are among the best in the world and sports they invented. But they have never been a football powerhouse.
When they hosted the 1994 World Cup, serious proposals were made so the event would be more attractive to sponsors, such as dividing the games into four quarters and have larger goals.
Despite criticism of the World Cup being awarded to a country with little culture of the sport, it remained very successful and had an average attendance of nearly 70,000.
Moreover, qualifying for 10 World Cup tournaments is no easy feat, not least for a country without a professional league for much of that time. The North American Soccer League, founded in 1967, collapsed in 1984, and Major League Soccer was not established until 1993.
Back at that very first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930, USA saw off Paraguay and Belgium before being routed 6-1 in the semi-finals by Argentina. Interest in football waned for decades in the US, with faster, higher-scoring sports such as American football and basketball taking centre stage.
Other than a brief appearance to finish bottom of their group in the 1950 tournament, USA did not qualify for another World Cup until 1990 – when another barrel-scraping performance saw the Americans removed.
Hosting the World Cup in 1994, a spirited 1-0 loss to Brazil saw USA depart in the round of 16 – their best World Cup performance of the modern era. At the 2002 event hosted by South Korea and Japan, they went all the way to the quarter-finals, where they were sent home by a towering header from Germany’s Michael Ballack.
A winless appearance in the 2006 tournament ensured another quiet four years for US football. But a strong showing at South Africa 2010, with draws against England and Slovenia, and a crucial win over Algeria, again saw USA progress to the round-of-16 only to be sent home by the Black Stars of Ghana.
Four years later, however, USA had their revenge as they beat Ghana in their opening match of Brazil 2014. A draw against Portugal kept the run going until Belgium ended their dreams in the round-of-16 again.
The team looks good this time around. Its qualification run saw an unbeaten home record.
Look out for Christian Pulisic – “Captain America” – whose 84 appearances for Chelsea in the English Premier League and 90 for Germany’s Borussia Dortmund have netted him no fewer than 33 goals.
Qatar 2022 sees USA in probably the tournament’s most-competitive group, facing England and Wales on growing form.
Keep an eye for the likely banter around the Wales game, after the purchase (and documentary “Welcome to Wrexham”) of Wrexham AFC by Canada’s Ryan Reynolds and Philadelphia’s Rob McElhenney brought the flavour of Welsh football to new audiences in the US and beyond.