The moment has finally arrived.
After an eight-year drought, the United States men’s national team is putting on their cleats for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. On the other side of the pitch, Wales have also ended a long drought, although the Red Dragons’ 64-year expectation easily tops that of the United States.
How will the two nations fare in their Group B opener? Getting all three points in the first game of the group stage can be decisive for the final two, especially with the United States taking on group favorites England next.
Ahead of Monday’s kick-off at 2 p.m. ET, let’s preview the 2022 USMNT-Wales World Cup game by looking at key storylines, players to watch, tactical analysis and more:
USMNT Key Scenarios vs Wales
Here are three key scenarios for each nation:
- Is the USMNT ready?: It’s been eight years and the United States has one of the youngest teams competing. Will the moment be too big for Gregg Berhalter’s team? Or will they come out with high intensity and focus? The first 15 minutes will be crucial against a team capable of capitalizing on their mistakes.
- Dealing with Gareth Bale: USA have kept only two clean sheets in their last 27 World Cup appearances. The context is much different now, but Matt Turner is making his presumed debut as the national 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 has come: Ferreira can do it with FC Dallas, but scoring goals for the United States hasn’t been there. Christian Pulisic is the country’s biggest attacking threat, but now – more than ever – it’s Ferreira’s big moment.
- Gareth Bale’s dilemma: The most prominent Welshman in the team’s history, Bale, 33, will carry a heavy burden in Qatar. Premier Leaguers Kieffer Moore (Bournemouth) and Dan James (Fulham) will likely join him at the top, but none of the three have been prolific goalscorers 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 for Wales since 2007, but he has not been a regular starter for Nottingham Forest this year. Meanwhile, Danny Ward has bounced back from a rocky start with Leicester and is in much better shape. Who does manager Rob Page’s page for the opener?
- Bench depth: Wales should field a solid starting XI, but if they need a spark off the bench, who will provide it? Particularly at striker, Brennan Johnson (Nottingham Forest) and Mark Harris (Cardiff City) aren’t known for scoring, and Wales haven’t scored at least two goals in a game in eight of their 10 last matches. Shaky defense vs theoretical offense? Let’s see how things go.
USMNT v Wales players to watch
Here are three players to watch for each nation:
- Christian Pulisic: The Chelsea winger will surely attract a lot of attention but his form at club level leaves a lot to be desired. Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter haven’t used Pulisic much, which can be seen in his total shots against European wingers (28th percentile), shot creation actions (16th) and expected assists (22nd), by Football Reference. Can this tournament stimulate Pulisic’s creativity?
- Tyler Adams: Leeds United’s new midfielder has been outstanding under Jesse Marsch, and it makes sense that 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 central midfielder in this game.
- Yunus Musah: The 19-year-old could be a star for American box-to-box midfielders with his extremely hard-to-find rhythm, and he was once coveted by England, Italy and Ghana before joining eventually landing with the Stars and Stripes. A healthy Musah wandering the field in eighth place could make a significant difference.
- Gareth Bale: The LAFC winger is similar to Pulisic in that he will have to do the heavy lifting offensively to both score and create chances. The left-footed right winger has long been one of the sport’s most dynamic wide threats, despite injuries that have hampered his pace and efficiency. It will come as no surprise that Wales’ best chances come from the right side.
- Aaron Ramsey: The former Arsenal and Juventus midfielder has also been plagued by injuries and inconsistent play in recent seasons, and now he’s with OGC Nice in the French Ligue 1. The 31-year-old creates 4.05 shooting actions per game, good for the 95th percentile, per Football Reference. If he operates on the right side with Bale, it could be a difficult duo to follow when they have momentum.
- Harry Wilson: The 25-year-old plays as a right winger with Fulham but Bale is pushing Wilson into the left central midfielder role which makes sense given he has no dynamic pace and is a solid creator, generating 5.16 shooting actions. a game in England. Expect Wales to line up with a back five to have more defensive stability, with Ramsey and Wilson being heavier attacking options in midfield.
USMNT v Wales predicted starting lineups
Let’s see how each team could line up:
Berhalter usually likes to run in a 4-3-3 with only one pivot holding the midfield, 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’ Nations League games in September that included two full-backs only to drop into a back five without possession and into blocks down. However, Ramsey and Wilson weren’t in those squads, so he could change it in Qatar:
GK: Wayne Hennessey; LWB – Neco Williams, BC – Chris Mepham, BC – Joe Rodon, BC – Ben Davies, RWB – Connor Roberts; CM-Harry Wilson, CM-Aaron Ramsey; LW-Dan James, ST-Kieffer Moore, RW-Gareth Bale
Prediction USMNT vs. Wales
September’s USMNT friendlies suggest otherwise, but you have to think the United States has enough to get all three points here – at least on paper. The line-up is much healthier than Japan and Saudi Arabia, and Wales, despite having solid players, haven’t been a significant threat in front of goal. You never know what might happen in a one-game scenario, but let’s go with a USMNT victory. As long as the United States do not go into the game against England with zero points, there is hope of advancing to the round of 16:
Prediction: USMNT 2 – 1 Wales