Key analysis: Will lack of experience haunt youthful USA?

Key analysis: Will lack of experience haunt youthful USA?
Key analysis: Will lack of experience haunt youthful USA?
Key analysis: Will lack of experience haunt youthful USA?
With an average age of 23, USA were the youngest of all 31 teams to qualify for Qatar, two years younger than the next closest, Ghana, at 25.

USA failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia – the first time they’d missed the tournament since Mexico 1986 – but this new team, under new coach Gregg Berhalter (49), shows plenty of zip, excitement and promise.

Berhalter starred for the USA on their run to the quarter-final in South Korea and Japan 2002 and when he steps out against Wales will be the first man to represent USA at the World Cup as both player and coach.

But his youthful inexperienced team will need to maximise their potential should they wish to begin to emulate his achievement in the Middle East this time around.

At the end of an unnecessarily close qualification campaign for 2022, USA eventually pipped Costa Rica on goal difference to seal their automatic place in Qatar behind group winners Canada and Mexico, who finished second, in the North, Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF) league.

But their previous failure to qualify for 2018 played heavy among the team and fans, with every stumble bringing back painful memories of their 2-1 defeat in Trinidad – the game that sealed their World Cup fate in 2017.

The co-host of the next World Cup in 2026 had their best result in the inaugural edition of the competition in Uruguay in 1930 where they finished third, however few would bet on them reaching such heady heights in Qatar.

Defender DeAndre Yedlin is the only World Cup veteran in the squad having made his debut for USMNT against Brazil in 2014.

The 29-year-old has been capped 75 times, with the other most experienced players in the squad including Kellyn Acosta (53 caps), Christian Pulisic (52), Jordan Morris (49) and Tim Ream (46).


Chelsea’s Pulisic is the undisputed golden boy of the USA team and among the players to watch at the tournament.

The 24-year-old midfielder has had a mixed Premier League campaign for the Blues, playing only one full game – their 2-0 defeat away to Manchester City – but remains a hot prospect for the US and forms part of a formidable threat on USA’s wings.

Pulisic will be joined by the pacey Tim Weah (22)– son of 1995 Ballon d’Or winner and president of Liberia, George Weah - from 2019 Ligue 1 champions Lille.

They also have strength in depth.

Vying for starting berths will be Leeds United’s Brenden Aaronson (22), whose energy forms the basis of their midfield attacks alongside Gio Reyna (20) - the speedy son of Claudio Reyna, the former Manchester City, Rangers and USA star - who plays for Borussia Dortmund, and known for his close control and vision.


There are two primary concerns for USA ahead of the tournament which could prove slightly problematic: central defence and centre forwards.

Defence used to be America’s strength in tournaments past but injuries have hit this team hard.

Walker Zimmerman (29) excelled throughout qualification but his centre back partner Miles Robinson (25) was ruled out of the World Cup back in May with a torn Achilles. Chris Richards (22) suffered a hamstring injury and did not recover in time and despite his experience John Brooks (29) fell out of favour and wasn’t selected.

Their absence opens the door for Ream, the 35-year-old Fulham captain who made his debut for the USA in a 0-0 draw against El Salvador in September 2021 and will make his first World Cup appearence, although most likely from the bench.

Meanwhile in attack, Norwich City’s Josh Sargent (22), FC Dallas’ Jesus Ferreira (21), Union Berlin’s Jordan Siebatcheu (26) and FC Groningen’s Ricardo Pepi (19) have been given plenty of opportunity to make the central striker position their own, but of 20 goals scored in 14 qualification matches, only four were scored by a centre forward.

Despite netting regularly for their clubs, translating their form to the international stage has been a painful exercise. Clearly frustrated, Berhalter excluded both Pepi and Siebatcheu from his final World Cup squad in one of the greatest USMNT shocks.

"In the case of [excluding Pepi from the squad], that was a really difficult conversation to have with him," Berhalter told reporters. "It's always difficult when a guy helps you get to the World Cup, scores three goals in qualifying and isn't going to be a part of the programme.

"It's more about who we did add that we felt good about."

Ideal XI

Turner - Dest, Zimmerman, Long, Robinson - McKennie, Adams, Musah - Weah, Ferreira, Pulisic

USA will have one of the youngest squads at the World Cup and will take three teenagers for the first time in their history, but will the lack of experience count against them?

Zack Steffen (27) was initially the steady choice in goal but his career slid since his move from Columbus Crew – a team Berhalter coached – to Manchester City, and subsequent loans to Fortuna Dusseldorf and Middlesbrough.

He was a fair bet to be included in the team but was excluded from the squad entirely.

In his place steps Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner (28) who should start against Wales despite being restricted to only a handful of Europa League appearances for the Gunners this season.

The rest of the squad speaks for itself with AC Milan’s Sergino Dest (22), Nashville SC’s Zimmerman (29), New York Red Bull’s Aaron Long (30) and Fulham’s Antonee Robinson (25) forming a back four.

Juventus’ Weston McKennie (24) has recovered from a thigh injury and returned to first-team training last week. The 24-year-old, who has 37 caps, slots back into a youthful midfield three alongside Leeds United’s Tyler Adams (23) and Yunus Musah (19) of Valencia.

Despite being selected in 11 of the 12 most recent USA squads – and playing in six of them – FC Dallas winger Paul Arriola (27) was not picked for this World Cup.

In attack, Arriola’s teammate Ferreira  will partner Lille’s Weah and Chelsea star Pulisic, despite Blues’ boss Graham Potter often selecting him as a wing-back.

Hottest contest

USA have named their second-youngest World Cup squad in history with 25 of their 26 players set to make their debut on the world’s biggest stage in Qatar.

Despite their age, McKennie, Musah and Adams have established themselves as the regular midfield trio for USA and affectionately dubbed the 'MMA'.

Berhalter has known to tinker with other options in midfield, especially in Musah's position with both Aaronson and Reyna more than capable, but the Valencia teenager is seen as a consistent ever-present and will stake his claim to start all matches.

Adams is also seen as unshakable in the starting XI with solid performances for Leeds this season, pressing high for Jesse Marsch in a similar role Berhalter wants him to play.

But away from the regular starters, competition for places is fierce.

Fourteen players ply their trade in the world’s top leagues – England, Germany, Spain, France and Italy – with five playing in the Champions League.

The stage could be set for a star to be born.


USA will face England, Wales and Iran in Group B but it’s their opening match against Wales on November 21st at the Al Rayyan Stadium that could prove key.

Both teams are 50/50 to qualify but injuries and a lack of experience could come back to haunt USMNT.

If they do get beyond the group stage, they will most likely qualify second behind England, setting up a possible last 16 showdown with the Netherlands or Senegal. They won't be expected to go much further.

2026 could be an entirely different matter.