The United States will open the 2022 FIFA World Cup campaign on Monday in Group B with a tricky match against a Wales team that has punched above its weight in recent years.
The Americans are oddsmakers’ slim but discernible favorites in the late kickoff local time in Qatar after England and Iran open up group play earlier Monday.
And with a highly publicized clash with England looming on the day after Thanksgiving, it’s understandable there might be outside concerns that Wales could be overlooked.
But Juventus and U.S. midfielder Weston McKennie says that won’t happen.
“This being the first one, there’s no way we’re going to look past them or devalue them or anything, because we know they’re a strong team and we know that it’s going to be a hard game,” McKennie said.
The midfielder is cleared to participate after he missed a few weeks with Juventus with a thigh injury, though it’s unclear if he’ll start. Either way, he’s correct that the Welsh have presented plenty of problems for opponents.
In 2016, they qualified for their first European Championships and made a stunning run to the semifinals. They failed to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but then advanced out of their group again at Euro 2020 and followed that with their second all-time World Cup appearance after first playing in the 1958 tournament.
“To reach the World Cup, it was something that maybe we thought was out of reach,” Wales defender Ben Davies said. “To get here and to have a chance to do something special, it’s hard to say what it means to us.”
Gareth Bale has orchestrated it all for Wales, scoring five goals in qualifying — including the winner in a decisive playoff against Ukraine — and assisting four more.
In MLS, Bale helped LAFC win their first MLS Cup earlier this month when he scored the latest goal in the final’s history, tying the match at 3-3 in the 128th minute. His team triumphed on penalties over the Philadelphia Union.
Christian Pulisic leads the U.S. with five qualifying goals, but he has only one this season at Chelsea in 13 appearances.
Midfielder Tyler Adams, 23, has been named the U.S. captain and will wear the armband on Monday.
Adams, who plays professionally for Leeds United, has been the American captain for nine of his 32 previous caps. Seven of those games were during World Cup qualifying.
–Field Level Media