USMNT qualifies for 2022 World Cup

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Our long national nightmare is over.

The United States men’s national team qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar on Wednesday night, clinching their spot despite losing 2-0 to Costa Rica in the final match of Concacaf’s qualifying tournament.

With the result, the United States finished third in the Octagonal, joining Canada and Mexico as the automatic qualifiers. Costa Rica, who finished fourth, will face New Zealand in a one-off match in June for a berth into the tournament.

After a heartbreaking, embarrassing failure to qualify for the last World Cup five years ago, the men’s national team has endured a long stretch in the wilderness. It took more than a year for U.S. Soccer to appoint Gregg Berhalter as manager, and much of his reign has featured turnover in the player pool and efforts to establish a winning culture. Green shoots appeared last summer with titles in the Nations League and Gold Cup, triumphing over Mexico in both finals, and the U.S. entered World Cup qualifying with momentum.

The fourteen-game campaign had its ups and downs. After starting with underwhelming draws against El Salvador and Canada, the U.S. won three out of the next four — including a dos a cero against Mexico in Cincinnati — to get back on track. A defeat to Canada in late January gave the Reds the inside track on first place, but a comfortable win over Honduras in freezing Minnesota put the Americans in good position heading into the final window.

A draw against Mexico at the Azteca and a dominant 5-1 victory over Panama in Orlando all but secured qualification, with the only way to miss out in the final match day being a six-goal loss to Costa Rica.

That did not come to pass, and the Americans celebrated on the pitch in San Jose, Costa Rica.

The Octagonal squad had a distinct local flavor. Hershey native Christian Pulisic led the U.S. in scoring with five goals, while Downingtown’s Zack Steffen served as first-choice goalkeeper. Philadelphia Union product Brenden Aaronson notched two goals in eleven appearances, and fellow Union alum Mark McKenzie featured as well.

When the World Cup begins, Qatar will become the first Arab country to host the competition. Its bid to host has been controversial from its inception, with issues including allegations of bribery in winning the bid in 2010 and the nation’s reliance on poorly treated migrant laborers. Unlike previous tournaments, this year’s World Cup will be held in the winter, in an attempt to mitigate Qatar’s desert heat. The matches kick off on November 21 and run through the final on December 17.

The draw will be held on Friday, April 1, with the U.S. placed into Pot 2.

The USMNT’s last appearance in the World Cup came in 2014, where the Americans finished second in a “Group of Death” before going out to Belgium in the Round of 16. From that squad, which included current Philadelphia Union captain Alejandro Bedoya, only defenders DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks remain regular parts of the U.S. setup.

Wednesday night’s match was likely the final World Cup qualifier that the United States will participate in until the 2030 cycle. As co-hosts of the 2026 World Cup, the U.S. is expected to automatically qualify for that tournament. Philadelphia has bid to be one of the host cities for the event, which will take place during the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

But 2026 — and 2030 — can wait.

For now, USMNT fans can look forward to their side’s return to the world stage this fall.


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    First, I’m glad the team qualified.
    But in my opinion, it was a poor strategy for the US. Much too much was made out of how they had never won in Costa Rica and it looked like the team’s major goal was to break that streak rather than play defense first and avoid giving up goals. There was no reason for the center backs to be going forward on corner kicks and risking a counter attack. Actually, there was no reason for the US to be pressing forward to earn that many corner kicks. When Costa Rica wasn’t pressing, the US should have spent more time just passing it back and forth with safe passes killing time. Other countries know how to play a game like this where the major goal is not to lose big, it’s time the US learned it too. Boring football is what was called for tonight.

    • While I think that’s an interesting point, I’m not sure I agree. A 6-0 result is so extremely unlikely that you might as well just try to play your game until the other team scores a goal. (And I prefer that strategy to sitting back passively and allowing C.R. to dominate from the opening whistle.) The U.S. played their game in the first half and had firm control. In the second half, legs got tired, C.R. scored, and the U.S. pulled back a bit — but by that point there was no real threat of the Ticos putting five more in the net. In other words, the game never really got to the “danger zone” where I would say that extremely conservative tactics were required. So, to me, I don’t see anything wrong with the strategy.

      • Andy Muenz says:

        You didn’t feel just a little anxiety when Costa Rica scored those 2 quick goals? I don’t think it was tired legs so much as poor set piece defending. By waiting until it potentially gotten close, the Ticos would have had momentum by that point and that would have been downright scary.
        In any case, that job is done. Now they need to hope to be drawn into Group A or B tomorrow.
        Also, unless it happened recently, I don’t think the US has been granted an automatic bid to 2026 as hosts due to the nature of the tri-hosting. I wouldn’t be surprised if they do get an automatic bid, I just don’t think it’s been determined yet.

      • Deez Nuggs says:

        While I admit to a fleeting panic with how quick those 2 goals came, I think it was still a good idea to go after it. If for no other reason, than to learn from it. Still, I might have planned all my subs for halftime, because I had zero doubt most of the starters for three games would be running on fumes by then. Even Jedi looked gassed early in the half.

      • No, I didn’t feel any anxiety. A third goal, maybe, would have done that. But I felt comfortable up four goals with 30 minutes to play. Not to say that others may have felt differently!
        And Andy, you’re right about 2026 — it’s certainly expected but not certain yet. Story’s been updated.

      • Wow Andy thanks, I thought the three hosts were automatically qualified. I mean, 48 teams why not? but what if FIFA gets a bid from 7 European countries to co-host 2030 or 2034? I guess it could get tricky

    • I agree with Peter here. I like that we refused to play overcautiously and went out and tried to win. And we kept it scoreless through the first half, too. I think if CR scored those two goals in, say, the 20th and 25th minutes, then the panic can creep in.

      • pragmatist says:

        I wanted us to try to go out and win, but I wanted more squad rotation. The dead legs were obvious, especially in the second half. CP and a few others should have come off the bench.

  2. I thought it was of note that the studio team for the CBS broadcast included 3 former Union players. Just sayin’

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    I think more needs to be made about Canada’s result in the hex then the US’s. The US has reverted to the mean from its previous regression. I’m glad we’re in. They need to improve in the aggregate however.
    Personally, I find it terrifically annoying Don Garber congratulated Canda and glad handled himself and MLS’s role in helping Canada become CLEARLY better at soccer than the US.
    I mean, I like Canada and all I’m just not sure we should be happy for them for doing in the Octagonal what we should be doing in the Octagonal considering the MASSIVE resources being put into this thing… which is basically cruising through CONCACAF.
    I don’t know— I am at once happy and thankful which I set an intention to be as the starting place in life anymore… but am circumspect too.
    Otherwise… my goal own for this World Cup cycle -as always- is to get out the group but to do so in first place. This is the key for me. Win the tiny tournament within the tournament.
    I feel coming out as the second team just makes the road through the knockouts that much harder. I think thisis an acceptable, realistic goal this time around. Play well in the group. Win the group. Get an easier game. Play Serbia instead of France in the round of 16.
    Win that game…. then take it from there.

  4. Gruncle Bob says:

    Steffen was horrible on both goals. He should be dropped to #3 or dropped entirely.

    Our guys looked tired. They were playing on the road – game 3 in a 7 day period where the result didn’t really matter. They got the job done, and good enough for pot 2 in the draw. Let’s hope the group is favorable.

  5. pragmatist says:

    Assuming we get the automatic bid for 2026 (and all signs point to that being the case), this team has a unique dynamic among past US teams: they are the youngest team in the tournament, and qualification for the next round is assured. You obviously play for the best results you can get this year, but this squad will have less pressure on them than previous teams. When this is over, they won’t be burdened with the thought that they have to struggle just to get back. They have the freedom of knowing they have 2 World Cups with guaranteed participation.
    This doesn’t guarantee anything, but it could allow this group to play more aggressively in the tournament. They are young and talented and have nothing to lose.
    As long as they make sure the keeper position is sorted out, they could be unpredictably dangerous.

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