The USA men’s national soccer team did not qualify for the last FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia. But when the next edition of the tournament gets underway in Qatar on Sunday, the Americans will be there – thanks in large part to a group of Texans in the squad.
bow bell, senior writer and editor at concacaf.com, spoke to the Texas Standard about the US team’s prospects for the tournament. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: What are the prospects for the US men’s national team at this year’s World Cup?
bow bell: Well it’s really interesting because obviously they missed out on being in the 2018 tournament in Russia. It’s the first time you’ve been to a World Cup since Brazil 2014. So it’s a very young team but I think it will play in their favour. And I think the group they play in suits them too when they play Wales, England and Iran. So three very tough opponents. But this is a US team with, as I said, a lot of young players playing in some of the top clubs in Europe. So very sporty. And I think there’s a lot of excitement around this team that could be brewing something very special. And it starts in Qatar at this World Cup.
Wow. I think when these competitions happen, a lot of people like to look for players with Texas ties. And I was wondering if you could talk about some of them for fans to keep an eye on.
Yes absolutely. I mean if you look at the US team there are some very strong ties to Texas. You look at the US midfielder, Little Elm’s Weston McKennie, you know they’re in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. He came through the FC Dallas Academy, never made his debut in the FC Dallas first team. He eventually went to Germany to start his career there and has thrived ever since, you know, playing for Italian powerhouses Juventus. Another US midfielder with Texas roots is Kellyn Acosta, another player promoted through the FC Dallas system. He is originally from Plano. He played for FC Dallas for several seasons and now plays for FC Los Angeles where he just won the MLS Cup. Jesús Ferreira is another. Despite being born in Colombia, his father, David Ferreira, was a star at FC Dallas in the late 2000s — 2009, 2010 sort of — somewhere there. And Jesús also came through FC Dallas Academy. You’re starting to hear the constant theme that FC Dallas, its academy system, has produced some players that make up a very large part of this US roster.
Can we talk about someone else whose name is nowhere to be found? As far as I can tell, who came through this FC Dallas system? Ricardo Pepi, the 19-year-old El Paso forward. He played for FC Dallas before making the big deal with the German team, right? Isn’t that a long time ago? Many analysts expected him to play a big role in this World Cup.
Yes. And you know, to be honest, I’m surprised he was left off head coach Gregg Berhalter’s list. I really thought Pepi had cemented himself as one of the leading forwards for this US team. He was great in World Cup qualifiers when he was called up, scored an important goal against Honduras and then scored twice against Jamaica in a win here in Austin in October, last October. So I know it’s a disappointment to a lot of people, especially here in Texas, that Ricardo Pepi isn’t on that roster, but he’s young — he’s 20. And all signs point to him being on the 26-team becomes .
Was there a formal explanation as to why he didn’t manage to make the cut?
I mean nothing specific. I mean, Gregg Berhalter, the head coach, was asked about it. And he just said he was really looking for guys who thought they would give him the best odds of winning. It really came down to one player, Haji Wright – who plays for a Bundesliga side, which is Germany’s top division – who did it really well. But you know, I’m sure he’ll get another opportunity.
Good. Do you have the crystal ball handy?
Well, I think the US likes their chances to advance to the second round. After that, of course, it depends on who they play in the round of 16. But I do think the USA will finish second in their group behind England. I’m really looking forward to the second game they play against England. They open with Wales and then England and then Iran. But I think the US will come second. I think they will make it to the knockout stages. I’m a bit more skeptical about Mexico. You know, Mexico has made it to the knockout stages of the World Cup for four years. But I think that streak could be really in jeopardy this time.
Any bets on who could take it all?
Well, I think Argentina is ready for that. Brazil is certainly a power. Argentina, they won the last Copa America. They beat Brazil in the final. And this is an Argentine team, led by Lionel Messi, who is at the end of his career. And he has a young Argentinian team that kind of supports him. These are all guys who grew up with Messi and adored him and now they play with him and fight for him. And I think Argentina have really found their form here in recent years and I like their chances to go all the way and win this tournament.