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AL RAYYAN, Qatar — Christian Pulisic had waited 1,868 days, and Tim Weah almost as long, to hear the roar. They had endured the darkest five years in American football history on nights like Monday, for the chance to put a nation on its feet, for the chance to hoist a lifetime of work on a World Cup stage. . They had suffered, chased away doubts and persevered to feel an explosion. At 10:36 p.m. here at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, they scored the goal that caused it – and for an hour it looked like they had won the United States men’s national team in their match. opening of the 2022 World Cup.
But in the 82nd minute, Gareth Bale unleashed a louder explosion. And the USMNT had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Wales.
They have been superior, so far superior, for 45 minutes. Then they backed off and tried to survive a Welsh storm. They survived it for 35 minutes. But with the pressure mounting, Walker Zimmerman fouled Bale in the penalty area. Bale converted on the spot. And what could have been a dazzling and uplifting night turned wet.
The draw is not catastrophic. He leaves the United States, still, as favorites to pass from group B. But the point will be tinged with disappointment. And the pressure, Friday against England, will be intense.
It also felt like a missed opportunity. Weah’s goal, after Pulisic got past the Welsh, felt like the christening of a new era, a moment for a country to come together, the start of what could be a special World Cup.
Instead, the emotions are mixed, complicated and conflicted. The first half was promising. The second half was not. Zimmerman whipped his hands to his cheeks in frustration at the final whistle.
The past is now the past. The USMNT is definitely reborn. The eight-year wait for their World Cup return is over. But the future – the immediate future and the long term one – is uncertain.
USMNT’s hot start is running out of steam
The journey here from Trinidad, the site of American football’s greatest failure, has been arduous and uneven. It started with a year and more of no direction under interim director Dave Sarachan. Sarachan introduced many young players into the national team environment, and some became stars. But at that time, says Tyler Adams, “we had no identity, no game plan. It was almost like going to national team camp for fun.
A lengthy coaching search landed on Gregg Berhalter. He came with big plans for progressive football, based on possession, or “disrupting the opponent with the ball”, as he would say. And early on, he ran into the same problem that doomed the 2018 World Cup cycle: he didn’t have the necessary players.
Slowly but surely, however, they began to arrive. They came from American football’s controversial Development Academy, which in 2007 overhauled the youth development pathway. Led by Christian Pulisic, they increasingly went through the best European clubs. A few, including Yunus Musah and Sergiño Dest, were also double nationals recruited by Berhalter who chose the United States over more legendary soccer nations.
As veterans of past World Cups faded away, youngsters coalesced into a trophy-winning team. They beat Mexico in back-to-back finals. They stumbled in qualifying, but they were, in some ways, the youngest USMNT ever and the youngest national team in the entire world.
Their youth spoke of a golden generation, of an exorbitant potential that would one day be realized. That day, according to conventional wisdom, could come in 2026, when the World Cup hits home, and when this group of 20-somethings are at their peak. They are playing at levels that American football has never touched, with talents, in some cases, that American football has never seen.
We had the feeling that maybe they were too green, a little incomplete, not quite ready for a race in 2022 yet. In 45 minutes, they asked: Why not?
And in the second half, maybe, they provided an answer. They couldn’t resist the Welsh pressure. Couldn’t maintain their grip on the game. And couldn’t quite get it back once they lost it.
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