As far fetched as it may seem, there is a USA path to the World Cup Final in 2022. Come to think, there are a handful of potential landing spots depending on how the Group stage plays out.
By no means is the U.S. expected to reach the Final. Even then, the USMNT is certainly on the rise. CONCACAF Gold Cup and Nations League wins in 2021 show that much. Plus, the Americans finished third in World Cup qualifying despite battling injuries. That unfortunate trend might continue as the World Cup nears.
Regardless, the United States is something of a dark horse come the 2022 World Cup. A young team with the majority of its players appearing in their first World Cup is not the recipe for success. However, it is a talented side with many players now featuring for big-time clubs overseas such as Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Juventus and more. For the majority of the names on the projected squad, it is a competitive game against sides outside North America.
Those first games include Wales, Iran and one of the tournament’s favorites, England. These Group stage games will be the starting point on the USA path to the World Cup Final.
You can play along and make your own simulations for the World Cup using our World Cup predictor. Find out the Round of 16 matchups based on the results of each Group stage game, including tiebreakers if applicable. Be sure to share your bracket and knockout stages in the comments.
USA path to the World Cup Final
Of course, if the United States finishes third or fourth after the round-robin Group stage games, the path to the World Cup Final is pretty short. In other words, it does not exist. Therefore, for our purposes, we will look at what can happen if the U.S. finishes second or first in the group.
Also, keep in mind that there are way too many permutations of who the United States could play in each round of the knockout stages. Based on how the Group stage plays out, there could be any choice of nation the U.S. plays in the latter knockout stages.
That being said, there are certain similarities. The Group B runner-up plays the Group A winner in the round of 16. Consequently, the Group A runner-up plays the Group B winner in the same round. There are connections for Groups A and B, Groups, C and D, Groups E and F and Groups G and H in the round of 16, and further ones as the knockout stage progresses.
Easiest path to the Final
Let’s start with some wishful thinking. The United States finishes top of Group B. England fans, do not worry. The English still reach the knockout stages in the USMNT’s shadow. The United States, as group winners, plays the runner-up of Group A. Safe to say the Netherlands finishes top of that group if everything goes as planned. The runner-up would then be Ecuador, Qatar or Senegal. Not easy fixtures, but certainly winnable games for the United States. The Americans did defeat Qatar at the 2021 Gold Cup.
So, we’ll say the United States has the task of sending the hosts Qatar home. Gregg Berhalter’s side punches its ticket to the quarterfinals for the first time in 20 years.
The quarterfinals could get sticky. The round of 16 tie between the winner of Group D and the runner-up of Group C could easily be France vs Argentina. Just as easily, it could be Denmark vs Mexico. None of those teams are slouches. In this easiest hypothetical, let’s say the United States plays the winner of Denmark vs Mexico. Maybe France slipped up and finished runner-up in that group. This is another winnable fixture. If it is Mexico, then the United States has ample experience of success in the previous 16 months. However, Denmark is one of the tournament’s outside contenders. The United States puts out a strong performance and reaches the semifinals.
The other quadrant of the bracket is nightmare fuel. If we base who wins and finishes runner-up on the betting odds entering the World Cup, here are the other four teams in the United States’ side of the bracket:
Germany finishes runner-up of Group E, Belgium wins Group F, Switzerland goes second in Group G and Portugal tops Group H. Now, could a Costa Rica, Canada or Ghana mix all that up? Absolutely. In fact, that is likely to happen. However, in keeping some form of realism, let us say the United States has to play one of Germany, Belgium, Switzerland or Portugal in the semifinals.
These sides are all in the top-16 of the official FIFA World Rankings. The easiest is probably Switzerland, who does have a knack for playing spoiler at major tournaments (see round of 16 at Euro 2020 against France). At this point in the tournament it largely comes down to fate. The United States could just as easily beat each of these teams as it could lose 4-0. However, it is a legitimate chance at reaching the World Cup Final.
Worst case scenario
Let’s pump the USMNT brakes for a minute.
In the worst cast scenario from Group B, we’ll say the United States finishes runner-up. Although it does not matter, we’ll say it came down to the final minutes just to give the USMNT fans a little more stress that they surely love.
Many of these games align with the USA’s easier path to the World Cup Final. Yet, they are just the better team from the group. The round of 16 tie would put the United States against the Netherlands. Virgil van Dijk, Memphis Depay, Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt are world class talents, or at least have potential to be. The greatness stretches across the board for a country that failed to qualify for Russia 2018 and certainly has some pent-up frustration and embarrassment.
But, hey, somehow, the United States beats the Netherlands. Their prize is a date against the winner of France and Argentina. Pick your poison. The Americans get to play the reigning World Champions that has the deepest squad in the World led by the most in-form player on the planet in Karim Benzema plus some PSG player named Kylian Mbappé. Or, the USMNT faces Argentina and Lionel Messi in what is the current PSG player’s likely last World Cup. By the way, Argentina is still on a ridiculous win streak that includes the Copa America and Finalissima over Italy.
If the USA can get past the Netherlands and one of those two sides, it will be the Cinderella run of Cinderella runs at the World Cup. If the groups play out in a certain way, the next four teams could be just as challenging. For example, Brazil and Spain win their groups, as they are expected to do. Belgium and Portugal finish second, which in all honesty could easily happen. The United States plays the winner of whatever team emerges from the dogfight of Brazil, Spain, Belgium and Portugal. These are top-10 sides in the World Rankings, and at that point, as American fans, the U.S. is playing with house money.
Not to be a pessimist, but that seems too far-fetched to be true. However, it would be the most special two weeks in the history of American soccer if half of that happens. Then, just for good measure, cap it off with revenge against England in the World Cup Final. Soccer comes home.