FIFA Men's World Cup
USMNT on track to be healthy for World Cup-opener vs. Wales
FIFA Men's World Cup

USMNT on track to be healthy for World Cup-opener vs. Wales

Updated Nov. 14, 2022 4:23 p.m. ET

AL-RAYYAN, Qatar — One of the things Gregg Berhalter learned early in his almost four-year tenure as coach of the U.S. men's national team was that he would almost never have his full complement of players.

Between injuries and suspensions, personal matters and family commitments, it just wasn't realistic. And indeed, as the U.S. prepares for its first World Cup match in more than eight years a week from Monday against Wales (2 p.m. ET, FOX) just outside the Qatari capital of Doha, he'll be without a pair of key center backs — Chris Richards and Miles Robinson — who are still recovering from long term ailments.

At the same time, this might be the healthiest roster Berhalter has had since taking the helm of the USMNT in late 2018. The team's 17-player European-based contingent got through its final slate of club matches over the weekend unscathed.

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Twenty-two of the 26 players named to the Americans tournament roster last week were in attendance Monday afternoon at Al-Gharrafa Stadium, just down the street from where the U.S. will take on the Welsh on Nov. 21. The other four — Sergiño DestWeston McKennie, Tim Weah and Haji Wright — were scheduled to arrive on Monday night after their clubs played their final pre-World Cup matches on Sunday. 

The only real worry is McKennie, who hasn't played for Italian side Juventus since suffering a tweaked quad on Oct. 29. Berhalter said Monday that the star midfielder is fine. "We expect him to be able to train" on Tuesday, the coach said.

[Who is Weston McKennie? Inside the USMNT World Cup roster]

At any World Cup, there are players who get hurt right before the tournament and can't participate. That cruel fate is even more pronounced this year, with the quadrennial event shoehorned into the middle of the European season rather than staged during its traditional June-July window. The idea was to protect players from Qatar's oppressive summer heat. But already packed club schedules were further congested as a result, and the lack of the usual weeks-long runway beforehand leaves little time for recovery.

France will be missing starting midfielders N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba when it begins its title defense this month. England — which meets the U.S. on Nov. 25 — recently lost fullbacks Ben Chilwell and Recce James. Germany will do without attackers Marco Reus and Timo Werner. The list goes on. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. is basically fine. When next Monday's match kicks off, it's possible that McKennie, Tyler Adams, Yunus MusahChristian Pulisic and Gio Reyna will all be in the starting lineup. Those five have never been on the field for their country at the same time.

"To have that group of players potentially available is exciting," Berhalter said. "We know there's a lot of talent there, and it is good that we're getting to full health now."

[Why young USMNT roster isn't sweating lack of World Cup experience]

The nine MLS-based players arrived in Qatar on Nov. 10. Now that almost the full contingent is in camp, the coaching staff can begin zeroing in on the opener.

"We hope that we can use this week effectively," Berhalter said. "We're starting some to give [the players] some detail about Wales and how we're gonna play against them. And then we'll focus on England and Iran. For us, it is important that we put focus on this Wales game."

The Black Friday match between the U.S. and England remains one of the marquee games of the first round. Still, the opener is arguably more important for the U.S. What happens there could set the tone for the rest of the tourney, and Wales — which has nine Premier League players on its roster plus five-time UEFA Champions League winner Gareth Bale — won't roll over. 

"It's a really good squad, a formidable squad," Berhalter said of Wales. "It's gonna be a very difficult game. I think they're going to be a highly competitive team. We know, as a starting point, next Monday night we're in a battle."

If the U.S. has any advantage, it's that a few of its players, projected starting center back Walker Zimmerman among them, have been on the ground in Qatar since last week.

"We've got a few days under our belts, adjusting to the heat, time difference as well," said reserve fullback Shaq Moore, Zimmerman's teammate with MLS side Nashville SC.

With almost the entire squad now settled into its new surroundings, the USMNT is hoping that the stay in Qatar is a long one.

"The first few days have been incredible," said 33-year-old goalkeeper Sean Johnson who, like the rest of his teammates save defender DeAndre Yedlin, is participating in his first World Cup.

"I think everyone's super excited to get here and get going."

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Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.


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