At a time when we need it most, the United States Men’s National Team is returning to the biggest event in sports next week, as 26 Americans are ready to represent the USA at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, set for November 20 - December 18 in Qatar. The World Cup. There is nothing quite like it because there is nothing that can unify a country quicker than international sporting events. America unified? Tough to imagine, but that’s exactly what this tournament has done in the past.
If only for a week or two, every American can root for the same result. Instead of tracking polling numbers and preparing for election run-offs, we can all pay attention to a single team with a single goal in mind.
We need that now more than ever, it seems.
The USA will kick off its World Cup campaign against Wales on Monday (Nov. 21) at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan (2 p.m. ET; FOX) before going up against one of the tournament favorites, England, on Friday (Nov. 25) at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor (2 p.m. ET; FOX). The group stage for the Americans wraps up against Iran on Tuesday (Nov. 29) at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha (2 p.m. ET; FOX).
I’m not exactly a “soccer guy,” I’ll confess to that. And maybe you aren’t either. That’s okay. You don’t need to be a soccer-guy to get extra-excited come World Cup time. The moments and memories transcend the game and we’ve got precedent for that in this country. Maybe we aren’t a country with a rich history in the beautiful game. That doesn’t mean we don’t know what this tournament means.
I can’t be the only one who remembers where he was when Landon Donovan scored a goal late against England in 2010. I can’t be the only one ready to revive that captivatingly simplistic chant from 2014: “I believe that we will win!” I get giddy just thinking about it.
“We believe we have a talented group, a strong team spirit, and one that is ready to compete,” said head coach Gregg Berhalter last week. “We are extremely proud and honored to represent the United States and appreciate all the amazing support from our fans as we head to Qatar.”
This U.S. team isn’t exactly veteran. In fact, they are the opposite. Young bucks, if you will. Defender DeAndre Yedlin is the lone American to have played in Brazil at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Of the 26 players selected to Berhalter’s squad, 25 are making their World Cup debuts. With an average age of 25 years, 175 days, it is the second-youngest roster in the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Three of the 26 players are Georgia natives: Walker Zimmerman (Lawrenceville), Shaq Moore (Powder Springs) and Sean Johnson (Lilburn). Berhalter himself will become the first American to represent the USA at the World Cup as both a player and a coach.
America did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, so this is the first time soccer fans here can root for their boys since the 2014 Cup. This time around, the road will be tough as the USA is in the toughest group in the tournament. Alongside the Americans in Group B are Iran, Wales and England – the group’s average world rank (15) is the best in the 32-team field.
It’s going to be difficult for Team USA to advance into the round of 16 this time around, something it did in 2010 and 2014 after having not reached the second stage since 1994. But we get a minimum of three matches, a minimum of three opportunities to come together and root for a common goal of winning.
Nowadays, that unification is an absolute rarity. There are very few things that we can all agree on, but this is one of them. I can’t wait.
The Georgia Bulldogs (10-0, 7-0 SEC) remain the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff rankings this week. UGA knocked off Mississippi State by a score of 45-19 last week in Stark-Vegas. This Saturday in Lexington, the Bulldogs play Kentucky (6-4, 3-4) at 3:30 before wrapping the regular season in Athens against Georgia Tech. Georgia is headed to the SEC Championship on December 3 in Atlanta where it’ll meet the SEC West champion LSU Tigers (8-2, 6-1).
High school basketball season is underway with most area teams beginning regular season play this week and next. The annual Joe Greene Tournament at Beach High School is set for Monday and Tuesday (Nov. 21-22) and this year’s boy’s field is stacked with talent. Teams in the field ranked in the preseason top-10 polls are: Johnson (Class 3A No. 3), Beach (3A, 4), Portal (1A DII, 5), Hiram (5A, 4) and Dougherty (3A, 7). Games tip-off beginning at 10 a.m. both days and continue throughout the day before concluding with nightcaps each evening at 8:30 p.m.
Follow Travis Jaudon on Twitter/Instagram @JaudonSports. Email him at travisLjaudon@gmail.com