Next week, the first ever winter World Cup commences in Qatar. Soccer’s biggest stars will take an unprecedented break in the middle of the club season, owing to Qatar’s extreme summer weather, to challenge for one of sport’s biggest prizes. Among the tournament favorites are Brazil, Argentina, France and England.
Yet, the United States and its young, dynamic team will hope to mark its first World Cup in eight years with a deep run. While Christian Pulisic is hailed as the superstar of the US Men’s National Team, Stanford alum and Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris ‘15 – who played for the Cardinal from 2013-15 – will be eager to make an impact in his first World Cup.
“That’s incredible,” Morris said upon receiving his call up from USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter. “I can’t wait, thank you.”
In 54 career games with the Cardinal, Morris scored 23 goals and had 16 assists. Morris was particularly prolific in his final season. He scored in five games in which the Cardinal won by just one goal, illustrating his match winning ability. Ultimately, he ended his Stanford career by scoring two goals in the NCAA Finals against Clemson, and was crowned the Hermann Trophy winner as the best men’s college soccer player.
“To play in a World Cup [has] been my dream since I was a little kid,” Morris said. “It would make all the hard work, all the sacrifices worth it.”
The USMNT look ahead to Qatar after successfully rebuilding in the last few years. After failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 following an abysmal loss to 99th-ranked minnow Trinidad and Tobago, the US appointed Berhalter as manager and ushered in a core of young talent. Gio Reyna, Weston Mckennie, Tyler Adams, Sergino Dest and more have emerged; they all play in one of Europe’s top five leagues and have experience competing in the Champions League.
This development brought silverware as the US won the Gold Cup in 2021, defeating Mexico 1-0, and the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League, defeating the same opponent 3-2 in the final. In eight competitive games in 2022, meanwhile, the team has four wins, two draws and two defeats. However, in the two most recent friendlies prior to the tournament, the team lost to Japan and drew with Saudi Arabia, failing to score a goal in either contest.
Morris and his countrymen face Wales in their opening game in Qatar on Monday at 10:45 a.m. PT. Then, the Yanks square off against one of the best teams in the tournament, England, before finishing the group stage against Iran.
The U.S. should definitely have hopes of getting through Group B as it’s a relatively favorable draw. The biggest test, of course, is England and I can’t see them getting anything there. England has a very tight defense and an abundance of flair players who are fluid in attack. But with many U.S. players now playing in Europe’s top divisions, it is not unimaginable that the US pulls off a shock result similar to the 1-1 draw which occurred between the two sides in the 2010 World Cup.
Iran should not be taken lightly but I would expect the U.S. to overcome them, owing to the gulf in caliber between the two sides. That makes the opening match against Wales particularly crucial. If the US can nullify the significant threat posed by former Real Madrid star Gareth Bale, then attackers Pulisic and Jesús Ferriera can punish Wales’s defense.
I predict that the U.S. will finish second behind England to qualify for the knockout stages. The runner-up in the group will face the winner of Group A — which will almost certainly be the Netherlands.
The knockout rounds will certainly prove difficult for the US. However, it will be exciting to see how they fare in the opening games. They may just go on a miraculously deep run this winter.