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World Cup Previews: United States vs Wales | Pulisic or Bale, Who Will Deliver?

The Stars and Stripes return to the World Cup for the first time in 8 years against Wales, who have waited 64 years for this occasion.

United States Training and Press Conference - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

We’re well into Day 2 of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and after England’s dominant 6-2 win over Iran, the outcome of the United States vs Wales match will be pivotal in determining the outcome of Group B. Historically, only 11% of teams who have lost the first game of the group stage end up advancing to the knockout rounds, which does not bode well for Iran considering the quality of these two teams whom they are yet to face.

With England looking the strongest in the group, the winner of this match will put themselves in a great position to at least finish second and advance to the Round of 16. Of course, an upset of the Three Lions is not out of the realm of possibilities, but regardless of whether first place in Group B is attainable for either the United States or Wales, the first step in qualification of any sort is winning today.

The United States come into the World Cup with the second most youthful squad in the tournament, with all their star players being 24 years of age or younger. The inclusion of Fulham’s Tim Ream (35) due to the long-term injuries to Crystal Palace’s Chris Richards and Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson has pushed the United States’ average age to 25.2 years, just ahead of Ghana’s 24.7. Predicting Gregg Berhalter’s line-up could definitely be easier, but we can certainly expect to see the young core of Pulisic, McKennie, Adams, Musah, and Dest to feature for the United States, while some of the other spots in the XI are seemingly up for grabs. I expect Jesús Ferreira (21) of MLS’ FC Dallas to start up top for the USMNT, but Josh Sargent and Haji Wright could easily get the nod from Berhalter instead.

Two-time MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman (29) is almost certain to start at center-half, but who starts alongside him is still unknown. All Americans will be holding their breath at the thought of Aaron Long being included in the XI. He’d be the obvious weak point of the team. John Brooks would have been the only player on the roster with previous World Cup experience, but after a long-standing disagreement with Berhalter, the Benfica CB has been left at home.

On paper, the United States’ roster should be considered more complete than their Welsh counterparts, but Cymru have some quality players of their own. LAFC’s Gareth Bale (33) played a huge part in getting Wales to their first World Cup since 1958, scoring all three of the team’s goals in their two qualifying playoff matches. He comes into the tournament in high spirits, having scored a 128th minute equalizer in MLS Cup to send the match to penalties, through which LAFC would lift the Philip F. Anschultz Trophy. Kieffer Moore (30) has been amongst the goals for AFC Bournemouth as of late, having notched 4 in the Premier League thus far this season. Nottingham Forest duo Brennan Johnson and Neco Williams, both 21, have shown flashes in the Premier League this season, but have undoubted potential and energy. What impact they can make during this tournament is still uncertain, however.

In my opinion, the game will come down to which stars deliver. Wales have so often turned to Gareth Bale to provide their moments of magic, and he certainly did during their road to the World Cup. The United States’ best player remains Christian Pulisic, who, despite patchy form for Chelsea over the past few seasons, has already accomplished more at the club-level than any American player in history. Luckily for him though, he is not the only player on his team who can produce the necessary brilliance to succeed in the World Cup. 18-year-old Giovanni Reyna is electrifying when fit, and he seems ready to go. The Dortmund winger is truly an X-Factor who can change the game at any time. Weston McKennie has been known to pop up with crucial goals for the US from midfield as well.

So, who will come up with the decisive moment? We will find out very soon.