Should the US men’s national team be considered favorites when taking on Wales in their 2022 World Cup opener on Nov. 21 (2 pm ET | FOX, Telemundo, FOXsports.com, Peacock) at Al Rayyan Stadium?
USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter certainly isn’t jumping to that conclusion before Group B play begins.
“I think that, at least to the American media, I think Wales is underrated,” Berhalter told reporters Monday from Qatar. “When I look at their squad, it’s basically a Premier League squad.”
Wales, back in the World Cup for the first time in 64 years, are tabbed No. 19 in the latest FIFA World Rankings. By comparison, the USMNT are No. 15, creating little separation between the UEFA and Concacaf nations.
But Berhalter looks beyond the rankings at the talent manager Rob Page’s group possesses.
“You have Daniel James, who scored the other night against Man United. High-quality player,” Berhalter said, rattling off players. “You have Harry Wilson, high-quality player. Kieffer Moore, Neco Williams, Brennan Johnson, Gareth Bale, Ben Davies.”
James and Wilson both play with USMNT defenders Tim Ream and Antonee “Jedi” Robinson at Fulham, who are back in the Premier League. Moore (Bournemouth) and Williams (Nottingham Forest) are in England’s top flight as well.
Then, of course, Wales’ talisman is Bale, the LAFC winger formerly of Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur. He’s fresh off scoring his legendary extra-time equalizer in this year’s MLS Cup against the Philadelphia Union, where the Black & Gold eventually prevailed in penalty kicks.
“To me, it’s a really good squad, a formidable squad,” Berhalter said. “They’ve been in international competition before, they know what it’s like. And it’s going to be a very difficult game, as when they play England, it will be a difficult game.”
The USMNT, who boast key players in top-five leagues themselves, are expecting a dogfight. They definitely won’t be underestimating the Dragons.
“I think they’re going to be a highly competitive team, and we know that the starting point next Monday night, we’re in for a battle for sure,” Berhalter said.
Before the big stage in Qatar, Gregg Berhalter names the #USMNT roster and the boys get a sendoff in NYC 🇺🇸#BehindTheCrest x @VW pic.twitter.com/jPGvruT6H9
While a rash of pre-World Cup injuries in this unique fall tournament is a big storyline, the USMNT have a relatively clean bill of health.
But there’s a minor question mark around Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie, who is returning from a thigh injury sustained while at his Italian Serie A club.
“I think [his recovery is] going really well, from everything we’ve heard,” Berhalter said of the 24-year-old. “He’s been training, trained with the team yesterday, wasn’t in the squad, but we expect him to be fully in training.”
Assuming McKennie doesn’t endure any setbacks, the Yanks could enter the World Cup healthier than they were at any point during qualifying, when Berhalter seldom had all his first-choice contributors available at the same time.
“I think with the players that we’ve projected to be healthy, I think we’re pretty good [health-wise],” Berhalter said. “Obviously with Wes we’re going to look at him tomorrow. We expect him to be ok, but we’ll see. But that’s exciting.”
Also on the upswing, Borussia Dortmund midfielder Gio Reyna, Chelsea attacker Christian Pulisic and Lille forward Timothy Weah appear in solid health after previous scares.
“Our goal is to have players on the field that can complete the actions that we’re looking for on the field, and to have that group of players potentially together is exciting,” Berhalter said. “We know there’s a lot of talent there, and it’s good that we’re getting to full health now.”