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It can seem difficult to assess the form of the USMNT. The vast majority of their matches are played in Concacaf, in which very few World Cup contenders reside. USA play a small selection of teams on a regular basis but actually made qualification for the World Cup look quite difficult this time. Recent competitive matches against their main rivals, Mexico, would suggest an improvement in their level, though, and there are a number of interesting young players in their squad.
The other thing about USA playing so many matches — 12 already in 2022 — is that the young talent they have committed to already have a lot of caps to their names. Indeed, only Joe Scally of Borussia Monchengladbach and Haji Wright of Antalyaspor come into the tournament with fewer than 10 USMNT appearances among the outfielders.
The main problem for USA is perhaps comes their lack of a potent central forward. FC Dallas’ Jesus Ferreira is the player holding the No.9 shirt, and his international scoring record is good though still at a nascent stage, with 7 goals in 15 caps. Josh Sargent has had a decent season at Norwich as well, especially when playing centrally.
Scoring goals has often been a Welsh weakness, as well. However, this current Wales team come into the tournament having scored in 14 consecutive matches until breaking that streak in their last match of the Uefa Nations League against Poland. Their structure very much depends on the personnel available, but Bournemouth’s Kieffer Moore can be expected to play if fit, with LAFC’s Gareth Bale afforded a role just off the main forward.
Bale, as for the last 15 years, will be the key man for Wales. He is 33 years old now and one suspects that he has just been finding a way to keep himself ticking over purely for this tournament. While he may not be as devastating as he was, Bale still has a knack for making an impact on the big stage, as he showed in the MLS Cup final. With attacking support in the form of Premier League players Harry Wilson, Brennan Johnson, and Daniel James, Wales have some useful weapons to deploy.
Robert Page will have to find a way to balance the side, though. Wales have conceded in 10 of their last 11 internationals and although none of those matches have been heavy defeats — they only conceded three once (a 3-2 defeat in The Netherlands) — the Welsh will give themselves a tough task should they need to score twice to win any matches.
The USMNT is certainly one that is being built for the future. Of the 11 most-used players in 2022 the oldest is defender Walker Zimmerman at 28. That 11 also contains teenagers Yunus Musah and Ricardo Pepi. Only once have USA won more than one match in a single World Cup inside 90 minutes, that was in 2002 when they reached the quarterfinals. Indeed, USA have recorded only eight wins in total in World Cup finals in their history.
This match will be Wales’ first World Cup match since 1954. They failed to win any of their recent Nations League matches against Poland, Belgium, and the Netherlands, drawing just once. However, that was a high standard of opponent and none of the matches were lost by more than one goal. Moore and Bale were Wales’ most potent forces as the only players to average more than one shot per 90 minutes in 2022.
And USMNT midfielder Kellyn Acosta has already revealed how his side plan to keep a muzzle on his LAFC team-mate Bale. “Everyone knows who he is,” Acosta said. “He’s a guy who is super decorated, he’s a guy who’s won everything. I’ve had the opportunity to share the field with him and know his tendencies day-in day-out.
“For us we know we have to limit his time and space. He’s a very dangerous player and he’s going to be a catalyst for them. We’ve literally got to start kicking him around the field a little bit. Make him feel us. Let him be comfortable and he will hurt you.”