BRAD FRIEDEL: USA's World Cup group is SCARY & scariest game is Wales

BRAD FRIEDEL: USA’s World Cup group is SCARY, and the scariest game is Wales – I’ve seen how good Gareth Bale is when he’s fired up. Weston McKennie, one of my favorite US players EVER, is key… plus, old friends in camp might help Christian Pulisic

  • Brad Friedel will write exclusively for about the USA’s World Cup
  • The tournament starts for USMNT on Monday, in the Group B opener with Wales
  • Friedel believes the first game is the toughest, with England and Iran to follow
  • The USA hero also gives thoughts on Weston McKennie and Christian Pulisic
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  • Click here for the latest World Cup 2022 news, fixtures, live action and results

It’s a couple of days before the first World Cup game when it hits you. 

You get to walk the stadium where you’re going to be playing, the place it begins, and it kicks in. You get to train there and suddenly, the session is a little less physical. Looking after your body becomes more intense. People fear getting injured.

This is what you’ve wanted all your life – the World Cup. And for this USA team, except for one player in DeAndre Yedlin, it’s their first World Cup.  

I’ve spoken to a few of the USA coaching staff in Qatar and I sent goalkeeper Matt Turner a text saying ‘good luck’. Right now, the mood in camp is excellent from what I hear. It sounds really good.

But there are big challenges ahead. I think it’s a scary group. And the game that scares me the most is the first one, against Wales. The United States, historically, has not done well when they are not the underdog. When we are underdogs, we take it on.

Brad Friedel believes USA has a difficult World Cup group against Wales, England and Iran

Berhalter’s US squad begins the World Cup on Monday when the play against Wales 

Friedel said he has been told that the atmosphere in the US camp is ‘excellent’ in Qatar 

A lot of people think the US should beat Wales but this Welsh team is good. They have some excellent players and I’ve seen up close how special their star man, Gareth Bale, is.

I played with him at Tottenham and even though he is a little bit older and not the Gareth Bale of eight years ago, when he is at it and he wants things, he is just so good. Watching him in the MLS Cup final showed me how the fire still burns inside.

He came off the bench and scored with a towering header over a defender that is six-feet and six inches tall, leading his LAFC team to an historic win. Forget the USA, no team has defenders that can stop Gareth when he wants to do that.

If we lose that first game, it becomes a real hard group. The Iranian team is very well structured, technically good and no pushover. And yet it’s a game that on paper, people think the United States should win.

We could lose to England, but that doesn’t scare me. Getting up for that game is simple. Can this US team motivate itself to do really well against Wales and Iran?

Gareth Bale is the star man for Wales and a player Friedel played with in his time at Tottenham

Friedel has seen up close just how good Wales star Bale can perform when it is his day

Bale scored a brilliant header that helped LAFC win its first MLS Cup earlier in November 


– 82 USA caps, 21 shutouts and three World Cups – 1994, 1998 and 2002

– 450 Premier League games, for English giants such as Liverpool, Tottenham and Aston Villa and 132 shutouts

– He holds a Premier League record for playing 310 games straight from 2004-05 until 2012

In 2002, the USA team I played for did well – we lost in the quarterfinal to Germany, the runner up. It was impossible not to be motivated in our group. We had Portugal, a favorite, South Korea, a co-host and Poland – any team from Europe at a World Cup is good. 

I think the midfield is going to be key to success for any team in Qatar and one player I can’t wait to see is Weston McKennie. He is one of my favorite players the US has ever produced.

It worried me when Juventus said he had a quad issue last month. If he’s playing slightly injured, that’s a big dilemma. He’s the engine room of a team.

I know, intimately, all the things he does. I took over as the head coach of the Under 19 USA team in 2016, right after the Under 17 World Cup and he hadn’t made the final roster. The Wes I met was a bit down.

But I watched him in the first training session we had – we were in the Canary Islands – and wow. 

Wes is the type of kid who will be heading the ball away in his own box, he has the guile and skill to wriggle out of tight areas, a range of passing, a powerful shot on him, a powerful attacking header – the kid has everything.

I had just come from Tottenham and I said to my staff that ‘if he was at Tottenham, he would be captain of the Under 21s team’. 

Friedel was the goalkeeper the USA team that impressed fans at the 2002 World Cup 

He believes Weston McKennie is going to be vital if the USMNT is going to advance in Qatar 

He was a little raw but he had ability like no other. His improvement since is all down to him. He got himself really fit, he got cut and man, he took it under his own power. 

Words from his Dallas coaches at the time will have helped, so too playing for Schalke in Germany before Juventus. But the hard work that followed is down to him. For me, he’s the most important player – the key figure for success.

He, Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah are exceptionally fun to watch in midfield and if they control the middle of the park, that will be huge in tournament play. I think a lot of these games will be won and lost in the transition, in the conditions when the heat takes over.

When I’ve spoken to US staff over there, asking how it is, they all say the same thing: ‘hot!’. Every single one of them! The games are in the evening, of course, but when they are moving around in the daytime and go to training, they all just say ‘hot’.

Christian Pulisic is an interesting one – it’s difficult to say if his lack of playing time at Chelsea hurts him. Out of every player in this US team, he’s the one I haven’t ever come across, as remarkable as that may sound. By the time I was calling in squads for the US Under 19s, he was already in the main team.

He’s our eye-catching player and look, it’s not ideal. But if he has aspirations to stay at Chelsea, he has to do well and impress Graham Potter. And if he wants to leave, he has to do well. I think he’ll be mega-focused.

USA star Christian Pulisic heads into the tournament after a hard start to the season at Chelsea

Friedel thinks his relationship with players like Haji Wright might help him in the tournament

What I do know is that Christian has really good camaraderie with Luca de la Torre – another midfielder who had injury fears with a leg problem – and coach Gregg Berhalter’s surprise inclusion, the striker Haji Wright. They all come from the same group of players in the youth national system.

I wonder if that came in to play a little bit as well – the off-field relationships and camaraderie. They are hopefully together for a number of weeks. 

Wright’s strike rate now is very good with nine goals in 12 games for Antalyaspor in Turkey but it has been inconsistent over his career. He is pretty good technically and perhaps he is in the team on his current form. I was surprised Jordan Pefok wasn’t included, though.

It’s hard when choosing a squad. But for me, I only like it when they win. You’re playing the best in the world, so you have to put your best on the field. 

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