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Grouped or Glory:  Intro

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The wait is nearly over. On November 20th, 2022, 4 years – and change – from a French triumph at Moscow, sport’s grandest stage returns. 32 performers – chosen from 205 entrants via arduous, multi-year, qualification tournaments – will enter Qatar, a venue enveloped in controversy, to grasp for glory before billions.

But before there is glory, there is the group stage. In its current format, first utilized in France at the 1998 edition – France’s first triumph at the Copa Mundial – the world cup opens with its 32 participants sorted into 8 groups of 4. In each group, 2 survive, and 2, do not.

With the groups set – at a ceremony watched by 1.6 million – a comprehensive look at the 32 contestants is overdue. We will chart each national team’s history, their journey to Qatar, their strengths, weaknesses, and anything else that might help us determine who is destined for glory, and who is set to get grouped.

Key Factors

Performance denotes how a national team has recently performed. For a loose estimation of “how good they have been”, we’ll use two metrics, FIFA Rankings, and Elo Ratings.

FIFA Rankings rank teams based on results. Teams get 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, and 0 points for a loss. These points are then multiplied or divided based on various factors including recency, the type of competition the game took place in, and how good the opposing team is. FIFA Rankings are, relative to Elo Ratings, less reactive. They account for less factors, weigh competition type  less, and don’t penalize knockout losses. This means they approximate longer stretches of “performance” than…

Elo Ratings are largely the basis for the current formula used for FIFA Rankings. They are similar to FIFA Rankings but have a few key differences. They factor in goal-difference – the margin of victory – when taking or giving points, weigh competition type more, and penalize teams for knockout losses. This makes them more reactive,  meaning they approximate shorter stretches of “performance”.

Talent denotes how good the individual players on a national team are. For a loose estimation of “how good is this team on paper”, we’ll use two metrics, Transfermarkt Valuations(TMV), and – courtesy of redditor u/bl4klotus – World Cup Depth Chart Scores(WCDCS).

Transfermarkt Valuations are crowd-sourced estimates of player value. Valuations are derived from discussion and consensus as opposed to a formula. While subjective, they are taken seriously by those in the professional business of soccer. We’ll use the average TMV of each national team’s World Cup roster. As all players on a world cup roster influence the average, this ranking will skew towards depth.

World Cup Depth Chart Scores are averages based on my World Cup Positional Depth Chart, which guesses the most talented possible assortment of players that could start for each national team and then sorts everyone from that theoretical lineup into one of 5 tiers. As this average is only influenced by the best 11, it will skew towards stars.

Various other points will be considered, but these measures provide a baseline we can work off. Here’s how all 32 teams compare via these metrics:

      

Performance of World Cup Teams                          Talent of World Cup Teams                                               

NoFIFARankEloRankNoTMVRankWCDCSRank
1Brazil1Brazil11England1BrazilT-1
2Belgium2Argentina22Brazil2SpainT-1
3Argentina3Spain33France3France3
4France4Netherlands44Portugal4Germany4
5England5Belgium55Germany5Portugal5
6Spain7France66Spain6England6
7Netherlands8Portugal77Argentina7Belgium7
8Portugal9Denmark98Netherlands8Argentina8
9Denmark10Germany109Belgium9Netherlands9
10Germany11Uruguay1110Uruguay10Croatia10
11Croatia12Switzerland1211Croatia11Switzerland11
12Mexico 13Croatia1312Serbia12Uruguay12
13Uruguay14England1413Denmark13Denmark13
14Switzerland15Serbia1614Senegal14Senegal14
15United States16Ecuador1815Switzerland15United States15
16Senegal18Iran2116United States16Serbia16
17Wales19Mexico2217Poland17Poland17
18Iran20Poland2318Morocco18Mexico18
19Serbia21United StatesT-2419Ghana19Japan19
20Morocco22JapanT-2420Canada20Morocco20
21Japan24Wales2621Mexico21South KoreaT-21
22Poland26South Korea2822South Korea22GhanaT-21
23 South Korea28Canada2923Wales23WalesT-23
24Tunisia30Morocco3224Cameroon24EcuadorT-23
25Costa Rica31Costa Rica3525Japan25CanadaT-25
26Australia38Australia3926Tunisia26CameroonT-25
27Canada41TunisiaT-4327Iran27Costa Rica27
28Cameroon43SenegalT-4328Ecuador28Saudi Arabia28
29Ecuador44Qatar4929Australia29Iran29
30 Qatar50Saudi Arabia5430Saudi Arabia30Tunisia30
31Saudi Arabia51Cameroon6131Costa Rica31Australia31
32Ghana61Ghana7432Qatar32Qatar32

Let’s begin.

Previews for each of the 8 groups will be released over the next week. We’ll start with Group A, and end with Group H. 

Group Previews:

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

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Medals on their Minds

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May 23, 2024

Every amateur athlete has the goal to compete at an Olympics and for 18 U-23 USMNT players, they will get that chance this summer in France.  It’s been 16 years since the men’s soccer team qualified to play in the Olympics when they failed to get out of the Group Stage in China.

Since 1992 when age rules changed to a U-23 roster the USMNT has only played in four of the eight Olympics, with only one successful tournament in Australia in 2000 when they finished fourth and chance to win their first medal since 1904.

Rosters & Player Selection

The Olympics isn’t a FIFA tournament so clubs aren’t required to release players for this tournament, which has impacted the quality that the U-23 USMNT has been able to use in past tournaments, which personally I think is a miss for FIFA not to promote this and the players who play in it more.

The Olympic squads allow for 22 players, seven of which are available as match substitutes with the remaining four available as alternates. All squads are required to have three goalkeepers and at least 15 of the 18 players must be born on or after January 1, 2001, which allows for a maximum of three overage players

Each team is required to send at least a 35-player provisional roster no later than 30 days before the first match, however, this list is non-binding and can still be added before their first Olympic match.

Player Pool

The U-23 USMNT will be coached by Marko Mitrović who was hired as manager in September of 2023 and will be tasked with helping put together a squad that will compete for a medal at the 2024 Summer Olympics in France.

Since the fall of 2023, the U-23 USMNT has had three camps. Below are the players who have been part of at least one of those camps which likely comprises the core group of players who will be part of the U-23 USMNT roster.

John Dorton/USSF/Getty Images for USSF

Goalkeepers (5)
Chris Brady-Chicago Fire (MLS)*
John Pulskamp-Sporting Kansas City (MLS)
Chituru Odunze- Charlotte FC (MLS)
Patrick Schulte-Columbus Crew (MLS)*
Gabriel Slonina-Eupen (Belgium)*

Defenders (8)
George Campbell- CF Montréal (MLS)
Brandan Craig- Philadelphia Union (MLS)
Maximilian Dietz- Greuther Fürth (Germany)
Nathan Harriel-Philadelphia Union (MLS)
Bryan Reynolds- Westerlo (Belgium)*
John Tolkin-New York Red Bulls (MLS)*
Jonathan Tomkinson- Bradford City (England)
Caleb Wiley- Atlanta United FC (MLS)*

Players of note who are eligible who haven’t been called in recently
Justin Che, Mauricio Cuevas, Jonathan Gomez, Jalen Neal, Josh Wynder

Midfielders (10)
Paxten Aaronson-Vitesse (Netherlands)*
Josh Atencio- Seattle Sounders FC (MLS)
Cole Bassett-Colorado Rapids (MLS)
Gianluca Busio-Venezia (Italy)*
Benjamin Cremaschi- Inter Miami CF (MLS)
Daniel Edelman-New York Red Bulls (MLS)
Jack McGlynn-Philadelphia Union (MLS)*
Aidan Morris-Columbus Crew (MLS)*
Tanner Tessmann-Venezia (Italy)*
Obed Vargas-Seattle Sounders FC (MLS)

Players of note who are eligible who haven’t been called in recently
Noel Buck, Rokas Pukštas

Forwards (12)
Agustin Anello-Sparta Rotterdam (Netherlands)
Esmir Bajraktarevic-New England Revolution (MLS)*
Taylor Booth-Utrecht (Netherlands)*
Cade Cowell-Guadalajara (Mexico)
Johan Gomez-Eintracht Braunschweig (Germany)
Brian Gutiérrez-Chicago Fire (MLS)*
Bernard Kamungo-FC Dallas (MLS)
Diego Luna-Real Salt Lake (MLS)
Duncan McGuire-Orlando City SC (MLS)
Kevin Paredes-VfL Wolfsburg (Germany)*
Indiana Vassilev-St. Louis City SC (MLS)
Griffin Yow-Westerlo (Belgium)*

Players of note who are eligible who haven’t been called in recently
Ricardo Pepi

The Men’s Olympic roster can also consist of up to three overage players. In a recent interview, Gregg Berhalter named three possible players Auston Trusty, Brandon Vazquez, and Walker Zimmerman as options, all of which fall into areas of need for the U-23 USMNT. I also believe other options for overage players could be Kellyn Acosta and Jordan Pefok.

Past Olympics Results

1992 Summer Olympics – Spain

Alexi Lalas X Account

Played in Group A with Poland, Italy, and Kuwait
Finished 3rd in their group and 9th overall with 1 Win, 1 Draw, and 1 Loss, GF-6, GA-5
Steve Snow led the team with 2 goals
Manager- Lothar Osiander

The U-23 USMNT played quite well in the Group Stage and if it hadn’t been for their hard-fought 2-1 loss to Italy they would have advanced out of the group.

Featured USMNT Players

Brad Friedel
Alexi Lalas
Mike Burns
Claudio Reyna
Joe-Max Moore
Cobi Jones
Chris Henderson

1996 Summer Olympics – United States (Host)

Miles Joseph #11, Midfielder and Defender for the United States and #2 Kenedy of Portugal challenge for the football during their Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Group A match at the XXVI Summer Olympic Games on 24th July 1996 at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, Washington, D.C., United States. The match was drawn 1 – 1. (Photo by Martin Venegas/Allsport/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Played in Group A with Argentina, Portugal, and Tunisia
Finished 3rd in their group and 10th overall with 1 Win, 1 Draw, and 1 Loss, GF-4, GA-4
Brian Maisonneuve led the team with 2 goals
Manager- Bruce Arena

As hosts, the U-23 USMNT played well during the group stage, but not well enough to advance to the knockout stage. Argentina who was one of the teams in the group with the US would make it to the gold medal match but ended up losing 3-2 to Nigeria.

Featured USMNT Players

Kasey Keller*
Eddie Pope
Alexi Lalas*
Jovan Kirovski
Claudio Reyna
Frankie Hejduk

*Overage player 

2000 Summer Olympics – Australia

Getty Images

Played in Group C with Cameroon, Kuwait, Czech Republic
Finished 1st in their group and 4th  overall with 1 Win, 3 Draws, and 2 Losses, GF-9, GA-11
Peter Vagenas led the team with 3 goals
Manager- Clive Charles

The 2000 Olympics for the U-23 USMNT has been their greatest success to date. The US would play for the bronze medal against Chile a match they would end up losing 2-0. There would be five players from this roster who would be part of the 2002 FIFA World Cup team that advanced to the quarter-finals losing to eventual runners-up Germany 1-0.

Featured USMNT Players

Brad Friedel*
Jeff Agoos*
John O’Brien
Frankie Hejduk*
Ben Olsen
Chris Albright
Landon Donovan
Josh Wolff
Tim Howard

*Overage player 

2004 Summer Olympics – Greece – DNQ

The U-23 USMNT finished 4th in the Concacaf Pre-Olympic Tournament with the top two teams advancing to the Olympics. The team was managed by Glenn Myernick.

2008 Summer Olympics – China

Associated Press / Alamy Stock Photo

Played in Group B with Nigeria, Netherlands, Japan
Finished 3rd in their group and 9th  overall with 1 Win, 1 Draw, and 1 Loss, GF-4, GA-4
Sacha Kljestan led the team with 2 goals
Manager- Piotr Nowak

The U-23 USMNT played in a very good group and needed a win or a draw help to advance to the knockout stage, which they weren’t able to accomplish. Eight players on this Olympic squad were on the roster for the 2009 Confederation Cup team that ended Spain’s 35-match unbeaten streak and finished 2nd after losing to Brazil in the Final 3-2.

Featured USMNT Players

Freddy Adu
Jozy Altidore
Michael Bradley
Charlie Davies
Maurice Edu
Benny Feilhaber
Brad Guzan*
Stuart Holden
Sacha Kljestan
Brian McBride*
Michael Orozco
Michael Parkhurst*
Marvell Wynne

*Overage player 

2012 Summer Olympics – Great Britain – DNQ

The U-23 USMNT finished 5th in the Concacaf Pre-Olympic Tournament with the top two teams advancing to the Olympics. The team was managed by Caleb Porter.

2016 Summer Olympics – Brazil– DNQ

The U-23 USMNT finished 3rd in the Concacaf Pre-Olympic Tournament with the top two teams advancing to the Olympics. The team was managed by Andi Herzog.

2020 Summer Olympics – Japan– DNQ

The U-23 USMNT finished 3rd in the Concacaf Pre-Olympic Tournament with the top two teams advancing to the Olympics. The team was managed by Jason Kreis.

Expectations and Predictions

The group of U-23 USMNT has an opportunity to make a deep run at the 2024 Olympics in France with many possible players looking to get club transfers and work their way into the national team after this summer.

With the many failures of the USSF when it comes to qualifying and putting in a plan of success as it relates to the U-23 team, I think they have done quite well in building a quality player pool that should allow them a chance for a medal this summer.

As mentioned earlier clubs are not required to release players for the Olympics and my expectations and predictions are based on the 40 or so players mentioned above who have been part of recent camps along with the overaged players likely to be considered. 

While the U-23 USMNT is in a group with the host France they should still be able to get out of the group by beating Guinea and New Zealand, which is the minimum we should expect from this group, but will likely need at least five points to guarantee them a spot in the knockout stage. Ideally, they would be able to find their way to the semi-final and give themselves a chance to win a bronze medal, but that might be asking too much.

My hope is that the USMNT will be able to pull in a handful of young talented players from this pool into the national team squad to help provide needed depth while helping phase out some of the aging veterans.

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Is the MLS Specifically Targeting Expansion to USL Cities?

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In 2019, Don Garber and MLS announced they would expand to 30 teams.  A year later, Don Garber said the cities of Las Vegas, Indianapolis, San Diego, Detroit, and Phoenix were clubs interested in joining MLS.  Four of those cities had a USL or NISA club at the time of the announcement.  Today, one of those USL teams has ceased to exist, another may be in jeopardy now, and the NISA club is now a USL club.

On April 25th, 2024, the Mayor of Indianapolis, Joe Hogsett, announced an unnamed ownership group would put in a bid for an MLS club.  Along with the announcement, the owners of Indy XI (the USL Championship team in Indianapolis), Keystone Group, announced the City had backed out of the $1 billion fund for Eleven Park.  The stadium was announced in 2022 and was planned to be a 20,000-seat stadium.  It would also include additional apartments, office buildings, and other amenities.  Last year, the stadium broke ground.  That means that the mayor and city council agreed to stop the funding of a sports facility in mid-construction that would also add additional jobs to the people of Indianapolis and stop their backing of an existing club for a potential club.  If the city does not get the bid, it could have repercussions for elected officials.  When you look at social media, the people of Indianapolis are not happy about the announcement.

https://twitter.com/ManagerTactical/status/1783628831695184283

This is not the first time a team in the USL was in danger by the expansion by the MLS.  San Diego Loyal played their final season in 2023 after the announcement by the MLS that they would expand to San Diego with the club San Diego FC.  SD Loyal made the announcement just three months after San Diego FC was announced.  The reason was due to not being able to find a stadium solution.  As for San Diego FC, they will play their matches at the Snapdragon Stadium, which the Loyal could have used to play their matches.  Instead of looking for a solution to integrate San Deigo Loyal, MLS had their club created which led to the destruction of a club in a rival league.

Miami had a soccer club before Inter Miami, Miami FC.  Miami is a different story than San Diego.  Unlike the Loyal, Miami FC attracts a very small audience.  They averaged only 190 people a game a year before the arrival of Inter Miami, per Transfermarkt.  It has gone up since Inter Miami’s inaugural season.  Last season, the average attendance was 1,432 and this season it is 826 so far.  The problem falls on the people of Miami though.  Inter Miami increased their attendance by 35% to 17,061 last year from the prior season.  It still begs the question of how much longer Miami FC will last when they are competing against a club with Leonel Messi for attendance.

Las Vegas Lights is another USL Championship club but are in a city being looked at by MLS also for expansion.  Even worse, the current owner, José Bautista, is not part of the organization and is in talks with Don Garber to join the MLS, who would be the owners of Aston Villa.  Phoenix is a different story.  The USL team, Phoenix Rising, talked to MLS to join the league, which is a more positive solution.  Tampa Bay Rowdies did the same thing when they were pursuing an MLS bid.

MLS does speak to the current existing clubs in the city.  They did it with Louisville City, San Diego Loyal, Sacramento Republic, and others, but when that failed, they move in with their own clubs, i.e., San Diego FC and now potentially Indy MLS club.  What MLS is doing is not helping the growth of the sport.  They are aiming to monopolize the sport by destroying their competition, USL.  This would not be a problem if USSF would create an open system or step in to put it to a stop.  If MLS is the sole soccer league in the US with only 30-40 cities with a team, then you would isolate the hundreds of cities that have fans and players without a club to help accomplish their dream.  Even in other sports leagues in the US we do not see a campaign like this.  NFL did not actively work to end the XFL and the other football leagues.  The NHL and the MLB have minor leagues all over the country.  I do not prefer having minor leagues in soccer here in the US.  It would be preferable that the MLS and USL work together to expand the sport and/or USSF implement policies that protect smaller leagues from bigger leagues.

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USMNT Kits Come in Different Styles and Colors

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Thomas Deschaine (@uskeeper on X and us_keeper on Instagram)

US Soccer kit releases are something fans get excited about and lately have resulted in disappointment. US Soccer’s recent schedule for kits release during the cycle has seen them releasing another road and or third kits in Gold Cup years and home and away pairs in the even years. 

US Soccer is expected to release the 2024 Copa America kits for the USMNT in the coming weeks headed into the Nations League Finals. Last Thursday evening Footy Headlines, who has had a good track record of leaking USMNT kits in the past, provided the below pictures of the home and away USMNT kits. These kits haven’t officially been announced by Nike or US Soccer, but the anticipated announcement is expected in the coming weeks headed into the Nations League Final.

Photo from Footheadlies.com – February 29, 2024

Fake Leaked USMNT Kits

The below USMNT kits were leaked over the last decade, but none of them came to fruition, it’s fun to look at what could have been for the USMNT.

2014 World Cup Kits

These leaked kits headed into the 2014 FIFA World Cup were where loved by many USMNT fans due to the sash and the use of the Centennial Crest, but unfortunately, these kits were fakes and never released.

Photo from SportsLogos.Net – September 13, 2013

2015 Alternative Kit & 2016 Copa America

Generally, US Soccer releases an alternate kit in the years that the Gold Cup is played. This leak kit was reported back in 2015 by NBCSports and then again by MLS Soccer when it was suggested it could be used during the Copa América Centenario.

Photo from NBCSports – April 2, 2015

2022 World Cup Kits

I would have much preferred for the USMNT to have worn these kits at the 2022 FIFA World Cup when they ended up, but alas it was another leaked kit that never was. 

Photo from proscoccerwire.com – May 6, 2022

2024 Copa America Kit

This rumored kit for the USMNT was based on similar kits worn by the USMNT at the 1924 Olympics and the 1930 World Cup.

Photo from the18.com via Footieheadlines.com – September 14, 2023

History of US Soccer Crest and USMNT kits

Over ten years ago I began my research of USMNT soccer data in search of a single source site, which I quickly found didn’t exist. Through my research, I started to comply with old USMNT kits and crests from the past. As I acquired more and more kits worn by the USMNT and was able to start to fill in the gaps between them I decided to digitally recreate these kits and share them with the USMNT fans. 

Here’s a look at what I was able to find while it seems like a lot I am sure there are many more kits I missed and if so I would love to know which ones so I could create and update what I have already.

History of US Soccer Crests

Here’s the history of the US Soccer crests. I had to recreate several of these crests based on old pictures I found throughout my research since there were no digital images available. 

USMNT Kits – 1916-1973

These were the first kits worn by the USMNT which weren’t sponsored. There are variations of these kits worn by the USMNT which comprised of variations of crests and styles, likely due to available funds during this time. My favorite kits in the group are the ones with the sashes from the 1928 and 1936 Olympics and the 1959 Pan American Games

USMNT Kits – 1974-1983

The group of kits for the USMNT were the first that were sponsored by Adidas. There were a lot of similar styles of kits during this time which really lacked any creativity. My favorite kits in the group are the ones from the middle to late 1970s, there is something about their simplicity and clean look. 

USMNT Kits – 1984-1994

Adidas’s 20-year run of creating kits for US Soccer ended in 1994, with few quality kits made during those couple of decades, which is ironic considering how nice Adidas’s kits are today. My favorite kits in the group are the 1985/1986 blue hoop kit and the 1988 Blue Olympic kit.

USMNT Kits – 1995-2011

In 1995 Nike took over the creation of the US Soccer kits and started by making three similar kits for the 1995 Copa America and 1996 third kit for the US Cup. Nike did release three Special Edition kits in 2003, 2004, and 2006, which were only worn for one match each. My favorite kits in the group all had a sash on them, which were both the 2010 World Cup kits and the red 2011 Gold Cup kit. 

USMNT Kits – 2012-Current

Most USMNT fans would agree that recent kits released by Nike haven’t held the standard seen in the 2010s, where the hoops/stripes that some many fans loved for the 2012 Waldo kits were incorporated. My unsung kits of this group are the 2018 home kit, which would have been worn at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the 2017 Gold Cup kit. 

USMNT Kits going forward

Nike and US Soccer signed what was considered a historical long-term sponsor agreement, in November 2021, that went into effect in Janaury 2023 that will run for at least a decade which will cover the 2026 FIFA World Cup and 2028 Summer Olympics and possibly a 2027 or 2031 Women’s World Cup hosted in the United States, so for fans who has hoped for a different kit creator they will have to wait a while.

Once the 2024 Copa America kits are released US Soccer will likely only release one more kit for the 2025 Gold Cup for the USMNT before releasing the 2026 World Cup kits. One idea that I’ve had for a long time was for US Soccer to release Special Edition Kits with styles from the past, with the limited release of those kits, coupled with playing matches in locations and venues throughout the United States to build the fan base and excitement for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

In conclusion, I am somewhat optimistic that US Soccer and Nike will create some variation of the 2012 Waldo kit & 1994 Stats and Denim kit to be worn as the hosts of the 2026 World Cup.

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