by Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer
With Christmas just days away, fans of the US men’s and women’s national teams know exactly what they want heading into a year that promises to be pivotal for both programs.
Let’s take a look.
USMNT WISHES FOR 2022
The return of Giovanni Reina
Despite his tender age — the Borussia Dortmund attacker celebrated his 19th birthday last month — Reyna was a lineup lock for coach Gregg Berhalter at right wing when qualifying matches for Qatar 2022 kicked off in September.
Then Reyna, the son of former USMNT World Cup captain Claudio Reyna and USWNT midfielder Danielle Egan, injured his hamstring late in the first game of the Octogonal. He hasn’t played for club or country since, and both have missed him dearly.
Tim Weah eventually emerged as a capable replacement, but Weah also had trouble staying healthy. Which is why Reyna’s return to training in Germany late last month was celebrated by US supporters.
If Reyna, perhaps the second-most talented American player after Christian Pulisicis available when Dortmund resumes its Bundesliga schedule in early January, it would be a huge boost before crucial World Cup qualifiers against ElSalvador, Canada other Honduras at the end of the month. Reyna, who can also man a central playmaking role, would have four games with his club to get up to speed.
A healthy Christian Pulisic
Based on Pulisic’s banner year — he scored two game-winners against Mexico and became the first American to play in and win a UEFA Champions League final — it’s easy to forget how often he wasn’t available for the US in 2021.
The USMNT’s most irreplaceable player logged just 541 minutes and started just two of the squad’s eight qualifiers, missing the three October games because of an ankle injury.
Yet Pulisic easily won US Soccer’s Male Player of the Year award. US great Clint Dempsey broke the news to the Chelsea Standout last week:
Imagine what the 23-year-old might do in 2022 if he can avoid the leg ailments that have dogged him throughout his otherwise stellar young career. With the final six World Cup qualifiers in the beginning of the new year and the main event at the end, American fans are dreaming big.
A return to — and some success at — the World Cup
Following the misery of missing out on the planet’s biggest sporting event four years ago, you can’t blame some US fans for wanting nothing more than to simply get back to soccer’s grandest stage.
Asking for more seems greedy. While the second-place USMNT seem well-positioned to clinch one of the CONCACAF region’s three available spots for Qatar, tough trips to Mexico and Costa Rica — the US have never won a qualifier in either nation — loom in March. One unexpected slip could put their Qatar chances in peril.
If the Americans do make it, though, the measure of success will change immediately.
For each of the 32 teams that will compete at next year’s World Cup, the primary goal is to advance to the knockout stage. Before the epic failure to qualify last time around, the US was one of just seven nations to survive group play at the 2010 and 2014 events — something elite squads such as France, Spain other Italy failed to do.
With perhaps the deepest and most talented US team ever (and the 2026 tournament on home soil four years later), showing well at the 2022 World Cup is almost as important as getting to it.
USWNT WISHES FOR 2022
A(nother) monster year from Lindsey Horan
On the eve of the 2019 World Cupmany regarded Horan as not just the best American woman but also one of the top players on the planet.
Then-USWNT coach Jill Ellis apparently wasn’t one of those admirers. Horan was limited to mostly a reserve role in France as the US rolled to their second consecutive title (and fourth overall).
Now, there is no doubt about Horan. Last week, the two-way midfielder was named US Soccer’s Female Player of the Year for the first time.
It won’t be the last. With many key contributors from the 2015 and ’19 championships now well into their 30s (Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn) or already retired (Carli Lloyd), Horan is the face of the 2023 World Cup cycle.
The 27-year-old who inherited Lloyd’s No. 10 shirt, will need to lead the way for youngsters Emily Fox, Catarina Macario, Sophia Smith and the rest of the USWNT’s next generation. As much as this year was a coming out party for Horan, 2022 promises to be even better.
Trinity Rodman to make her USWNT debut
Things couldn’t have gone much better for Rodman in his first year as a pro. In January, the now-19-year-old daughter of NBA great Dennis Rodman became the youngest player ever selected in the National Women’s Soccer League draft.
By season’s end, the Washington Spirit forward was both the NSWL Rookie of the Year and a league champ. Her two assists in the November final helped the Spirit come from behind to top the Portland Thorns.
All of that earned Rodman recognition as US Soccer’s best young female player for 2021, an award won previously by USWNT standouts Horan, Julie Ertz other Tobin Heath. Now Rodman is looking for her first senior international appearance.
US coach Vlatko Andonovski extended an invite for the USWNT’s year-closing trip to Australia last month, but Rodman declined for undisclosed personal reasons. Andonovski, who wants more competition for incumbent strikers such as Morgan and Christen Presssaid Rodman will participate in the January camp.
Expect her much-awaited debut to follow in February at the SheBelieves Cup.
A ticket to Australia/New Zealand (and France)
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced games and tournaments to be moved out of traditional windows and into other parts of the calendar. The 2020 Olympics were delayed 12 months. In 2022, for the first time, the men’s and women’s national teams will be trying to qualify for World Cups during the same year.
While most of the focus has been on the men so far, the USWNT will take center stage next summer. in July, CONCACAF’s 2022 W Championship will determine which of the region’s two teams automatically advances to the 2023 World Cup co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. There’s another major prize on the line, too: The winner of the competition also qualifies for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
The location of this W Championship could add another wrinkle for the US The 2022 competition will reportedly be hosted by Mexico. The last time the event was played south of the border, in 2010, El Tri stunned the Stars and Stripes in the semis, with the Canadians eventually hoisting the trophy.
One of the most prominent soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams in more than a dozen countries, including multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports, the New York City native was a staff writer for Yahoo Sports and ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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