The United States Men’s National Soccer Team didn’t qualify for the most recent FIFA World Cup, held in Russia in 2018. But when the next edition of the tournament kicks off on Sunday in Qatar, the Americans will be there – thanks in large part to a group of Texans on the squad.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: What’s the outlook for the U.S. men’s national team at this year’s World Cup competition?
Arch Bell: Well, it’s really interesting because obviously they missed being in the tournament at Russia 2018. So first time since Brazil 2014 that they’ve been in the World Cup. So it’s a very young team, but I think it’s going to play in their favor. And I think the group that they’re in also suits them as well, going up against Wales, England and Iran. So three very tough opponents. But this is a U.S. team with a, like I mentioned, a lot of young players who are playing in some of the top clubs in Europe. So it’s very athletic. And I think there’s a lot of excitement around this team that something very special could be brewing. And it starts in Qatar in this World Cup.
Wow. I think that when these competitions come around, a lot of folks like to look for players with Texas ties. And I’m wondering if you could talk about some of them, that fans should keep an eye on.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if you look at the U.S. team, there are some very strong Texas ties. You look at the U.S. midfield, Weston McKennie from Little Elm, you know, they’re in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. He came up through the FC Dallas Academy, never made his debut with the FC Dallas first team. He ended up going over to Germany to start his career there and has since blossomed, you know, plays for Italian powerhouse Juventus. Another U.S. midfielder with Texas roots is Kellyn Acosta, another player who came up through the FC Dallas system. He’s originally from Plano. He played for FC Dallas for several seasons, now playing for Los Angeles FC, where he just won MLS Cup with them. Jesús Ferreira is another one. Although he was born in Colombia, his father, David Ferreira, was a star with FC Dallas back in the late 2000s – kind of 2009, 2010 – around there somewhere. And Jesús has come up through the FC Dallas Academy as well. You’re starting to hear a constant theme that FC Dallas, their academy system, has produced some players who are very much a big part of this U.S. squad.
Can we talk about somebody else whose name is nowhere to be found? From what I can tell, who came up through that FC Dallas system? Ricardo Pepi, the 19-year-old striker from El Paso. He played for FC Dallas before striking that big money deal with the German team, right? Wasn’t that long ago? A lot of analysts expected him to play a big role in this World Cup.
Yeah. And you know, honestly, I’m surprised that he was excluded from head coach Gregg Berhalter’s list. I really thought that Pepi had solidified himself as one of the leading strikers for this U.S. team. He did great in World Cup qualifying when he was called upon, scored a critical goal against Honduras, and then two goals against Jamaica in a win here in Austin back in October, last October. So I know it’s a disappointment for a lot of people, especially here in Texas, that Ricardo Pepi’s not on that squad, but he’s young – he’s 20. And, you know, all signs are pointing that he would be on the ’26 team.
Was there any formal explanation for why he didn’t make make the cut?
I mean, nothing specific. I mean, Gregg Berhalter, the head coach, was asked about that. And he just said that he really was looking for guys that thought they would give him the best chance of winning. It really came down to a player, Haji Wright – who plays for a Bundesliga team, which is the German top division – who was doing really well. But, you know, I’m sure he will get another opportunity.
All right. You got that crystal ball handy?
Well, I do think the U.S., I do like their chances of advancing to the second round. After that, it of course depends on who they would face in the round of 16. But I do think the U.S. will finish second in their group behind England. I’m really excited for that second game that they play against England. They open with Wales and then England and then Iran. But I think the U.S. will finish second. I think they will make it to the knockout round. For Mexico, I’m a little bit more skeptical. You know, Mexico for going back four years, has always made the knockout round of the World Cup. But I think that streak really might be in jeopardy this time around.
Any bets on who might take it all?
Well, I think Argentina is poised to do it. Brazil is certainly a power. Argentina, they won the last Copa America. They beat Brazil in the final. And this is an Argentina team led by Lionel Messi, who is at the end of his career. And he’s got a young Argentine team kind of supporting him. These are all guys who grew up watching Messi and idolized him, and now they’re playing with him and they fight for him. And I think Argentina really found their form here in the last couple of years, and I really like their chances to go all the way and to win this tournament.