When did the USMNT last qualify for the World Cup?
The United States men's national team face a crunch week in qualifying for Qatar 2022, as they bid to make it back to the World Cup finals.
The United States men’s national team head into an international week that will decide their 2022 World Cup fate, as they play their final three games in qualifying for the tournament. Having failed to reach the finals four years ago, the Stars and Stripes are attempting to make it to the World Cup for the first time since 2014.
USMNT well placed to reach Qatar 2022 - but have tough run-in
As things stand, they sit second in CONCACAF’s eight-team final qualifying group, from which three countries will qualify automatically for Qatar 2022. The fourth-placed finisher will go into an inter-confederation playoff against the winner of Oceania’s qualifying tournament.
The USMNT have a four-point cushion over fourth and are five ahead of fifth, but are far from home and hosed. After all, their remaining opponents are the three nations directly behind them in the group. Gregg Berhalter's men take on third-placed Mexico in Mexico City on Thursday, before hosting fourth-placed Panama in Orlando on Sunday and visiting fifth-placed Costa Rica in San José on Wednesday.
While the USMNT must negotiate a trio of tough match-ups against direct qualification rivals, two of which are on the road, their opponents have more user-friendly run-ins. Mexico’s other two games are against also-rans in Honduras, who are already out, and El Salvador, who can now finish no higher than the playoff place. Panama also have a game against Honduras, while Costa Rica still have to play El Salvador once more.
That said, a win over Mexico, who the USMNT have lost to only once in World Cup qualifying since 2009, would leave the Americans needing at most two more points to be certain of their ticket to Qatar. Were Panama to lose and Costa Rica to fail to win on Thursday, a USMNT victory at the Estadio Azteca would seal qualification. In their first meeting with Mexico in the group, in November, goals by Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie gave the US a 2-0 victory in Cincinnati.
USMNT's remaining CONCACAF World Cup qualifying fixtures
Thursday 24 March, 10pm ET: Mexico vs USMNT
Sunday 27 March, 7pm ET: USMNT vs Panama
Wednesday 30 March, 9:05pm ET: Costa Rica vs USMNT
Brazil World Cup the USMNT's last finals appearance
The last time the USMNT went to a World Cup, they had become dependably regular qualifiers. Indeed, Brazil 2014 was their seventh straight tournament appearance, going back to 1990. Under former Germany striker and coach Jürgen Klinsmann, a World Cup winner as a player, the US had sauntered through CONCACAF qualifying, topping the group some 11 points ahead of Mexico in the playoff spot.
In Brazil, goals by Clint Dempsey - after 30 seconds - and John Brooks gave the US an opening group-stage win over Ghana, before only a 95th-minute leveller by Silvestre Varela prevented them from beating Portugal. Although they then lost 1-0 to eventual winners Germany - coached by Joachim Löw, Klinsmann’s assistant during his tenure as boss of Die Mannschaft - the USMNT progressed to the knockout stages.
In the last 16, they were handed a tie against Belgium's 'golden generation', who came up against a heroic display by goalkeeper Tim Howard in Salvador. Howard's World Cup-record 15 saves could not prevent the Belgians from progressing to the quarter-finals in extra time, however; goals by Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku earned the Red Devils a 2-1 win. Julian Green replied late on for the USMNT.
Despite missing out on a return to the last eight for the first time since 2002, though, the eminently positive take-home for the US was that they had made it out of the group at consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history.
US suffer embarrassing failure in 2018 qualifying
Yet far from building on that progress, the USMNT suffered an absolute debacle in qualifying for Russia 2018. In a six-team group from which three went through automatically and one advanced to a playoff, they finished fifth. They won one of their first four games, losing the first two, and by the time they went into the 10th and final round of fixtures, they had managed just three victories.
Yet in spite of what can, at best, be described as a woefully inconsistent campaign, the US actually still had qualification in their own hands at that point. They sat third in the group, and would be guaranteed to go through if they could just beat bottom team Trinidad and Tobago.
A 2-1 defeat in Couva meant that Bruce Arena’s men were leapfrogged by Panama and Honduras, who both won their final match. It was one of only two defeats the USMNT have suffered against Trinidad and Tobago since 1971. Leading American football journalist Grant Wahl called the loss "the most surreal and embarrassing night in US soccer history”. Three days later, Arena resigned as head coach, accepting: “We have no excuses - we failed”.
Mexico vs USMNT: live with AS USA
You can follow live-text coverage of the USMNT’s 2022 World Cup qualifier against Mexico on Thursday with AS USA. Rodrigo Serrano will be building up to the game at the Estadio Azteca, before talking you through the action.