Weston McKennie and his USMNT teammates need a tie or a win in its World Cup opener against Wales to have a fighting chance to reach the knockout stage. (Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
We keep hearing about how important it is to secure points in your World Cup opener, that it makes reaching the knockout stage that much easier.
It sure does.
Researching the World Cup history and the U.S. men’s national team’s 10 previous appearances in the competition, it is vital in the Americans’ first Group B match against Wales in Qatar on Monday at 2 p.m. ET (FOX).
Let’s do the math:
In cup openers in which the U.S. has either won or drawn, it has recorded a 3-0-2 mark and all five times the team reached the knockout round.
In five games in which the squad failed to register a victory or a tie, it compiled a 0-5-0 record and failed to get out of the first round or was eliminated (the 1934 World Cup in Italy was an elimination tournament from the opening round on).
Now, nothing is absolute, but those numbers remind us how big a game Monday’s encounter will be.
“We definitely, as a team, and as a group, we always want to just focus game by game; Wales being the first one,” U.S. midfielder Weston McKennie said. “There’s no way that we’re going to look past them or devalue them or anything because we know that they’re a strong team. We know that it’s going be a hard game.
“We definitely want to win the first game. We want to come out with three points. Just three years, four years of just working up to this moment, I think all the guys are ready to go and the staff is ready to go and put a game plan together. So hopefully we execute that and get the three points on Monday.”
Here is a list of the USMNT’s 10 World Cup opening openers (successes are in bold):
* 1930 – 3-0 win vs. Belgium – reached semifinals (2-1-0)
* 1934 – 7-1 loss vs. Italy – eliminated right there
* 1950 – 5-2 defeat vs. Chile – three games and out (1-2-0)
* 1990 – 5-1 loss vs. Czechoslovakia – three games and out (0-3-0)
* 1994 – 1-1 draw vs. Switzerland – reached second round (1-2-1)
* 1998 – 2-0 defeat vs. Germany – three games and out (0-3-0)
* 2002 – 3-2 victory vs. Portugal – reached quarterfinals (2-2-1)
* 2006 – 3-0 loss vs. Czech Republic – three games and out (0-2-1)
* 2010 – 1-1 tie vs. England – reached Round of 16 (1-1-2)
* 2014 – 2-1 win vs. Ghana – reached the Round of 16 (1-2-1)