USMNT World Cup Daily, Day 6
McKennie and Dest say they're healthy, Serge goes Nuke LaLoosh and I answer your Mailbag questions.
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DOHA, Qatar — So here’s what appears to be good news for U.S. fans: Weston McKennie said on Saturday that he’s “ready to go” ahead of the World Cup opener against Wales on Monday. Does that mean McKennie, who didn’t suit up for Juventus due to a thigh injury last weekend, is guaranteed to start against Wales? No, but he did play in the U.S.’s scrimmage on Thursday night against Al Gharafa.
“In terms of recovery, I came in at a pace that was controlled by Juventus and by the national team,” McKennie said. “They were both working together to make sure that I’m a hundred percent fit here. So I came in, did a couple of days of just maintaining and keeping it under control. We played in the friendly the other day and I felt good. Felt ready to go.”
Sitting next to McKennie was right back Sergiño Dest, who said he too was doing better. “I’m feeling good,” he said. “After the last game [with Milan] I had a little bit of fatigue, and right now it’s going well. I’m ready to play.”
This U.S. team is (knock on wood) fitter than it has been in two years, and having McKennie and Dest at full strength would only add to that. I am also now fully convinced that Dest has embraced the spirit of Brek Shea and become this generation’s Nuke LaLoosh of the USMNT.
When asked tonight about how the U.S. would respond to Wales’s playing style, expected to be five in the back and striking on the counter, Dest had an initial response:
“We just have to look at the style how we play. And of course how Wales play. We are of course like prepared. But we have our own vision, and we are always working on the high press and make sure that…”
Dest stopped speaking on the podium, then discussed things in whispers with McKennie. Who knows what was going on? Did Dest just give away something about a high-press plan?
Anyway, he got some coaching from McKennie, and Dest started over.
“So we also like to go forward a lot, you know, so there is space in behind, and I think we can take like advantage of that, especially from the sides and wherever in that position, right or left back. I think we can definitely take a big advantage of that and use that as scoring possibilities.”
McKennie shook his head and laughed. Dest is bewildering in kind of a funny way.
OPENING THE MAILBAG
Any thoughts on our CONCACAF brethren? Obviously my passion and focus is on the USMNT but I will be rooting for Canada, Costa Rica, and El Tri (in that order). What’s your best guess on how many CONCACAF teams get out of the group stage?
I have yet to go to the “Concacafé” that has popped up downtown, but I did bring my beloved Rob Lowe-style CONCACAF hat and will definitely wear it for games involving our confederation. So here’s the deal: I know I already published my predictions for the tournament, but I do reserve the right to make changes as long as they’re before the first whistle on Sunday. So … I’m changing my pick on Canada getting out of its group. It’s clear that Alphonso Davies is not very close to 100%, which is a giant bummer. So I’m going to go with Belgium and Croatia getting out of the group now.
That pains me to write, because I love this Canada team. As for Costa Rica, they’ve got an extremely difficult draw with Spain, Germany and Japan. I’d love to see a repeat of the Ticos’ 2014 heroics, but I just don’t think that will happen this time. And Mexico? It’s not a great Mexico team. But it’s good enough to get out of the group before (what else?) falling in the Round of 16. I’ve got the U.S. going out in the Round of 16 to the Netherlands.
What is the fan atmosphere like? I’m trying to feel the pre-World Cup hype over here in Bellingham, WA, USA but all I see in my feeds is coverage of fake fans, smashing Danish cameras, expensive Budweiser and hassling you for taking a pic. Is anyone having fun? Is it a total bust from a fan perspective?
I’m finally going downtown tonight for the first time, where I’ll get a better sense of the fan culture around this. From what I gather so far via IG, etc., regional teams like Tunisia and Morocco have already brought a lot of fans who are making a ton of noise. So that’s cool. And just because I had a small incident with a security guard doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed large parts of my time here so far. My living situation is awesome, I’ve had really good food and I’ve been extremely productive in a writing sense. Just waiting for the games to start now.
I’m flying in with a group of eight for both Group A vs Group B knockout round games. We would normally bar hop while we watch the games but obviously that’s not super possible. You’ve been to Doha a few times now, so when we aren’t at matches what do we do?
Have you seen American Ed Ball’s Qatar Alcohol Map on Google Maps? It’s a helpful guide on where you can get a drink here. Good stuff from Henry Bushnell on the story about it. There’s also a FIFA Fan Fest downtown that should have Budweiser for sale, at least for the last two game windows of every matchday. West Bay, The Pearl and the Souq Waqif are the three most visited places with restaurants, malls and traditional stuff (at least at the Souq). In my experience, the best restaurants are at the bigger-name hotels.
Which MLS players might have the biggest overall impact?
I think the U.S. Walker Zimmerman is going to have a big tournament. Xherdan Shaqiri and Switzerland are advancing to the elimination rounds in my predictions. Ismaël Koné is a star-in-the-making for Canada. And Gareth Bale is Gareth Bale.
What group-stage game are you most looking forward to watching?
The U.S.’s most important group-stage game is against Wales, but the one I’m most excited for is USA-England. Others that pop out to me: Netherlands-Senegal, Argentina-Mexico, France-Denmark, Spain-Germany, Brazil-Switzerland, Portugal-Uruguay, Belgium-Croatia and Ghana-Uruguay.
You’ve mentioned that you’re living with your three really talented journalist friends when you’re in Qatar. How neat is it to connect with journalists from around the globe covering this tournament every four years and share different perspectives? I’m sure the conversations you guys have while living together are quite unique.
It’s one of my favorite parts of the World Cup. Guillem Balagué and I don’t get our full foursome here until the arrivals of Raphael Honigstein (on Sunday) and James Horncastle (on Monday). But already it’s been a blast to catch up with Guillem and talk shop. Honestly, I think it would make for a fun regular TV show just to have the four of us discussing each matchday in our living room, but alas, there is no such show. We’re plenty busy anyway, though.
Do you get the impression that the U.S. is a close team, cliquish, individualistic or something in between?
From what I’ve seen, this U.S. team is a lot closer than the ones under Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena, which had a deep divide between the European-based and U.S.-based players (and one involving the German Americans under Klinsmann too). So many of the top U.S. players currently are young guys who have known each other since they were in their early- to mid-teens. And from my conversations with Yunus Musah, they have also been welcoming to players like him. I think that played a role in convincing dual-national players to join this USMNT.
Is there a marked absence of female fans? I googled the Qatari population, and the ratio is approximately 75% male to 25% female. I’ve been to three World Cups myself (skipped this one for many reasons), and I’m wondering if the TV fan shots will reflect a skewed gender display. We love soccer too, ya know!
We won’t know for sure until the games start, but I expect we’ll see a lot of women in the stands here. There are fans coming from a lot of different countries, and so the gender breakdown in Qatar shouldn’t have a huge impact on things.
Come on Grant, don’t leave us hanging. Did you take the largest bedroom? You deserve it, having gotten there so much earlier than everyone else.
My roommates said I could take the master bedroom, but I didn’t. I took the No. 2 bedroom, and Guillem has the one that’s on the top floor. We’ll see if there’s a room draw the James and Raf get here. Maybe we should livestream it!
How’s the food?
The Indian food has been amazing. I got saag paneer and samosas delivered last night and had lamb biryani and gulab jamun delivered the other night. I’m fired up, though, to have my first restaurant meal of the week tonight, which means I’ll also have my first glass of wine this week.
Are the locals welcoming?
I haven’t really had any interactions yet with Qataris, who are a minority of the people who live in this country. But I’ve had some fun conversations with people who’ve moved here from India, Pakistan, Nepal and the Philippines. Through some of his friends who live here, Guillem even found a wonderful Filipina named Rhem who can cook meals, buy groceries and do laundry for the month. She and her sister came by today and made chicken curry and fettucine alfredo to last us for the next couple days.
What jersey is the U.S. going to wear against Wales?
How do you think Berhalter will handle subs? Will we see halftime subs to get fresher legs? Will Gio play 90?
Doubt we’ll see halftime subs, and while I think Reyna could start, there’s no way he’d go 90. Berhalter has five subs to work with, and I think he’ll use all of them.
Scenario: USA and Wales are tied 0-0 in the 65th minute. What’s your prediction for Gregg’s substitution strategy?
I don’t think he’d get reckless, but I do think he’ll bring subs for two or even all three of the front line, in addition to a midfielder or two and maybe a fullback. He’s got flexibility depending on the game state.
Whose performance at this World Cup will make him the most money after the tournament? I.e., who is an under-the-radar player ready to break through?
The best U.S. candidates to be breakout stars are Musah, Reyna and Zimmerman, in my mind.
Would Pepi be in Qatar if he hadn’t left FCD for Europe?
I think he would be. But I also don’t want people to misunderstand. I don’t think Pepi did anything wrong by going to Europe when he did. And I was still surprised he didn’t make the final 26-man World Cup roster.
Have a good Saturday!
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I was just thinking on your response about team chemistry and realized that Gregg is the first coach in a long while to also be a USMNT regular. Sure Arena had a cap and Klinsmann was an international superstar, but no head coach has had more experience actually BEING IN the USMNT squad since Gansler, and even he had only a handful of caps. Playing experience doesn’t always translate to coaching intelligence, but in terms of building team chemistry I’m sure Gregg’s familiarity with the national team locker room setting allows him to relate to players better and encourage them to relate to each other better. I’ve read a few stories about how Gregg prioritizes personality and relationships within the camp. I feel like his efforts behind the scenes with people development within the team helps us play with more maturity than our average age reflects.
Savor that glass of wine, Grant. :) Salud!