USMNT plays World Cup qualifiers at Allianz


Photo by Lily Denehy ’22.

Lily Denehy, Managing Editor

After a crushing 2-0 loss to Canada on Sunday, Jan. 30, the United States Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) bounced back on Wednesday, Feb. 2 with a 3-0 win over Honduras. The frigid conditions in St. Paul set a new record for the coldest starting temperature at a USMNT home game, 2℉. With the win, it is more likely the USMNT will qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar this summer.

Their qualification will be decided by the March games against Mexico and Panama. Currently, the USMNT is in second place in the CONCACAF qualifying rankings, closely followed by Mexico and Panama respectively. The USMNT and Mexico are even with 18 points, while Panama has 17. Canada holds a four-point lead for first place. The top three teams after these qualifying games automatically win bids to the World Cup, and the fourth place team will play the representative from Oceania in June for a spot.

Though the USMNT is unlikely to be completely eliminated from a chance at a spot in the World Cup, we have seen similar situations in the past. During the qualification matches for the 2018 World Cup, the USMNT had overpowering odds of making the cup. Yet, out of all possible scenarios, the final matchday’s results led to the team missing the 2018 competition. Though the team is likely to edge out the competition and enter the World Cup, there is always a possibility rankings could shift. Given their 3-0 over Honduras, though, their path to the cup looks promising.

The entire game was played in sub-zero windchill conditions with moments of mirth arising, like when the officials told USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner he needed to put the quarterback-style hand warmer he was wearing away. Yet even the icy temperatures could not freeze the USMNT’s set piece goals. In the eighth minute, Wes McKinnie headed a free kick from Kellyn Acosta to put the U.S. up, 1-0. Acosta would continue to provide the USMNT attacking players with chances throughout the half, while Honduras could only create two shots on goal throughout the game.

The United States’ second goal came late in the first half, again off an Acosta pass. In the thirty-seventh minute, he slammed the ball across the field towards Walter Zimmerman who spun and scored.

In the second half, the two players on the Honduran bench did not even come out of the locker room as temperatures continued to drop. The USMNT, however, chugged along. 

Christian Pulisic, one of the USMNT’s most recognizable players, subbed in during the sixty-fifth minute, and scored just two minutes later. Acosta, again, sent a corner into the 18, which landed right at Pulisic’s feet. He sent it in for the U.S.’s third goal.

Overall, the U.S. dominated the game, outshooting, passing and possessing Honduras in a hopeful showing after their disappointing 2-0 loss to Canada last weekend.

While the USMNT looks to enter back into the world stage under the pull of young stars like Pulisic and Ricardo Pepi. The USMNT has struggled for years to build a pipeline for the national team, so Pulisic, a 23-year-old Chelsea star, and Pepi, a 19-year-old Augsburg striker, have used the prowess of top European clubs to prime them for international competition. Unlike the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, which continues to dominate the world stage, the men have never won a World Cup or Olympic medal. The closest they came was a third-place finish at the 1930 World Cup.

As they look to head to Qatar, there are larger issues at play, however. Several international players, journalists and human rights groups have criticized the labor conditions in constructing the new stadiums. During Europe’s qualification matches last year, Norway, Denmark and Germany all staged protests, with both the Netherlands and England waffling on a boycott of the World Cup. Yet, all teams fell short of a true boycott. Norway was knocked out of contention while the others decided they would still play while urging Qatar to be more “socially responsible.”

Last year, The Guardian uncovered over 6,700 unreported deaths of migrant workers in Qatar from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Many of these people died at construction sites, many of which are for the seven new stadiums, transportation and hospitality accommodations associated with the 2022 World Cup. Several other journalists have found low wages, dangerous working conditions and abusive work practices through investigations into the preparations for the World Cup. These reports, in part, fueled the European protests in 2021.

A larger drop in the bucket for European federations’ protests were due to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports which continue to investigate and call out the Qatari government’s hypocrisy around worker’s rights and safety. Notably, the continued use of the kafala system, a migrant worker system which ties workers’ visas to their employment with a specific company — sort of like a sponsorship system — ultimately, the kafala system prevents workers from seeking employment elsewhere, otherwise they lose their visa. This enables other abuses such as dangerous working conditions, disregard for COVID-19 and low wages as migrants cannot seek other forms of employment and fear going to authorities because they would lose their jobs and visas.

Qatar has denied all allegations of abuses from both the media and human rights groups. Both journalists and human rights organizations have been reporting on this since Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup in 2010. Professional soccer protests gained traction last year as qualification got underway. As yet, the USMNT and CONCACAF have not seen any protests like those in Europe. Part of this may be that FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, prohibits protests, though none of the protesting European teams were sanctioned.

Even without their action, a poll from Danish firm RunRepeat found that six in ten U.S. soccer fans believed that the USMNT should boycott the World Cup in May of last year. Worldwide, seven in ten believed in a boycott. As the tournament gets closer, however, any major action seems less likely. Before any decisions are made for the USMNT, though, it needs to make it through CONCACAF qualifiers and move on to the group stage.

Their 3-0 win over Honduras tonight paints a promising picture of that future.

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