USMNT at the World Cup: Five Things to Know About Wales
The U.S. Men’s National Team will kick off the 2022 FIFA World Cup against Wales on Monday, Nov. 21 at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar. The Group B match will be broadcast on FOX and Telemundo (2 p.m. ET).
Monday’s game marks the first meeting between the USA and Wales at the World Cup. After Wales, the U.S. will meet England on Friday, Nov. 25 at 2 p.m. ET and will close out group play against Iran on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at 2 p.m. ET.
Here are Five Things to Know About Wales:
HOW THEY GOT THERE
Wales finished second behind Belgium in UEFA Group E for World Cup qualifying with a 4-1-3 record. In Europe, the 10 group winners qualify directly to the World Cup while the runners-up and two other nations compete for three remaining berths.
After losing its opener to eventual group champion Belgium, 3-1, the Red Dragons finished undefeated in their final nine qualifying matches. Gareth Bale paced the Welsh with six goals in qualifying, including a hat trick during a 3-2 victory at Belarus with the game-winner coming three minutes into second-half stoppage time.
Bale continued his heroics in the UEFA playoffs. During the semifinals on March 24, he tallied on either side of halftime (25th and 51st minutes) to lift Wales to a 2-1 win over Austria in Cardiff. In the final in Cardiff on June 5, Bale found the net in the 34th minute for a 1-0 triumph against Ukraine.
Since clinching a World Cup spot, Wales has struggled in UEFA Nations League A, going winless in five matches (0-4-1). The Welsh lost twice to the Netherlands, 2-1 at home and 3-2 on the road. They managed a 1-1 home draw with Belgium, but lost away 2-1. The squad also dropped a 1-0 decision to Poland in Cardiff on Sept. 25, its most recent international match.
WORLD CUP HISTORY/MAJOR HONORS
Wales has only one previous World Cup appearance, which came at Sweden 1958. The Red Dragons played to three draws in its group stage matches against Hungary (1-1), Mexico (1-1) and Sweden (0-0) before defeating Hungary in a playoff match, 2-1, to advance from the group. Ivor Allchurch, considered one of the greatest Welsh players of all-time, and Terry Medwin scored in the second half to help the squad overcome a one-goal deficit. In the quarterfinals, Wales fell 1-0 to eventual World Cup champion Brazil, featuring a 17-year-old Pele who scored his very first goal in the competition in the 66th minute.
Wales has not won a confederation title but has appeared in the last two UEFA European Championships. The Welsh reached the semifinals at France 2016, losing to Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo, 2-1. At the 2020 competition, they qualified for the Round of 16, falling 4-0 to Denmark in Amsterdam.
PREVIOUS HISTORY VS. USMNT
There have been just two previous meetings between Wales and the U.S. The last game marked the USMNT’s first match back from the shutdown of international soccer due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, a 0-0 draw on Nov. 12, 2020 in Swansea, Wales.
Gio Reyna and Yunus Musah, both just 17 years old, made their USMNT debuts against the Red Dragons.
The first encounter between the two nations came in an international friendly on May 26, 2003 in San Jose, Calif. The U.S. won 2-0, snapping the visitors’ 10-game unbeaten streak with goals from Landon Donovan (penalty kick in the 41st minute) and Eddie Lewis (59th minute). Wales midfielder Matthew Jones was sent off in the 48th.
Rob Page took the reins of acting head coach in place of Ryan Giggs in November 2020. After guiding the Welsh into the FIFA World Cup, he was awarded a four-year contract in September 2022.
In 2014, Page started his managerial career with Port Vale in the English third division before he took over Northampton Town in 2016 and then the Wales Under-21 National Team from 2017-19. In August 2019, Page was appointed assistant coach of the Wales National Team.
The 48-year-old Page made 41 appearances for Wales as a defender from 1996-2005, captaining the squad once. He enjoyed a storied 18-year career in English football, spending the majority of his career at Watford (215 matches between 1993-2001) and Sheffield United (107 games between 2001-04). He also played for Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town and Chesterfield before retiring in 2011. He made 475 league appearances, scoring six goals.
All but five members of Wales’ 26-player squad compete in the English Premier League or the English Football League. The Welsh also have a number of interesting connections with U.S. players.
Wales’ fortunes could rest on the performance and health of captain and veteran forward Gareth Bale, whose effectiveness and playing time with Los Angeles FC this past Major League Soccer season was curtailed by injuries.
Bale, a teammate of USMNT midfielder Kellyn Acosta at LAFC, was limited to a pair of goals in 347 minutes over 12 games during the regular season. However, he demonstrated how lethal he can be in the MLS Cup, coming off the bench and scoring the equalizer eight minutes into stoppage time of the second extra time period to make things 3-3. LAFC prevailed in the penalty-kick shootout, 3-1, to win the championship.
Prior to the start of the World Cup, Bale says he’s fully fit. To appreciate his value to the team, Bale has scored a Welsh record 40 goals in 108 appearances. The rest of the World Cup roster combined has 52 goals.
The 33-year-old Bale is one of three players who have accrued more than 100 caps for Wales. The other two are defender Chris Gunter (109), who plays for Wimbledon in English League Two, and goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey (106), who plays for Nottingham Forest in the Premier League.
The Red Dragons, however, are far from a one-man show. Vice captain Aaron Ramsey, a midfielder for French Ligue 1 outfit Nice, is next in scoring with 20 goals in 75 matches and has a history of rising to the occasion in important matches.
Forward Daniel James, a teammate of USMNT defenders Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson at Fulham in the Premier League, has proven to be deadly on the counterattack with five international goals to his name. Midfielder Harry Wilson also plays for the Cottagers.
Defender Joe Rodon, a Tottenham player on loan to Rennes in France has been one of the team’s most consistent backline players. Defender Ben Davies helped Tottenham reach the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League Final and played nine games at UEFA Euro 2016 and 2020. Davies also scored for Spurs in the team’s wild 4-3 comeback win at home over Leeds United and the USMNT’s Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams on Saturday, Nov. 12, their final pre-World Cup club match.
Defender Tom Lockyer plays at Luton Town (Championship) in front of USMNT goalkeeper Ethan Horvath.
WALES ROSTER BY POSITION (CLUB; CAPS/GOALS)
GOALKEEPERS (3): Wayne Hennnessey (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 106/0), Danny Ward (Leicester City/ENG; 26/0), Adam Davies (Sheffield United/ENG; 3/0)
DEFENDERS (9): Ben Davies (Tottenham Hotspur/ENG; 74/1), Ben Cabango (Swansea City; 5/0), Tom Lockyer (Luton Town/ENG; 14/0), Joe Rodon (Rennes/FRA; 30/0), Chris Mepham (Bournemouth/ENG; 33/0), Ethan Ampadu (Spezia/ITA; 37/0), Chris Gunter (AFC Wimbledon/ENG; 109/0), Neco Williams (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 23/2), Connor Roberts (Burnley/ENG; 41/3)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Sorba Thomas (Huddersfield Town/ENG; 6/0), Joe Allen (Swansea City; 72/2), Matt Smith (MK Dons/ENG; 19/0), Dylan Levitt (Dundee United/SCO; 13/0), Harry Wilson (Fulham/ENG; 39/5), Joe Morrell (Portsmouth/ENG; 30/0), Jonny Williams (Swindon Town/ENG; 33/2), Aaron Ramsey (Nice/FRA; 75/20) Rubin Colwell (Cardiff City; 7/1)
FORWARDS (5): Gareth Bale (Los Angeles FC/USA; 108/40), Kieffer Moore (Bournemouth/ENG; 28/9), Mark Harris (Cardiff City; 5/0), Brennan Johnson (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 15/2), Daniel James (Fulham/ENG; 38/5)