A win over Mexico at home and a draw to Jamaica in Kingston have the U.S. Men’s National Team sitting firmly in the top four of the Concacaf table just over halfway through the Octagonal — a huge step towards qualifying for the 2022 World Cup being held in Qatar.
Missing out on the last World Cup was a massive blow for the U.S. soccer community and downright embarrassing for many die-hards and players alike. Colorado midfielder Cole Bassett was one of those disappointed fans — just like the rest of us. “I didn’t really know what was going on in the 2010 World Cup, I was only 8 years old so I didn’t really understand, but the 2014 World Cup I was going crazy just like everybody else,” said the Rapids’ homegrown player, who is loudly knocking on the door of the USMNT mix in the upcoming years. “To be able to watch the 2018 World Cup when I really matured and understood soccer, it would have been really nice. It sucks that they weren’t there, but for all of us to get back into it is going to mean so much not just for us but for the whole nation.”
Bassett, along with teammates Jonathan Lewis and Auston Trusty, is part of a resurgence in talent of the US player pool. Many are barely old enough to vote, let alone lead the U.S. back to the international stage where it has spent nearly 30 years.
“The tough thing is it is a young group so they don’t have much experience (at the national team level). That also can be a good thing, because they’re not really fazed by what’s going on, they’re just going out and playing and doing their thing,” Bassett explained. “You can see it right now — a lot of them are playing with no fear and they could go into these situations learning along the way.”
The lineup that was key to the 2-0 win over Mexico will attest to the fact that this pool of players have only known an upwards track: Ricardo Pepi and Yunus Musah are 18 years old; Sergiño Dest is 20; Brendan Aaronson is 21; Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic are 22, as is Bassett’s former teammate Sam Vines ... a young guy like current Colorado teammate Kellyn Acosta is a veteran at just 26 years old!
The lack of fear and not really any experience in the previous cycle’s failures are what Bassett thinks he and his peers bring to the table as a huge advantage. “The mentality of the younger players it’s like a hunger,” Bassett told Burgundy Wave. “We want to help this country get back to the World Cup.”
“It’s something special, if we are able to qualify, I think all of us feel like we’ve contributed even though I’ve been to one camp. We push each other every day and it’s not just when we’re in camp, but it’s also we’re trying to push each other to see who gets called in. It’s that hunger and mentality to bring this nation back to where it deserves to be.”
Watching his club teammate firmly in that mix as well, Cole knows just why a player like Acosta has been such a stalwart for the Stars and Stripes in 2021, earning 20 caps just this year alone. “The way we play with the national team is very front-foot, trying to go forward, and kind of leaving the center backs and the six to clean messes up.”
“Tyler Adams does a great job of that and Kell’s kind of that second guy who can do it as well, but he can also do a job at fullback or at eight, so he’s got a lot of versatility and I think that’s why he’s been in so many camps. Kellyn offers something that there’s not many Americans can do — he covers so much ground, wins the ball back, plays simple — and honestly it’s tough to play against him.”
“We know the U.S. has such quality players coming up, and we’re also super young,” said Bassett, who should include himself in those who have a great chance to add USMNT caps in his future years, along with his good friend Vines. “That’s the best thing is that this generation is going to do it for a long period of time — so we know we’ll be back there.”
“Back there” in 2022 is the singular goal from this group, and Bassett for one doesn’t see any reason his U.S. compatriots shouldn’t be in the field at Qatar. “Honestly, if they continue to play with the intensity they played with at home, when they bring the energy and execute the game plan Gregg (Berhalter) wants, they’re pretty hard to stop.”