Soccer in the States: Rejoice! We’ve qualified for the 2022 World Cup

Hold the front page, hold the back page. The United States Men’s National Team is going back to the World Cup. 

It was a long arduous journey, but on March 30, the U.S. qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. You best believe I’m smiling ear to ear while writing that.   

I’m going to hold off from analyzing the U.S.’s electric World Cup group for the next edition of this column. Trust me, there will be plenty of necessary (and unnecessary) speculation in that piece, so stay tuned. 

For now, I think it’s appropriate to celebrate a bit. Let’s have an awards show! This column will make you feel like you’re at the Oscars — with a little less slapping. Without further ado, here are my awards for the USMNT’s qualifying cycle.

Most Valuable Player: winger Christian Pulisic

I promise my bias is not overtaking me, just let me explain. 

Christian Pulisic’s World Cup Qualifying cycle was far from perfect. He was hurt at the start, missing four games in total. He had a rough patch of form in the second-to-last window where he was trying to play hero-ball and force the issue. It wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. 

But who scored the go-ahead goal against Mexico at home? Who had a hat trick in the crucial match against Panama at home? Who led the team in goals scored? That’s right, Pulisic. He’s the big game player, the guy opposing teams scramble to try and suppress, the guy that simply finds a way. This window showed us his inevitability; he’s going to make an impact no matter what you throw at him.

He’s the man in the mirror for a reason. He is Captain America, and he will lead this U.S. team into the World Cup. 

I will say this — Weston McKennie would’ve been a shoe-in for this award if not for his early team suspension drama and his late injury. His midfield play was next level in just about every way, and the U.S. had so much more going for it with him on the pitch.  

Honorable mentions: McKennie, Antonee Robinson

Breakout Star: defender Antonee Robinson 

This award was probably the easiest to decide on. Antonee Robinson had himself a window, playing his way into the starting lineup and cementing his name as a must-start heading into the World Cup.

How did he do it? It starts with his energy. I wouldn’t be surprised if news broke that he’s secretly a robot with infinite stamina. His role as an attacking full back was one of the most demanding in the team, and he took it on his chest. He played more minutes — 1,060 — than any other player on the team during the cycle. 

He was also incredibly timely. His goal contributions came at huge moments: tying the game away at Honduras, taking the lead at home against El Salvador, 2 assists in the all-important Panama home game. 

Robinson was always available, always working and always clutch. What more could you ask for?

Honorable mentions: Brenden Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi 

Mr. Consistency: defensive midfielder Tyler Adams

The CONCACAF Ironman, Tyler Adams played 1,022 minutes during the cycle, the second most on the team. He anchored the midfield, cleaned up the mess and did it all while staying healthy. He was a huge part of the team’s success, even without a goal contribution to his name. 

Adams makes all of the not-so-flashy plays — the last-ditch tackles, the compact passes — that keep the team afloat. He’s physically imposing, even in his 5-foot-8 frame, and he brings a sense of calm to the midfield. No matter who’s running on the counter attack, if Adams is following in pursuit, I’m not stressing. 

Honorable mentions: Timothy Weah, Yunus Musah

Adam’s Apology Award: goalkeeper Matt Turner, defender Walker Zimmerman 

This award goes to two players who I have doubted in the past, but who have delivered and earned my respect over the course of the cycle. 

Matt Turner was forced into the starting role due to first-team keeper Zach Steffen’s injuries. He looked solid in the role for eight appearances, but I wasn’t completely sold. In an earlier column, I said Steffen was my preference for the No. 1 keeper spot. Turner responded by securing a move to Arsenal and continuing his good form. Steffen, on the other hand, looks debatably healthy and had a very shaky final three games. Matt, I took you for granted, and I’m sorry. Moving forward, I’m officially Team Turner. 

Next is Walker Zimmerman. My European bias got the best of me here. Zimmerman’s MLS status led me to think he was just another technically shaky, physicality-reliant center back who would cost the U.S. against skilled attackers. He really did prove me wrong. On top of his strength, he’s composed at the back and is a threat in the air on set pieces. He also had 1 goal and 2 assists during the cycle, more direct contributions than some attackers on the team. Walker, I’m sorry for doubting you, and your man-bun is beautiful. 

Honorable mention: Paul Arriola. I still have to kiss a desk in Annenberg for his goal against Panama (don’t ask).

Thank you for your attendance at this illustrious award ceremony. It brings me immense joy to highlight these impactful performers who have helped the U.S. return to the glory that is the World Cup. Especially given the failure to qualify in 2017, I appreciate the ability to revel in this team’s temporary success. See you in Qatar. 

Adam Jasper is a sophomore providing updates on the U.S. Men’s National Team and its road to qualifying for the World Cup as well as general soccer news. He is also a sports editor at the Daily Trojan. His column “Soccer in the States,” runs every other Thursday.