World Cup 2022: Rest of World Team

Every four years the FIFA’s Men’s World Cup dazzles the globe. Most of the best soccer players get the opportunity to vault themselves, and their nation, into the spotlight, and maybe even the history books. However, only 32 teams get to play in the Men’s World Cup and so there are always talented players left to watch the big tournament from home. FIFA is addressing this by expanding the Men’s World Cup to 48 teams in 2026, meaning this 2022 iteration may be the last time where a glutton of big stars miss the tournament. What if we took all of those players whose nation’s did not qualify and placed them on one team? To imagine player combinations which we don’t usually see is part of the fun that international soccer provides. In this article, I am going to do just that: have some fun creating a hypothetical World Cup team comprised of player who’s nations did not qualify.

Most of the time, such imagined “Rest of World” teams only pick from the top 2-3 teams that missed out on qualification. For 2018, imagine an Italy/Netherlands combo team with a sprinkling of non-European players. In creating my own “Rest of World” team, I wanted to be a little more creative so I added a simple, yet limiting, rule: I am only allowed to pick 1 player from each country to join my team. This made for some tough choices which I will explore below.

Before sharing my team, a few more parameters: I chose a 26-man roster, as it is rumored each nation will be allowed 26 players in 2022. I did not include players whose nation qualified, but they are outside of their nation’s World Cup roster (sorry Hakim Ziyech of Morocco), as it made the pool of players almost too big, and we don’t know the official World Cup rosters yet. Also, given my 1-player-per-country rule, there are many permutations of this team. The team I name below is not a definitive team, simply the one I chose. If I didn’t pick your favorite player, or I missed a player, it’s not a knock on them. There are only so many spots on the roster and so many players deserving of a spot! I also went with a relatively standard 4-3-3 shape which affected my choices. With that, here is my roster followed by a breakdown of my choices:

Name (International team, Club team)

Goalkeeper (3): Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy, Paris-Saint Germain), Jan Oblak (Slovenia, Atletico Madrid), Odysseas Vlachodimos (Greece, Benfica)

Right-back (2): Mehmet Zeki Çelik (Turkey, Lille), Elseid Hysaj (Albania, Lazio)

Center-back (4): Guillermo Maripán (Chile, AS Monaco), Milan Škriniar (Slovakia, Inter Milan), Stefan Savić (Montenegro, Atletico Madrid), Willi Orbán (Hungary, RB Leipzig)

Left-back (2): Andy Robertson (Scotland, Liverpool), Arthur Masuaku (Democratic Republic of the Congo, West Ham)

Defensive Midfielder (3): Wilfred Ndidi (Nigeria, Leicester City), Tomáš Souček (Czech Republic, West Ham), Renato Tapia (Peru, Celta Vigo)

Central Midfielder (4): Emil Forsberg (Sweden, RB Leipzig), Amadou Haidara (Mali, RB Leipzig), Konrad Laimer (Austria, RB Leipzig), Naby Keita (Guinea, Liverpool)

Wingers/Attacking Midfielders (5): Mohamed Salah (Egypt, Liverpool), Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City, Algeria), Luis Diaz (Colombia, Liverpool), Elif Elmas (North Macedonia, Napoli), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Armenia, AS Roma)

Strikers (3): Erling Haaland (Norway, Manchester City), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon, FC Barcelona) Sébastien Haller (Ivory Coast, Ajax)

First of all, let’s acknowledge that, despite any limitation I put on myself, this team is *stacked like pancakes*. Almost every player plays in a traditional Top 5 league in Europe, many of which are Champions League caliber, and those who aren’t are at the very least playing on mid-table teams if not Europa League or Conference League teams. This team would pretty easily be competitive at the World Cup. Most of these players fell into one of four categories of my decision making process.

The Easy Choices. I found some national teams where one player stood out amongst the rest and made me say “Well I gotta pick him”. This includes, Salah, Aubameyang, Mahrez, Haaland, Haidara, Keita, Ndidi, Skriniar, Oblak, and Vlachodimos. While these mostly seemed like obvious choices, some did eliminate other good players from selection. For example, by picking Haaland, arguably the best young striker in the world, I eliminate the option of picking Martin Ødegaard, who isn’t at Haaland’s level, but is still a great player in his own right. Similarly with picking Mahrez over Bennacer from Algeria. Bennacer is a great player, but not as great as Mahrez. This is also where I noticed “Between, Salah, Haidara, and Keita, I have some players used to playing in a high press. Maybe I should run with that”.

Difficult Decisions. There were some teams where I had to pick between two or three solid players of a similar level. In these cases, it depended on what positions I needed and whether I thought they would fit my “high pressing” scheme. This includes Colombia, Ivory Coast, Sweden, Scotland, Chile. Luis Diaz, Andy Robertson, and Emil Forsberg were all selected over their countrymen because each of them play on club teams that like to press. Instead of Diaz, I could have chosen Colombia’s ‘keeper Ospina. Picking Forsberg eliminated Lindeloff from Sweden as a right-back. Picking Robertson eliminated Tierney and McTominay from Scotland as a left-back and central midfielder, respectively.

Wealth of Riches. There were a few teams where I could pick almost any player from their Starting XI to fit into this roster. The obvious team being Italy who won the 2020 European Championship, and then somehow flopped in World Cup qualification for a second cycle in a row. It is perhaps because of Italy’s quality that I chose their goalkeeper, Donnarumma, as my sole Italian. A ‘keeper can often have the most influence on a game relative to any individual field player. Plus, Italy’s defensive record is a large part of what won them that 2020 Euro’s tournament. Austria also provided me with plenty of options but again my high press theme made Laimer an easy choice as he is a teammate with Haidara and Forsberg at Leipzig. Although, it wasn’t easy to leave off Alaba after he and Real Madrid won the Champions League this season.

Filling in the Gaps. Lastly I had to assess where I was missing players in my roster. This is where positional needs pushed some players ahead of others on their national team. For example, I was in need of right-backs and found Celik from Turkey. On the other hand, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Turkey’s captain, might be a “higher profile” player in the eyes of many. Then again, Çalhanoğlu doesn’t seem to fit my high press scheme, so he would likely start on my bench. Am I going to bring Çalhanoğlu as a sub and then dig deeper at the right-back spot? For me, it made more sense to bring Celik. This is also the point where I found some fun standouts who usually wouldn’t be included in these “Rest of World” teams. This included Albanian defender Hysaj, Elif Elmas of North Macedonia, and Masuaku of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Honorable Mentions. These are the players who stood out on their national teams but missed the cut for me: Omar Alderete (Paraguay, Valencia), Amir Rrahmani (Kosovo, Napoli), Yangel Herrera (Venezuela, Espanyol), Edin Džeko (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Inter Milan), Eldor Shomurodov (Uzbekistan, Roma), Amir Murillo (Panama, Anderlecht), Alberth Elis (Honduras, Bordeaux), Michail Antonio (Jamaica, West Ham), Lukáš Hrádecký (Finland, Bayer Leverkusen), and Mu’nas Dabbur (Israel, 1899 Hoffenheim), Chris Wood (New Zealand, Newcastle United).

Lastly, how well would this team would do at the World Cup? 19 out of 26 of these players will be playing Champions League next year with 4 more playing in Champions League Qualifying, Europa League, or Conference League. This compares relatively well to teams which are considered favorites to win the competition, such as France, Brazil, England, and Germany. Of course, this team would have much less chemistry, so they would likely not play as cohesively as the favorites. At the same time, no one can scout them since they never played together before this. I think the disadvantages of being an All-Star-style team outweigh any advantages. Therefore, I would not call them favorites, but I think you could call them contenders. I would expect them to at least make it out of their group, likely win their Round of 16 game, and put in a good fight in the quarter-finals.

That’s all I have, let me know if you have a different “Rest of World” roster of your own! Hit me up at @BeardedJack on Twitter.

Gregg Berhalter should be the Next USMNT Head Coach

Last week, I revisited my thoughts on the USMNT crashing out of World Cup Qualifying. Now it’s time to assess the recovery and answer the question on everyone’s lips: who should be the next USMNT coach? Word on the street is that we may know as soon as November 1st.

In order to answer this question I’ll give a quick recap of what the interim coach Dave Sarachan has done and I’ll list the qualities I would like the next USMNT coach to have. I have someone in mind, so I’ll make my pitch for one coach in particular.

800px-pulisic170727-2
Whoever the next coach is for the USMNT will have a young star to work with in Christian Pulisic. (Wikimedia Commons)

Dave Sarachan was announced as the interim head coach for the USMNT within days of the team’s loss to Trinidad & Tobago. So far, Sarachan has lead the team in half a dozen friendlies with a mixed bag of results. Generally, he has done a good job of calling in youth who will play a large role in years to come, namely, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Matt Miazga, and Timothy Weah. They have earned multiple caps over the last year and each will certainly be part of the team’s core going forward. It’s unfortunate Christian Pulisic has yet to join them, but I am excited to see him in the upcoming friendlies against Columbia and Peru. Sarachan has built a solid foundation of players for this team going forward.

Something that is often overlooked is what he has done for the mentality of this team. These young players are hungry when they are playing, despite these games meaning next to nothing. It’s something which has been sorely missed on the team over the last few years. I credit Sarachan here even if he has passively allowed the players to set the tone. The truth is past head coaches haven’t fostered the same environment where players want to fight for all 90 minutes.

That being said, Sarachan’s tenure hasn’t been all roses. Tactically, he suffers from some of the same ills that plagued Bruce Arena’s team. That is, his tactics are outdated, and his 4-1-4-1 formation probably won’t maximize our best XI’s talent. For an interim head coach, that’s fine. None of this should make the USMNT worse for the wear by the time competitive games come around. By that point, the permanent head coach will establish their system. Fingers crossed it’s a good one.

What do we want this new head coach to do? Here’s what I would like to see:

  1. Man-Manager/Motivator – Someone who can make any game feel like the World Cup Final. I think a few of our core players (at least Pulisic, Adams, Miazga, and Yedlin) are fairly self-motivated. They won’t need much of a push. Letting those players set an example and rewarding them appropriately will go a long way. The inverse is also true. If a player has a toxic attitude, they should be punished/benched. Similar to Sarachan, perhaps all this coach needs to do is let the players motivate each other.
  2. Tactician – Someone who can create a team identity. Personally, I’d like to see the USMNT play some attractive, possession-based soccer, but I’d be happy if we were a bunker-and-counter team or a pressing team, or any other style so long as we had an identity.
  3. Pragmatist – On the other hand, I think the head coach needs to be practical. If the next head coach wants us to be a pressing team, we can’t run a high press every game, all game. Depending on our opponent, line-up, conditions, etc. it may be more beneficial to play a different style for that one game. 
  4. Scout – Someone who will find talented Americans in all leagues and consider them for national team camps. You could also include winning over dual-nationals under this category. Recently the US lost a great potential player in Jonathan Gonzalez to Mexico because he got called into their camp first. That trend can’t continue. 
  5. Developer of Youth – Someone who knows when to bring in a young player, when to stick with a young player, and when to let go of an older player. The USMNT has sorely missed this over the last decade.

gregg_berhalter
Berhalter made 44 appearances on the US National team. (Wikimedia Commons)

If we can find a head coach who does all of the above, then we will be in a good position to achieve all of our future goals. With that said, I think Gregg Berhalter checks all of these boxes better than any other candidate. For those unaware, Berhalter is a former center back who currently coaches the Columbus Crew in MLS.  Let me walk you through my thought process:

  1. Man-Manager/Motivator – Berhalter falls under the man-manager heading more than the motivator. The best example is Kei Kamara. In 2015, Kei Kamara lead the league in goals for Berhalter’s Columbus Crew. They lost the MLS Cup to Portland and proceeded to collapse the following year. It was no secret that Kamara was a toxic presence in the locker room when the results weren’t going their way. Soon enough Kei Kamara gets traded to New England. A vocal, bad attitude can ruin a locker room. Despite Kamara being the top goal-scorer, Berhalter wasn’t afraid to move on from him. And like I said before, with vocal guys like Adams, McKennie, and Pulisic in the locker room, a coach may be able to pass these duties onto those guys. 
  2. Tactician – Berhalter’s teams regularly play some of the prettiest soccer in MLS. It’s possession-based, it’s methodical, and Berhalter has been able to plug and play different players into his system. Look at Gyassi Zardes. The LA Galaxy were playing him at right back at the end of last season because he wasn’t scoring goals. He gets traded to Columbus and he has 16 goals on the season. Ola Kamara scored a similar amount after being plucked out of a Scandinavian League, and before him it was Kei Kamara. Plug. And. Play. In the words of Will Trapp, Berhalter is great at “making guys on the field understand the clarity of the picture.” I have no doubts of Berhalter’s tactical know-how.
  3. Pragmatist – In 2015, the New York Red Bulls won their 2nd Supporter’s Shield in 3 years. They were playing a high-press style which was quite new and few teams knew how to counter it. The Red Bulls were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Final by none other than Berhalter’s Columbus Crew. One would expect New York’s high press to rip apart Columbus’ possession-based style. Instead, Columbus sat back, let New York have the ball, and killed them on the counter (a strategy which is effective against New York to this day). Point being: Berhalter wasn’t afraid to deviate from his tactical norm in order to get a result. That’s pragmatic coaching and something the US needs. He did something similar against Atlanta United in the 2017 playoffs, holding Atlanta scoreless and winning on penalties. 
  4. Scout – Not only is Berhalter Columbus’ head coach, but he is also the sporting director, meaning he makes the decisions when it comes to signing, trading and releasing players. With that role, he has brought in players like Artur, Ola Kamara and Milton Valenzuela to Columbus. Artur has become the perfect partner for Will Trapp and Valenzuela is arguably the best left back in the league. Berhalter has also done this on a low-budget team in Columbus. It’s not like he has the money to buy the best players; he had to find the right guy and get him for the right price. It hasn’t been all good for Berhalter in that regard. Pedro Santos is one of Columbus highest paid players and he has one goal over the course of the last year as a winger. Everyone whiffs on a signing from time to time. Despite Pedro Santos’ poor play, I still think Berhalter has more good than bad in this category.  
  5. Developer of Youth – This one is tougher as Columbus doesn’t exactly have the most prolific academy. Only Will Trapp and Alex Crognale are current Crew academy products on the roster and Crognale has been loaned out for the year. This is not the fault of Berhalter, as I doubt the Crew’s ownership has devoted that much money to their academy. That being said, Trapp is a commensurate professional. Say what you want about his play on the field, no one has a bad thing to say about him off the field. Additionally, half of developing youth is letting go of veteran players. Berhalter has shown a tendency to do just that as exemplified with Kei Kamara, and Tony Tchani. Tchani was Trapp’s partner in that 2015 season before he was traded and Artur filled the same role.

All of the above is why I have been on the Berhalter train for the past couple of months. Don’t get me wrong, there are other candidates I would be content with, such as Oscar Pareja, Jesse Marsch, or Tata Martino. But Pareja’s teams play more defensively than I’d like, and both Marsch and Tata seem to over-think big games and get the tactics wrong (For Marsh, look at the Red Bulls CONCACAF Champions League exit to Chivas, and for Tata look at Atlanta’s loss to Columbus last year in the playoffs and their recent loss to the Red Bulls). No candidate is perfect, I could just as easily point to Berhalter’s inexperience with developing youth as a weakness. I would rather take that unknown with Berhalter than known flaws with other coaches. 

And with that, I will see you next week where I will dissect the recent USMNT roster, examining my likes/dislikes, and project a starting XI!