(WHTM) – For the first time in more than 3,000 days soccer fans watched Team USA compete in the World Cup.
Many of those fans gathered at Mr. G’s in Harrisburg to watch Team USA and Hershey native Christian Pulisic in their match against Wales.
Filled with novelty, nerves and naivety, the young Americans took the field against Wales on Monday night in a match a growing fanbase back home has been pining for since 2014.
“Three years, four years of just working up to this moment, I think all the guys are ready to go,” midfielder Weston McKennie said.
Gregg Berhalter has installed a high-pressing style and led the Americans to a 36-10-10 record that included titles in the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup and Nations League.
“The final determination of this group,” he said, “will be at the World Cup. That’s how generations are measured. We can all be talking — that’s great, we beat Mexico three times. Or we won the Gold Cup or the Nations League. But the real measuring stick for this group is certainly going to be how you perform in Qatar.”
Wales is back in the World Cup for the first time since 1958, led by 33-year-old Gareth Bale and 31-year-old Aaron Ramsey but without injured midfielder Joe Allen. The Dragons advanced to the 2016 European Championship semifinals before losing to eventual champion Portugal and made it to the second round of last year’s Euros before a 4-0 wipeout against Denmark. The lack of World Cup experience has the Welsh as guarded as the Americans heading into the match at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, a renovated 44,000-seat venue west of the capital.
“They’re a good young squad and have some fantastic players,” Bale said. “We’re under no illusions that they’re here to win the game just as we are, so we know it’s going to be a difficult match tomorrow and I’m sure they know the same thing, too.”
Yedlin, Christian Pulisic, Kellyn Acosta and Tim Ream are among just four holdovers from the group that flopped to the field in anguish after the crushing loss at Trinidad in CONCACAF qualifying in October 2017 that ended the streak of U.S. World Cup appearances at seven.
Pulisic struggled for playing time, getting just five starts for Chelsea this season. Dest made only two starts for AC Milan.
As the opener approached, Pulisic recalled gathering for World Cup games in the basement of his home in Hershey and watching Landon Donovan score the injury-time goal that beat Algeria in 2010 to earn advancement.
“The family coming together, wearing all our red, white and blue, just getting excited,” Pulisic said. “It was always a dream of mine. I wanted to be there so bad. But now to be here as a part of this team actually at the World Cup, it’s special. And, yeah, I don’t want to take a moment of this for granted.”