Few things get my sports adrenaline flowing quite like a debate of a sports scenario that would never happen. The age old question of “What if…?” is a tried and honored tradition, and with the 2020 European Championships finally getting underway after the Covid-19 outbreak halted the competition this summer, there’s no better question to ask than how would the USMNT do if they were thrusted into the Euro’s?
The Euro Qualifying process is a journey. To the average fan, it feels like it’s a nonstop whirlwind of international/European qualifying. There’s a plethora of games from the UEFA Nations League, World Cup Qualifying, and Euro Qualifications. Granted, many of these competitions are used to weed out the smaller European nations that aren’t as dominant as their larger neighbors.
It’s impossible to predict how the USMNT would do throughout the grueling qualifying process, but it’s a bit easier to see how they’d perform with an automatic bid to the Euros.
The lads in the Stars & Stripes aren’t going to replace any of the major players in European soccer, so for the sake of this hypothetical debate we’ll replace the lowest ranked team in each group according to FIFA World Rankings with the USMNT.
Every team has already played a match in the tournament so far, but for the sake of not being a revisionist, we are going to block out any moments of the actual tournament that have already happened.
The United States is the 20th ranked team. Don’t take the FIFA rankings as the end all be all for how a team is. France, the defending World Cup winners, are ranked 2nd behind a Belgium team who they beat in the 2018 World Cup Semifinals.
These FIFA rankings are a little skewed. About half of the teams have already played games, but for the sake of not being a revisionist, we are going to block out any moments of the actual tournament that have already happened.
At the end of the day, you can chuck all the past out the window. It’s the Euro’s… anything can happen.
Country Replaced: Turkey
Going off of FIFA rankings alone, this is a tough group. Italy is ranked 7th, Switzerland is 13th, Wales is 18th, and Turkey, who is going to be replaced by the United States in this group, are 29th in the world according to FIFA. It’s a shame that Turkey has to be eliminated for this exercise because they have been a joy to watch as of late.
They play an exciting style of soccer, and they’d be a much better watch than a Wales side so reliant on Gareth Bale. Once you factor in recent form from these squads, this group becomes an even harder challenge to analyze.
Italy is clearly the group favorites, and will be one of the favorites to win the entire tournament. The Azzurri haven’t dropped points in any competition since October 14th in a 1-1 with the Netherlands during a Nations League match. Despite all this dominance, from a stylistic aspect, the Americans should like their chances of making this game a memorable one.
Italy isn’t the defensive minded team that we’re used to seeing. Yes they are still defensively sound, but Roberto Mancini has utilized all the offensive talent at his disposal in a way that Italy hasn’t seen in recent years. This offensive mindset could leave them vulnerable if they turn the ball over in the midfield. A player like Weston McKennie could create offense quickly, and although the Italian defense is talented, they are on the other side of the hill in terms of being in their prime.
Despite my American bias, the Italians are poised to make a deep run this year. Italy win in a high scoring 3-2 match.
Moving onto Switzerland is a different analysis because these two actually played a friendly back on May 30th that resulted in a 2-1 Swiss victory. The USMNT did not look good. They lacked any identity and the lack of chemistry was clearly on display.
At the end of the day, it’s still just a friendly and without Tyler Adams, who is this teams X-Factor, the defensive accountability was nonexistent. If the Yanks have a healthy squad they’ll be too much for a Swiss team that can be suspect at the back. A 2-1 American win in the rematch would be my prediction.
The last opponent in the group stage is another squad that has faced the American’s in recent international friendlies, Wales. These two played to a scoreless draw back in November, although the USMNT had some roster limitations due to Covid-19 protocols. Wales is a stubborn team to play against. Like all the teams from the British Isle, they play good defense, and they don’t make many unforced errors despite not being overly talented with the exception of Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale.
A fully integrated USMNT squad should take care of Wales in an ugly, but hard fought 1-0 win. There is too much going forward offensively for America, and not enough talent around Gareth Bale to make the Welsh a real threat in this match.
Group Finish: 2nd in Group, Italy wins the group.
Country Replaced: Finland
On paper, Group B doesn’t look as sexy as some of the other groups with the exception of Belgium, but don’t sleep on Group B. Denmark is a popular dark horse, and Russia is never a pushover in international competition.
The cream of the crop in this group is Belgium. The number 1 ranked team in the world lost in the 2018 World Cup Semi-finals to eventual winner France. Since the 2010 World Cup, the soccer world has been in admiration of Belgium’s “Golden Generation”. That’s a term that is going to be thrown around this piece frequently. Many countries in this tournament are experiencing a boom of talented players rising through the national team ranks.
One could make the argument that the Belgians have the best player in the world at their respective position in the starting XI with Romelu Lukaku at striker, Kevin De Bruyne running the middle of the park, and Thibaut Courtois between the ivory panel.
There’s few countries that have the overbearing talent to embarrass the USMNT, but the Belgians are one of the few teams that could put a beat down on the young American team.
De Bruyne, Hazard, and Lukkaku are going to expose the American backline, and that’s including Serginio Dest if he gets involved in the offensive rush. America will hang in there for a little, but I see it being dominated in possession by Belgium. 2-0 win for the Belgians.
Denmark is my personal darkhorse for the Euro’s, and I think they’ll give the American’s trouble throughout the game. The Danes don’t have the athletes that the Americans possess, but one thing they do have is chemistry, and a system that has proven to work throughout their World Cup and Euro Qualifying stretch the last 8 years.
This Danish squad has slowly, and rather quietly, risen up to become a Top 10 team in the world. This won’t come as a shock to those who are close to this Danish team. They are in their own “Golden Generation” of soccer, but they have been overshadowed by more notable soccer countries. The usual star suspects of goalkeeper Kasper Schmiechel and offensive focal point Christian Erksen are going to garner attention, but the Danish supporting cast can play with the best of the world.
It will be interesting to see how the USMNT decides to handle Eriksen. Do they give him space in the middle and just focus on their game? Or do they have Tyler Adams, or another defensive midfielder, tail him for the entire match?
Both teams will get points in this match in a thrilling 1-1 draw.
The last match in this group is a Cold War match with Russia, and despite Russia being the least talented team in terms of star power, this game has all the makings of a classic.
What makes Russia interesting is that they have talent, but the world doesn’t get to witness it because the majority of players stay in Russia and don’t get much exposure from European soccer media. This team is disciplined, tough, and will make it tough on teams not accustomed to their physicality.
Ultimately the USMNT is too talented and will rise to the occasion. Russia can only hold a 0-0 draw for so long. America gets a goal early in the second half, and then gets one late for a 2-0 win for the Stars & Stripes.
Group Finish: 3rd Place, Advances to Knockout Round.
Country Replaced: North Macedonia
American supporters are crossing their fingers that their USMNT lands in Group C. The USA would replace 62nd FIFA ranked North Macedonia, who in reality is making their first major tournament appearance.
The group favorite is the Netherlands, who come in this year’s tournament as the team with the most amount of pressure from domestic media. Specifically about whether Frank de Boer is the right fit as coach of his home country..
The biggest competitor to the Yanks is the Dutch despite the uncertainty that has surrounded them since Frank de Boer took over. However, I think the USMNT has all the pieces needed to pull off the upset. The Netherlands are without captain, and defensive backbone, Virgil Van Dyke, and they lack the supporting pieces needed to let Memphis Depay shine. Georginio Wijnaldum is a nice piece in addition to Depay, but the rest of the squad is littered with question marks.
The soccer world is used to seeing the Orangmen play a high attacking style complemented by elite talent like Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie, but that golden generation of Dutch talent has gone by the wayside.
The change of formation right before a major tournament is a major red flag, and the Ammericans will take advantage of that. Taking the Americans in a thrilling 2-1 victory.
I hate to bash any team, but I think Austria is poised to disappoint this year. David Alaba is the keystone of the Austrian team. He creates offense from the back, but he’s in for a tough match. The American firepower may end up exposing his defensive partners the whole match, and Gregg Berhalter could afford to do that thanks to the offensive prowess he has in the squad.
Technically speaking, Austria will be sufficient. Unfortunately for them, the Americans will get the three points in this match with a 2-0 win.
If you don’t have a team to cheer for this tournament, I suggest rooting for Ukraine. For all my FIFA players and older fans, they are coached by the best player to ever strap on a pair of boots for Ukraine, Andriy Shevchenko. They sneakily have a creative midfield powered by Man City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko and Atalanta’s Ruslan Malinovskyi that will have to impress on the world stage if Ukraine has any chance of getting past the Americans, and the group stage as a whole.
The midfield duo won’t be enough to give Ukraine any edge against the USMNT. Expect a tight first half, but the Americans should pull away with this win in a 2-0 fashion.
Group Finish: Wins Group
Country Replaced: Scotland
I think I speak for American soccer fans everywhere when I say that this is the group I’d want the USMNT to land in if this concept was real. Why this group you ask? The same reason why we speak the language we do: the English.
The last time we matched up with the Three Lions in a major tournament it ended in a 1-1 draw. However, the draw felt like a win for America, and a massive defeat for our English speaking rivals across the pond. England started the game off strong with a 4th minute goal from Steven Gerrard, but thanks to a blunder from goalkeeper Robert Green, Clint Dempsey was able to equalize in the 40th minute. The draw felt like a win for America, and felt like an embarrassing loss for the English.
This time around it won’t be as friendly of a result for the Americans. This England team is extremely deep, and they are the 2nd favorites to win the tournament according to bookmakers. As much as it hurts my patriotic pride, the Three Lions are for real this year. Expect England’s golden generation to shine through in a 2-0 win in this Revolutionary War rematch.
The second match in this group is against the defending World Cup Finalists Croatia, a team that punched well above their weight on their way to almost becoming champions of world soccer. Four members of that 2018 team have retired, including offensive spark plugs Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitić. This leaves big shoes to fill for the youngsters replacing these Croatian legends, and with Luka Modric not getting any younger, it makes that void even greater of a challenge to fill.
This is another match-up that is going to ask Tyler Adams to step up and shut down the opposition’s focal point. Modric is a craft veteran, and Adams is the young buck still gaining international experience.
The Americans will squeak out a draw against Croatia in a game where they do not look great, but a draw is better than a loss.
The last game in this group is against the Czech Republic who is one of the biggest wild cards of the tournament. For a lack of a better term, they are a mundane team. No real star power with their most recognizable player being West Ham’s Tomas Soucek, so I think the American’s shouldn’t have trouble getting the three points in this match.
Group Finish: 3rd place on goal differential. Advances to the Knockout Round.
Country Replaced: Slovakia
This group is closest to America in terms of FIFA World Rankings. Sweden are 18th, Poland are 21st, and Spain are the group leaders at 6th in the world according to FIFA. Spain are the heavy favorites to win the group at -350.
Spain is always going to be a presence at a major tournament and a group like this is favorable for them. Along with Poland, the USMNT is their biggest competition.The Spain/USA game would be a track meet. Thiago, Ferran Torres, and Alvaro Morata on the attack for Spain with Tyler Adams, Sergino Dest, and Antonee Robinson defending them would be a hell of a watch.
The reverse of that is equally as enticing. An American offensive press of Christain Pulisic, Gio Reyna, and Yunush Musah battling it out with the Spanish defense of Rodri in the midfield, and on the back line with Jordi Alba and new Spanish resident Laporte,
Spain is too talented and will outlast the USMNT. I see Spain spreading out the American backline, which will open holes for penetrating runs for Morata. Spain win this in a 3-2 goalfest.
Poland is an open book. The entire world knows that they are trying to get the ball to Lewandowksi. They will go as far as the Bayern Munich star takes them. Berrhalter could mark him with a guy like Tyler Adams dropping back more in defense, or give full responsibility to John Brooks, who is very familiar with Lewandoski from their Bundesliga clashes.
Teams that rely on one player rarely end up doing well in major tournaments. The Americans will do enough to shut down Lewandowski and the Poles in a scrappy 2-1 win.
Sweden dropped in pre-tournament banter due to the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The 39 year old AC Milan star was ruled out of the tournament due to a knee injury he suffered during the Milan season. Sweden has Alexander Isak, who has set La Liga ablaze offensively with Real Soceidad.
Unfortunately for Isak, he’ll have a tough time dealing with Sergino Dest, and for that reason among others, the American’s will win this game in a 1-0 game with minimal chances.
Group Finish: 2nd Place. Advances to Knockout Round.
Country Replaced: Hungary
The “Group of Death” is not something new for the USMNT, who were in the 2014 World Cup group of death. Every major tournament has one, and this group is that for these Euro’s. Defending World Cup winners, and tournament favorites, France. They lead the way in terms of being the Group betting favorite, and to top it all off, they now welcome back Karim Benzema onto the national team since his departure in 2015. As much as it crushes my unwavering American bias, the French should have no problem dispatching the USA.
Pogba and company will terrorize the inexperienced American side in a smooth 2-0 victory.
Group F also has the popular dark horse pick of Portugal, a side that is much more than Cristiano Ronaldo surrounded by 10 other players. The Portugese are as deep as any team in the tournament, and they’ll be relying heavily on Bruno Fernandes and Joao Moutinho to step up on the world stage for their country.
The last time we saw these two face-off in a major tournament was the 2014 World Cup in the Group Stage where the Portugese tied the game after a 94th minute goal. That goal was the latest World Cup goal scored in regular time.
This time around might not be as kind to the States, and a 3-1 loss to the Portugese delivers a major blow to the Yanks chances of advancing out of the group.
The last match of this group of death against Germany is where I think America will show the world that we are now a country to be respected on the global soccer platform. The Germans are looking to send coach Joachim Low out on a high note before Hansi Flick takes over.
They have been crawling into this competition after suspect performances in Nation’s League and World Cup Qualifying games, and that form is going to be hard to break in this group.
The Americans get their only win in a roller coaster 1-0 courtesy of a late game winning goal
Group Finish: 4th place. A very unfortunate group drawing for America.
The worries with the USMNT are their offensive chemistry coming together and having accountability on the back end.
This USMNT squad isn’t afraid of anyone though. Their style is going to benefit them in this tournament, but they have to be careful not to get caught on the counter attack after a turnover.
It’s been stated that Tyler Adams is my x-factor for this team, but Zack Steffen has to show why he’s on Manchester City, and why he’s set to be more than just Ederson’s backup.
He’s an excellent shot stopper, but he has to be more vocal and decisive on set pieces to keep America in safe hands between the pipes.
The Knockout Round is like any American playoff game. Anything can happen. It’s hard to say how the Americans would do because different groups lead to different paths. Do I like the USMNT’s chances in a Knockout Round game against France? No. But I love their chances in a one-off against a team like the Netherlands or Croatia.
All paths to the final are extremely difficult, but getting in the right group can be the difference between a Knockout Round exit or a Quarterfinal exit.
Any prediction of this American team making it to the semifinals of the Euros would be a script that even Hollywood couldn’t write.
This American team does have the talent to compete for a World Cup in the next coming years, but it’s not their time right now. The Americans will look to continue their CONCACAF success in the Gold Cup starting in July, followed by the most important World Cup Qualifying process in USMNT history in the fall.