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Lion Links: 11/19/22

Sebas Méndez readies for World Cup, USMNT hosts special guests, Qatar’s beer ban, and more.

Soccer: Morocco at USA Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Saturday, Mane Landers. Did you know that on this day in 2013 Orlando City was announced as the 21st MLS club? While that might feel light years away now, the World Cup is not — it is finally upon us.

The news keeps coming down the pipeline. Some of it is good, and some of it is bad. The drama of the world’s greatest tournament is primed to start on Thanksgiving week (tomorrow, actually), and for that I am truly grateful. Soon, you will find me sitting on the couch with a plate of turkey and dressing and enjoying the beautiful game along with a delicious meal. Maybe it is too soon to say, but I might be more inclined for a Thanksgiving World Cup viewing than traditional Thanksgiving football.

Now that you are all salivating and dreaming of the perfect Thanksgiving meal, it’s on to the links!

Sebas Méndez Prepares for World Cup

Former Orlando City defensive midfielder Sebas Méndez was traded mid-season to LAFC. As Méndez struggled to earn back his starting spot from newcomer César Araújo, the club moved him on to LAFC for $300,000 in General Allocation Money. With a new club, Méndez began to find minutes on the pitch and eventually an MLS Supporters’ Shield, MLS Cup, and 2022 FIFA World Cup call-up.

Méndez played an important role in Ecuador’s qualification for the World Cup. The move to LAFC rekindled his form and helped land him an official spot on Ecuador’s final World Cup roster. He will be part of the third-youngest roster in Qatar with an average age of 25.6 years. Only Ghana and the United States have a younger average age. According to Méndez, the squad’s youth compared to other teams at the tournament will be an advantage rather than a handicap.

“I think that in the beginning, no one trusted maybe that such a young team could do what we did,” the 25-year-old midfielder said. “But there is a very important factor named Profe Alfaro. From that moment, to have the confidence of a new coach who didn’t care how old you were and played you, I think we realized that we could put together a good group.”

While having the weight of a whole country on your shoulders can be a large task, Méndez knows that trips to the World Cup can come few and far between. He intends to relish every moment of it and make the most of the opportunity.

“We have to enjoy this with the responsibility that comes with representing your country,” said Méndez. “We have something very beautiful to face and we hope to do it the best way possible.”

USMNT Welcomes Special Guests

During its first week of training ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the U.S. Men’s National Team has turned Al Gharafa Stadium into its home base. On Tuesday night, eight USMNT players and two coaches hosted 20 migrant workers who helped build the infrastructure behind the World Cup for some fun on the field. The next day, the team welcomed nearly 1,000 United States military and embassy staff based in Qatar to the team’s training session for a special experience.

The match event was organized by the Q22 Worker’s Welfare Department, with the players being chosen based on their success in participating in previous Worker’s Cup soccer tournaments held in Qatar. For the following day’s training session, USMNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter and the team wanted to show their appreciation to all those serving the United States in Qatar and extended an invitation for them to watch Wednesday’s training session. Berhalter addressed the crowd at the start of training and thanked them for their service before midfielder Weston McKennie spoke. McKennie’s father is a United States serviceman, and he himself met USMNT legends Carlos Bocanegra and Landon Donovan when the team visited Ramstein Air Base in Germany ahead of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Now 16 years later, he will compete on the global stage himself.

MLS Coaches’ USMNT Predictions

We are just a day away from the start of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Soccer fans and experts all over the world are anxiously awaiting the first whistle and making bold predictions at how the whole tournament will play out. MLSsoccer.com spoke with MLS coaches to see if they had any insight on the United States Men’s National Team players and odds.

Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes thinks Borussia Dortmund attacker Giovanni Reyna, a one-time New York City FC academy star, will be the USMNT’s X-factor. He even went so far as comparing him to USMNT legend Landon Donovan in 2002. Chicago Fire FC Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson noted the previous success of former USMNT goalkeepers as a usual strength for the Americans. He mentioned that a difference maker could be Arsenal backup goalkeeper Matt Turner, who joined the Premier League leaders from the New England Revolution this summer.

Hendrickson also laid out a clear path to the Round of 16. If the USMNT does not beat Wales, the Americans’ odds of moving on will be much less likely. He thinks the match on Monday is definitely the one to watch.

“If the assumption is England will win the group, then it means you must beat Wales,” he said. “If you don’t win it, then it becomes a little sketchy going forward. If you win that game and you go into England with three points in the bag, then maybe you tie and you’re likely looking at at least second place going into the Round of 16. But if you don’t come out with points in the Wales game, it can be a very, very difficult task to now try and get four more points after and get out of the group.”

Who do you think is going to be the most crucial player for the USMNT this tournament? What match are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below.

Qatar Reverses Course, Bans Beer

The 2022 World Cup host nation of Qatar has once again found itself in the media in a negative light. Aside from the deaths of migrant workers, moving the event to winter (due to the obvious failure to get air conditioning technology that didn’t exist into outdoor stadiums), the questionable tracking app, shipping container lodging, and overpriced food, the country’s government has now decided to disallow beer sales on site and at stadium perimeters during the World Cup. Qatar, like many Muslim countries, has very strict laws prohibiting alcohol.

Since the nation bid to host the tournament, many questioned how alcohol sales — among other things — would work with an event like the World Cup. Initially, a compromise was made in which fans could still purchase alcohol in designated fan areas, bars, and in areas outside of stadiums. This was a mend designed to bend the rules for foreigners, while keeping them intact for locals. However, FIFA has now announced Qatar’s backslide on the policy while trying to keep the peace with one of its major sponsors, Budweiser.

Free Kicks
  • Spezia Calcio is reportedly in talks to sign defender Joao Moutinho from Orlando City, though the Lions announced they are in talks to bring him back. His return likely depends on what kinds of offers the fullback gets from Europe.

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have an awesome weekend. If you’re traveling early for Thanksgiving, please drive safely and share the road. Vamos Orlando!