USMNT exits the World Cup looking ahead to 2026



RAYYAN, Qatar — For one man, the coaches and players of the US national soccer team spoke of a bright future, renewed interest in the program and regained respect worldwide. Their World Cup ended on Saturday with a 3-1 defeat in the round of 16 against the Netherlands in a game against a trained opponent that revealed shortcomings and innocence.

Within the ambitious group, however, there was a feeling that they were just scratching the surface.

Thirteen players who have helped form the squad are aged 25 or under and most are employed by clubs in major European competitions. Others in that age range, from this roster and the wider player pool, were waiting in the wings.

USMNT’s hopeful World Cup run is buzzing with a loss to the Netherlands

Not only are they a promising group, but a tight-knit group, one that has turned chemistry into cohesive performances throughout much of their stay. Even after the disappointment of the elimination, the players stayed together late into the night to talk about what is possible in 2026, when the World Cup will be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

“Can we beat top teams? Can we perform well enough against top teams to win? I think this group is close,” said coach Gregg Berhalter. “The American public should be optimistic.”

The US team showed it belonged here, battling England, putting pressure on the Netherlands and being one of five of 32 countries to go undefeated in the group stage. However, the breakthrough moment against the titans of the game remains elusive.

After 32 years and eight appearances, the American record is 2-13-7 against teams from Europe and South America, football’s dominant continents. In Qatar, the Americans won against Wales and England and lost against the Netherlands.

Baby steps for an adolescent team.

Brewer: Don’t see the loss of the USMNT as the end. It is a down payment on the future.

“They can have a bright future,” said Dutchman Denzel Dumfries, who dominated the right flank and posted a goal and two assists. “They can certainly grow into an elite team.”

The first order of business is who will lead the way. Berhalter’s contract is due to expire soon and the American Football Association must decide if he is the man to take the program to the next level.

That assumes that Berhalter wants to keep working; he might decide to return to the day-to-day demands of coaching a club.

“For the past month, a month and a half, I’ve only focused on the World Cup and focused on achieving things with this group,” Berhalter said on Saturday, when asked what his future holds. “In the next few weeks I will clear my head, I will sit down and think about what the next step is.”

Berhalter earned credit for fostering a family atmosphere, integrating young players and implementing a style that, when effective, brought fun and joy.

Under his watch, the United States returned to the World Cup after a compact schedule of qualifiers, defeating rival Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup finals in the summer of 2021.

Berhalter was also criticized for his tactical decisions and selection of rosters and lineup – similar to the criticism directed at almost every coach at this level.

The US has the youngest captain this World Cup. When he talks, his team listens.

In the World Cup, the United States were defensively sound until Saturday and created numerous scoring opportunities, but lacked refinement and a finishing touch. A few goals against Wales and Iran were well scored and perseverance led to a late score against the Netherlands, but plenty of opportunities were missed, namely Christian Pulisic’s golden moment early in Saturday’s game.

In eight of their past nine games in total, the Americans have scored multiple goals against only Grenada.

The best players in the US offense stay on the flanks and midfield, not as center forwards. Josh Sargent, Haji Wright and Jesús Ferreira all got World Cup starts, with Wright scoring as a substitute on Saturday. A deadly goalscorer in that position isn’t mandatory, but with one there’s a degree of threat and the ability to bring in defenders, which opens up space for others.

As Berhalter — or whoever coaches the team — continues to shape the player pool, the USSF will outline plans to prepare the team for the 2026 tournament.

The first camp of the next cycle is next month in the Los Angeles area for friendlies against Serbia and Colombia. Since the dates do not fall within an international FIFA time period, most European players are not available. The first full availability will come in March for Nations League matches against El Salvador and Grenada.

As the United States, Mexico and Canada are expected to automatically qualify for the expanded 48-team World Cup in 2026, they will not participate in the qualifiers. Without those matches, tournaments like the annual Nations League and the 2023 and 2025 Gold Cups take center stage.

The pain and promise of the USMNT World Cup exit

Several U.S. World Cup players are eligible by age for the 2024 Olympics in France, which is for the most part an under-23 tournament. The American men last qualified for the Summer Olympics in 2008.

There have also been talks to host the 2024 Copa America, the prestigious South American championship, in the United States, an event that would presumably host all three World Cup hosts.

All of the activities over the next 3½ years will prepare American players for a World Cup that will provide another opportunity to grow both the program and the sport.

“This was a great opportunity for many of us,” midfielder Weston McKennie said of the Qatari odyssey. “We handled it very well. We went out [with Saturday’s defeat]and it sucks, but at the same time many of us will use this as a spear on our shoulder for the next four years to try and prove what we can do.

World Cup in Qatar

The last: The knockout phase continued on Saturday at the World Cup, with Argentina beating Australia 2-1 in the round of 16. Argentina, with world star Lionel Messi in what is likely to be his last World Cup, is one of the favorites to win the tournament, managing to finish first in Group C and progress to the quarter-finals despite a shock loss to Saudi Arabia in their first match.

USMT: The US men’s national team lost 3-1 to the Netherlands on Saturday in the opening game of the round of 16. The Netherlands, winners of group A, had finished the group stage without a loss and only conceded one goal. The winning streak continues, while the US run is over.

Knockout round schedule: A World Cup group stage full of shocking setbacks and dramatic reversals now gives way to a knockout round that promises even more surprises.

Worldview today: Ishaan Tharoor, The Post’s foreign columnist, reports on his week at the World Cup in Qatar.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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