At the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the United States Men’s Soccer Team did what was expected of them. They qualified from their group behind favorites England but, when they came up against tough opponents in the Round of 16, they slipped to an inevitable defeat.
It’s worth remembering that USMNT failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament, so this is progress. However, with home advantage in 2026, the team will be expected to progress further.
A Respectable Campaign
A 3-1 defeat to the Netherlands is nothing to be ashamed of, but the US would have been disappointed. After Haji Wright’s 76th minute strike made it 2-1, there was hope that the game could have been taken into extra time.
Initial world cup odds had coach Gregg Berhalter and his team as rank underdogs to win the World Cup. They were, however, joint second favorites to top Group A, so the team met their base targets.
When the squad assembles as one of three joint hosts for the 2026 tournament, that expectation will be much greater. Progression to the first knockout stage may not be enough next time, so what does USMNT need to do to become more competitive?
A Natural Progression
Coach Berhalter was appointed in 2018 and he oversaw an overhaul in the USMNT playing roster. The US squad for the 2022 World Cup was one of the youngest at the tournament and they competed solidly enough.
If those players stay together, they will have developed and should be at a peak in 2026. Christian Pulisic has 56 senior caps and is the leading scorer, yet he’s still only 24.
Up front, the USA have one of the most exciting young players in the game. FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira scored seven goals in his first 15 internationals, and many were surprised that he wasn’t more involved in Qatar.
Ferreira should be a more regular starter in 2026 while other young players looking to establish themselves include Josh Sargent, Giovanni Reyna, Joe Scally and Weston McKennie. The roster can only benefit from this World Cup experience and they should come back stronger in four years time.
Happy At Home
Home advantage can always play a part in any soccer game. In 2026, the United States has the honor of hosting the World Cup along with Mexico and Canada. The schedule shows that the US will hold the bulk of the games with nominated stadiums in place across the country.
Hosting means that the team have pre-qualified for the tournament and that’s a huge bonus. There is no tricky CONCACAF group to negotiate this time and whoever is in charge will have time to prepare and build their team
It’s almost certain that the country will play their World Cup group games on home turf. What isn’t clear is the new format that will accommodate an expansion to 48 teams. It could leave extra knockout rounds in place en route to the final.
Once again, the minimum target for the team will be to progress beyond those groups. Playing at home will help, but how much deeper can the US go?
Despite clear progression under Gregg Berhalter, there are questions as to whether the coach should remain in charge. When he inherited the team in late 2018, the US had just failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.
That qualification campaign was a dismal one as USMNT finished fifth out of six teams in their CONCACAF section. Taking the country to the knockouts four years later is an impressive achievement, but some of Berhalter’s decisions have been called into question.
The absence of Ferreira was noted around the media. The coach preferred Haji Wright who looked uncertain at times. Would a more productive striker at international level have taken the team beyond that Round of 16 game?
Goals Win Games
The US were undoubtedly goal shy in Qatar. While they qualified from a tough Group, the team scored just twice in three games and their progression would have been more comfortable if they had found the net on a more regular basis.
Against the Netherlands, USMNT dominated at times but just couldn’t find the net, beyond Wright’s fluke effort in the second period. The Dutch were far more clinical in front of goal and that was the difference between the two sides.
This is the key issue for the coach to address in the lead up to the next World Cup. The USA can compete and they have the benefit of home soil but they must be more prolific in the striking department.
Perhaps Jesus Ferreira is the answer or maybe the coach needs to scour MLS for emerging talent. Goals win games and this is the one area that needs to improve.