The USMNT fell to the Netherlands 3-1 in the Round of 16 at the 2022 Men’s World Cup. Their tournament ends seeing them meet the expectation that has been put upon them; That is, the USA progressed out of the group stage. However, there is a feeling that this team had the talent to make their first quarterfinal appearance in 20 years and failed to do so. After an undefeated Group stage, lapses in fundamentals doomed the USMNT in the first knockout round; does this make their World Cup a success or a failure?
USMNT meet expectation but fail to surpass them
The USMNT dream of progressing at the 2022 World Cup was cut short by a Netherlands team that was able to out-tactic them. The Dutch allowed the USA to have the ball and then pressed them into giving it up. All the scrambling around when that happened allowed for some uncharacteristic USMNT mistakes from a young group that hardly put a foot wrong at all the entire tournament. The question of whether this meant their World Cup was a success or failure comes down to perspective.
On one hand, the failure to exceed expectations can be seen as a lack of a coach getting the most out of his talented players. The decision by Gregg Berhalter before the tournament to only bring three strikers on a 26-man roster hurt this team in a win-or-go-home match. His substitution decisions didn’t create the spark he wanted either. Also, there were no like-for-like changes for his midfield three. They were the workhorse for the team, and they were extremely tired and made mistakes unlike them because of it. This can make the 2022 World Cup seem like a failure, as the team scored just three goals in four matches, and ran out of gas after just three games played.
On the other hand, this was a tournament that saw a young core of players gain meaningful experience on the world stage. The USA outplayed England and forced the Netherlands to sit back and press at this World Cup. That is a level of respect that the USMNT has not had in World Football. Add on to this fact that 12 players who played crucial roles either from the start or off the bench will be under the age of 30 at the next World Cup. They could have an entire outfield team who played at the ’22 World Cup start in ’26 and they would be a very talented bunch.
The ’22 World Cup can be seen as both a success and a failure based on the results of the matches, the coaching tactics, and the play on the field. However, the answer to this question may not even be answered until we see how the team does in the build-up, and at the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
Four years to prepare for 2026
It has been less than 24 hours since the United States failed to progress in the 2022 World Cup, and many are already looking ahead to how this team can improve en route to the 2026 tournament. The USA is one of the host nations of that tournament and will have an experienced core of players entering the prime of their careers, and others rising. Will we see a different coach come in who can get the most out of this group to surpass the knockout round expectation? We won’t know the answer to that for some time, but we do know how the USMNT will be able to prepare in the coming years.
Next year (2023), there will be a U-20 World Cup; a tournament that has produced and shaped some major players for the first team. There is also A Nations League and a Gold Cup, titles the USA won in 2021. These contests will be a chance for the next crop of players to rise, and possibly the next coach to experiment with their tactical approach.
In 2024 the USMNT will return to the Olympics, something they haven’t done since 2004! The 20-year absence has been brutal, but their U-20 team qualified them this past summer in the Concacaf Championships. This will be another great chance for young players to show their quality on a World Stage, as the tournament only allows Men’s players 23 or younger to play.
The United States is also trying to join the South American tournament, the Copa America that summer as well; time will tell if they will be allowed to join, but if they do, they’ll get to play against the likes of Brazil, Argentina, and the other great footballing nations there.
In 2025, the USMNT will play in another round of the Nations League and the Gold Cup. Could we be seeing a USA team that is looking to three-peat in both tournaments a year before the 2026 World Cup?
The Expectation for ’26: Win the World Cup
No matter who is on the team or coaching in 2026. The USMNT will need to shift their expectation. For the past 32 years, the expectation has been to get out of the group.
Playing at home, with a talented crop of players that will be in their prime should shift the expectation to a more lofty one. I’m not saying the goal should be to make the quarter-finals or semi-finals either.
The expectation should be to win the whole damn thing in 2026. Soccer has been labeled the sport of the future in the United States since the ’80s. Just about 40 years later the nation could and should be competing to win the World Cup.
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Mandatory Credit: JB Autissier/Panoramic/Icon Sportswire