USMNT Year in Review: The Beginning Preparations for 2026

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United States players celebrate after defeating Canada in a CONCACAF Nations League final match Sunday, June 18, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The US Men’s National Team came into 2023 off the back of a lackluster effort in the Winter World Cup of 2022. The USMNT made the Knockout Rounds but fell short in the Round of 16, losing to the Netherlands. The team’s coach Gregg Berhalter was also placed on a leave of absence until his contract ran out at the end of 2022 due to allegations of assault from his past.

The team came into 2023 leaderless and had two major competitions to play in (Concacaf Nations League, and Concacaf Gold Cup). The team ended the year with a new Sporting Director, but the same head coach. It was not a good year, it was not a bad year; it was the first year of preparation for the 2026 World Cup that will be played on home soil!

United States players celebrate after defeating Canada in a CONCACAF Nations League final match Sunday, June 18, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

USMNT’s 2023 wasn’t bad or good, it was the beginning of preparations for the next World Cup

2023 was the first year of preparations for the 2026 World Cup. Since the World Cup will be in the USA, Mexico, and Canada, the USMNT does not need to qualify. Because of this, meaningful matches are a must. In 2023 those matches came in the form of the Concacaf Nations League, and the Concacaf Gold Cup.

The start of the year saw the USA qualify for the semifinals of the Nations League by beating Grenada 7-1, and El Salvador 1-0. The big test came in the semifinal round where they had to take on Mexico. As has been the case since 2019, USMNT dominated. They won the semifinal 3-0 and moved on to face the reigning top Concacaf team Canada. The USA played just as well in the final as they did in the semis scoring twice in the first half to take home their second consecutive Concacaf Nations League title.

The coach for that Nations League run, and for the following summer’s Gold Cup was Berhalter’s assistant BJ Callaghan. Callaghan used some similar tactics to Berhalter, but the players seemed to have more freedom to try things, especially in attacking instances. For the Nation’s League, the USMNT had their first-choice players; essentially the A-Team. When it came to the summer’s Gold Cup, Callaghan had more of a B-Team.

The USMNT won the last iteration of the Gold Cup in 2021 with what many were calling their B/C-Team. They went that same route in 2023. The team did just fine in the group stage, drawing Jamaica and beating St. Kitts and Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago both by the score of 6-0. The knockout rounds were a different story. The USA ran into a top Canada squad and needed a PK win to move on to the semis. There they met the team of the tournament, Panama. Panama held the US well and won a PK shootout 5-4.

The USMNT won one of two trophies up for grabs in 2023. Both under the tutelage of an assistant coach. To end the year, the USMNT hired a new sporting director, Matt Crocker. His first job was to hire a head coach. He interviewed a few candidates, and he and US Soccer concluded that the best man for the job was a familiar one.

Team USA hoists their goalkeeper Matt Turner (1) in extra time in a penalty shootout during a CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-final soccer match against the Canada, Sunday, July 9, 2023, in Cincinnati. The United States advances. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The return of GGG

Gregg Berhalter returned to coach the USMNT for friendlies in September. The team beat Uzbekistan 3-0 and Oman 4-0. It was a nice return, but the quality of the opponent wasn’t great. A month later the USA played some “bigger” friendlies against Germany and Ghana.

The USMNT took an early lead over Germany but then fell apart by letting in three goals. It was a rough loss, but three days later they took on Ghana and routed them 4-0. Gio Reyna scored twice, and Folarin Balogun and Christian Pulisic added to the tally. To end the year, the USA had two major matches in the next round of the Concacaf Nations League.

A two-game playoff against Trinidad and Tobago would determine if the USMNT would make it into the 2024 Nations League Semifinals and also would determine a spot for a Concacaf nation to be included in the expanded 2024 Copa America. The USMNT won game one 3-0, but lost game two 2-1. However, the aggregate score was in their favor, and meant the USA qualified for next year’s Nations League Semis and the Copa America!

Team USA celebrates the victory during the FIFA World Cup match USA v Iran on November 29, 2022 in Al Thumama, Qatar. (Photo by JB Autissier/Panoramic/Icon Sportswire) ****NO AGENTS—NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA SALES ONLY****

The Future of the USMNT

As the USMNT gets ready for 2024, they do so with more high-quality tournaments to play in. Another Nations League semifinal starts the year off, and then the summer’s Copa America will be a big test for the USA against some of the best teams from South America.

The squad itself has young and hungry players. Folarin Balogun was the big “acquisition” this past year as he made a one-time switch to the USMNT. He joins players like Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Westen McKennie, Tyler Adams, and many, many more, who are looking to help this side achieve greatness.

With the calendar turning to 2024, there will only be two years left to get ready for the World Cup. If the USA can play well this coming year in bigger tournaments, the side will become more battle-tested. Here’s to a great 2024!

Folarin Balogun of the United States celebrates after scoring against Canada during the first half of a CONCACAF Nations League final match Sunday, June 18, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

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Mandatory Credit: AP Photo/John Locher, AP Photo/Michael Conroy, & JB Autissier/Panoramic/Icon Sportswire