By Jacob Sokol
The USMNT applauds the fans after their match. Photo courtesy of Clive Brunskill/Getty Images.
A crowd of 44,846 onlookers gasped as Christian Pulisic’s strike bounced off of Andries Noppert’s left shin. The Dutch Keeper’s pivotal save came only a couple of minutes into the first elimination match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, between the U.S.A. and Netherlands. Less than ten minutes later, Memphis Depay finished off an attacking sequence of such precision and fluidity, that everyone was reminded why the Netherlands are considered the best team to have never won a World Cup. After 4 goals across 90 minutes, the Dutch national team advanced, 3-1. The United States’ World Cup campaign was over.
“We have a young group, players beginning their careers and we’ll catch up to that, but we don’t have Memphis Depay right now, who plays at Barcelona and has played in the Champions League for years. Those are not excuses, that stuff is going to come.” Stated U.S. Men’s National Team Coach, Gregg Berhalter, after Saturday’s match. Berhalter doesn’t exaggerate when he says the USMNT has a young squad. With an average age of 25 years and 214 days, they were the second youngest team at the 2022 World Cup. Ghana, the youngest team, was knocked out in the group stage. With the 2026 World Cup taking place in the United States, and a generation of young talent coming up, exciting opportunities lie ahead.
Before moving forward there are many things to still consider. Will Gregg Berhalter still be at the helm in 4 years? What gaps still need filled? And what led The United States to elimination? In order to become a successful host country in 2026, these questions will need to be answered.
36th minute- Weah Goal (USA)
82nd minute- Bale Goal (Wales)
The United States came out of the gate running in this match. They dominated gameplay with 59% possession and an aggressive attacking style. The breakthrough came when #10, Christian Pulisic, placed a perfect pass for Weah to run onto. Weah easily passed it past the Welsh keeper.
The second half would prove a bigger challenge. The MMA midfield of McKennie, Musah, and Adams would run out of steam, especially McKennie. Brenden Aaronson would be the first man in to replace McKennie. Aaronson, known for his constant pressing and endurance, is a great replacement to keep the midfield engine running until the end of games. Three more substitutes would soon proceed in Wright, Yedlin, and Acosta for Sargent, Dest, and Musah. All of these changes were for the upkeep of a physical high paced game.
Eventually a poor tackle in the box by Walker Zimmerman would see Gareth Bale line up at the penalty spot. After a cool finish by Bale, the United States found themselves on the defense. A final sub, Morris for Weah, would see the game out to a 1-1 draw.
The United States can play a highly competitive, fast paced match, but never slowing the ball down will likely cause the team to run out of steam.
The United States’ subs can keep up the pace but not the same skill level. The team’s depth will likely increase with many young prospects coming up, but for now, managing the pace of the game could prove a better option.
A single mistake can cost the game.
A substitute like Gio Reyna could have potentially been the type of player to slow down and help control a game.
Christian Pulisic drives the ball forward against England. Photo courtesy of Luca Burno/AP.
Both teams produced dynamic moments that almost ended in goals. The most notable for The United States was when Pulisic had a strike from distance that banged off the crossbar. On the opposite end of the pitch, Harry Kane was denied from inside the box.
Either team looked dominant depending on what ten minutes of the match you were watching. At times McKennie and Musah seemed to make smooth play impossible for Rice and Bellingham. At other times they were chasing the technical passing play of the English.
Gio Reyna did find playing time late in this match. Even though his presence didn’t lead to any serious chances, it was clear his style of play could slow down a frantically charged game.
Overall, with most expectations leaning towards an England win, a 0-0 draw is a result for the young U.S. team to be proud of.
The USMNT is capable of competing with the best in the world, depending on the day.
A #9 presence is lacking. Chances were created, but ultimately the game ended scoreless.
A player like Gio Reyna can help slow a match
38th Minute- Pulisic Goal (USA)
Possession was shared between both sides, but the lion’s share of opportunities went to the United States. With 12 shots, 5 on goal, it always appeared like a breakthrough would happen, just when? Christian Pulisic put his body on the line to answer that question, receiving a pelvic contusion after finishing off Sergiño Dest’s headed layoff. Pulisic would be subbed off for the second half in favor of a healthy Aaronson.
The second half held the same story as the first two group stage matches. After playing an aggressive and dynamic match, players began to tire. In the dying embers of the match, a goal nearly slipped through for Iran. The late substitute, Zimmerman, redeeming himself for his mistake against Wales, heroically cleared the ball. the United States were safe and headed to the knockout rounds.
Cameron Carter-Vickers is a highly capable starting center back. At 24 years, old this is great news, because Tim Ream will be too old by the time 2026 comes around.
Pulisic has been, and continues to be, the playmaker for the United States Men’s National Team.
Zimmerman can make mistakes but can also make big plays. He remains one of the best options at center back for the United States.
10th minute- Depay Goal (Netherlands)
45th+1 minute- Blind Goal (Netherlands)
76th minute- Wright Goal (USA)
81st minute- Dumfries Goal (Netherlands)
The biggest chance of the match for the United States came a couple minutes in. Pulisic was denied by Noppert’s shin, only inches from scoring. For several minutes following it appeared as if the U.S.A. were the dominant side. One swift attack with a cool finish from Depay would silence those hopes in the 10th minute. Beyond that, the first half appeared equal for the most part. Both sides created chances. The United States just couldn’t finish theirs. With the match looking like it would go to halftime 1-0, a similar attacking sequence to Depay’s goal ended with Daley Blind finding the back of the net. Headed to halftime two goals down would prove demoralizing.
Berhalter showed his faith in Reyna, subbing out Ferreira at halftime. Ferreira had barely been a factor in the first half. Reyna added a confident element to the attack, but one half wouldn’t prove enough time to fully integrate into the team.
In the 76th minute, Pulisic would drive into the box, playing a pass to Wright. An incredibly fortunate deflection off of Wrights’ heel caused the ball to spin between two defenders, finding side netting. For five minutes the United States had hope. A high lobbed ball to Denzel Dumfries would end that hope as the Inter Milan player volleyed it past Turner with ease.
Missed opportunities can be lethal at this level.
High quality opponents will finish good chances. Strikers can’t be left unmarked.
Aaronson and Reyna are bright spots for the future. Reyna’s style of play is the type capable of breaking down a highly disciplined defense.
The United States defense has trouble defending swift counter attacks.
Ricardo Pepi celebrates his goal for FC Groningen. Photo courtesy of FC Groningen.
The Missing #9
Scoring twice and being scored on only once across three group matches is a good representation of the young U.S. team. While their defensive presence is sound, they lack a goal scoring threat. Against the Netherlands, chances were created but only scored by a stroke of luck. The finishing touch is greatly missed.
9 of the 11 starters for The United States started every game. Turner, Dest, Robinson, Ream, McKennie, Adams, Musah, Pulisic, and Weah were those players. Zimmerman, who started 3 out of 4 matches, holds responsibility for a penalty kick given to Wales. It is likely he wasn’t in the starting lineup against Iran for this reason.
The last starting spot up for grabs was, and is, arguably the most important. The central striker in any 4-3-3 line up is expected to deliver. Ferreira, Wright, and Sargent all saw starts in that position, trying their best to be the goalscorer. Even with Ferreira having the number stamped on his back, it was clear by the end of The Netherlands match, that we have no true #9.
One player, Ricardo Pepi, could potentially fill this void. With 6 goals in 9 games for Eredivisie club FC Groningen, many were surprised to see the young striker left out of Berhalter’s squad. At 19 years old, Pepi also managed 3 goals in 10 World Cup Qualifying matches for the United States. While there were reasons to leave him out of the 2022 squad, he will likely be an undeniable option by 2026.
A few other options that could break out over the next few years are Brandon Vazquez, Jordan Pefok, and Jesus Ferreira.
Ferreira was obviously already in the squad, and had little impact, but the young forward is currently only 21 years old. He just had his first breakout year with FC Dallas, scoring 18 times in 35 matches. Going overseas would be the best option for his development, but that is currently unlikely as Ferreira is FC Dallas’ first homegrown designated player.
Vazquez, unlike Ferreira, is highly likely to be heading overseas in January. Vazquez’s season was similar to Ferreira’s, scoring 19 times in 35 matches for FC Cincinnati. Depending on where he lands overseas and how he develops, we could be seeing him spearheading the USMNT attack in 2026.
Jordan Pefok, like Pepi, was a player many were hopeful to see in Qatar. The Union Berlin striker offers a large physical presence that would work well in Berhalter’s squad. He also had incredible seasons in the past with Swiss Super League side, Young Boys. During the 2021-22 season Pefok found the net 22 times in just 32 matches. Depending on his form going into 2026, we could see him in the squad. By that time he will be a seasoned striker at age 30.
There are also many players aged 15-20 right now who are relatively unknown, but capable of breaking out. Most of us might not even know the name of the player who will score the United State’s goals as they host in 2026. Between now and then, the country will keep searching for their elusive #9.
Gregg Berhalter speaks with Yunus Musah after the Iran match. Photo courtesy of Glyn Kirk/Getty Images
The Berhalter Situation
In December of 2018, Gregg Berhalter became the United States Men’s National Team head coach, after the team failed to qualify for the World Cup. Since taking over, his record is 37-12-11. His most notable achievement as head coach was the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup win, beating Mexico 1-0 in the final.
When looking at the United States’ roster, it is clear there is potential for big wins and a run at a World Cup. With Berhalter’s contract up in January, will he be the man to continue to lead the United States?
“In the next couple of weeks, I’ll sit down and clear my head and think about what’s next.” Berhalter has stated. Beyond the possibility of being fired as coach, he may not even want to return. With a 61.6% winning record across his 60 games, a CONCACAF title, qualifying for the World Cup, and escaping the group stage in his résumé, it’s hard to believe he would get sacked. He may make a lineup decision that is disagreed with, or have a demeanor that fans don’t find passionate enough, but at the end of the day Berhalter has produced. We will know soon enough if his national team career will continue.
Looking forward to 2026, the core of the United States team will be returning. A young average age at this World Cup, means seasoned veterans at the next. The core of the midfield in Adams, Musah, and McKennie can be expected to stay around for years to come. Pulisic and Weah will be the U.S. wingers in 2026 unless a new phenom replaces them. Both outside backs, Dest and Robsinon, will still be in their 20’s in 2026. With both only improving, they will also be expected to stay in the lineup for some time. Gio Reyna and Brenden Aaronson are also both young talents. They both will still be considered young come 2026. We could see both of them in 2030 even depending on their career trajectory. This team is only going to grow and continue to excite. If a few key roles can be filled, then their limits are beyond any U.S. team before them.
With a growing skill level has also come a growing fan base. Soccer is at an all time high in popularity in America. Nearly 20 million viewers tuned in to watch England face the United States on Black Friday. The fan base has also been propelled by Major League Soccer growing in popularity. 9 out of the 26 man roster sent to Qatar featured MLS players, including Zimmerman. With the ability to see World Cup stars at home, it is easy to see why more fans come out each season. A growing fanbase means more players and more potential talent. Expect to see more of a growing relationship between MLS and the USMNT heading into the 2026 host year.
Even with Saturday’s defeat and subsequent elimination from the World Cup, there is a lot to be hopeful about U.S. Soccer. Growing players, a growing fanbase, and being the 2026 World Cup hosts should be enough to make any fan of the USMNT smile.
Sources used in this article are listed below.