What Could the Next Steps Be for the United States Men’s National Team Ahead of the 2026 World Cup?

World Cup

The United States Men’s National Team was one of the youngest teams at the 2022 World Cup. While most of the team was inexperienced, with much of the starting lineup at most of the tournament having never played in a World Cup game prior to this year, the United States reached the Round of 16 at the tournament.

However, the United States was eliminated by the Netherlands in the Round of 16. Expectations will be higher for the U.S. in the 2026 World Cup, which will partially be played in the United States. Over the next few months, the United States Soccer Federation will begin planning and preparing for the next World Cup.

Establishing Who Will be the Head Coach

Gregg Berhalter has accomplished his and the United States Soccer Federation’s goals during his tenure as manager of the national team. Berhalter returned the team to the World Cup and advanced from the group stage, the two major goals for the United States over the past few years.

As a result, the U.S. Soccer Federation is reportedly interested in extending Berhalter’s contract, which would mean he would likely coach the team at the 2026 World Cup. However, Berhalter, according to reports, would like to explore his options to coach at the club level, particularly in Europe, before agreeing to an extension.

It isn’t uncommon for coaches at the international level to coach only one World Cup before returning to coach at the club level. There are clubs in European leagues that would likely be interested if Berhalter does choose to leave the U.S. Men’s National Team.

If Berhalter decides not to extend his contract, the United States will have to conduct one of the most important coaching searches in the federation’s history. The 2026 World Cup could have an immense impact on the sport within the country, and much of that will depend on how the United States performs at the tournament.

Several coaches have been discussed as potential head coaches for the United States during the past few days and weeks. Jesse Marsch, the current coach of Leeds United, is one potential future coach of the national team who already has experience in multiple European leagues.

Other notable head coaches, such as Thomas Tuchel, Zinedine Zidane, Marcelo Bielsa, and several others, are currently all available, although how interested they would be in coaching the United States is unknown. The team has an exciting future, but in the past, coaches have preferred positions coaching more established international teams or clubs within Europe.

However, if the United States is hiring a new coach, it could be one of the most exciting and interesting opportunities available to potential head coaches. Becoming the U.S. coach for the 2026 World Cup would provide coaches an opportunity to become a part of history; coaching the United States as one of the host nations at a World Cup with one of the best groups of players in the history of the country.

On the other hand, being the United States head coach over the next few years is not without challenges. With excitement growing already for the summer of 2026, there will be more attention surrounding the U.S. Men’s National Team than at any other point in its history. By 2026, the United States’ best players will be more experienced and in the best part of their careers, and the U.S. Soccer Federation will expect the team to improve and potentially reach the quarterfinals.

In addition, investment in youth soccer and development by both the U.S. Soccer Federation and club teams within the country is continuing to increase. The next coach of the national team will have to continue to make important decisions to help the United States to continue to make progress in this area, and establish a clear style of play within the youth programs that lead directly to the national team.

Helping another excellent group of young players that are currently playing for the United States, youth teams become a part of the U.S. Men’s National Team during the next four years will be one of the most important duties of the next national team coach especially as the U.S. Soccer Federation attempts to build a sustainable soccer culture within the United States.

Berhalter’s contract expires in the near future, and if he chooses not to extend his contract with the national team, U.S. soccer will have to make their most important decision ahead of the next World Cup over the course of the next few months. Whatever decision that is will affect the next three and a half years of United States men’s soccer in a dramatic way, and could significantly change the trajectory of the sport within the country, positively or negatively.

Preparing for the World Cup

Establishing who will coach the U.S. Men’s National Team in 2026 will be important as decisions are made for how the United States will prepare for the tournament. As a host nation, the U.S. will not have to qualify for the tournament, and as a result, will have extra opportunities to play friendlies as they will have no qualifying games on their schedule in the months and years preceding the World Cup.

The 2023 and 2025 Gold Cup, as the two editions of CONCACAF’s major international tournament scheduled to be played before the next World Cup, will be a key part of the United States preparation for the tournament both on and off the field.

However, the United States will need to gain important tournament experience beyond playing in those two Gold Cups. Playing in the 2024 Copa America would provide another opportunity for the U.S. to gain vital tournament experience, and ensure that the United States Men’s National Team played in a major international tournament every year before the 2026 World Cup.

Rumors have surrounded the United States joining the 2024 Copa America as a guest team for the last few weeks and months, and there have reportedly been discussions between some CONCACAF members regarding playing in the CONMEBOL tournament. Adding the experience of playing in a tournament such as the Copa America could be vitally important for the U.S., especially since they will have no competitive qualifying matches before the 2026 World Cup.

The 2024 Olympics will be another important part of the United States’ preparation process for the World Cup. Performing well at the Olympics would provide vital experience for a group of young players that could play an important role for the United States Men’s National Team in 2026.

Scheduling friendlies against some of the best teams around the world will also be important ahead of the next World Cup. Playing some of these games in the U.S., at World Cup host venues, will become increasingly important over the next few years. Consistent games in these stadiums in front of large crowds will help the team prepare for the pressure they will face as one of the host nations in 2026.

Soccer within the United States has reached one of the most important points in its history. There are currently unprecedented levels of interest, opportunity, and investment within the sport. The MLS and European leagues have signed record-breaking broadcast rights deals within the country, World Cup viewership records are being continuously broken, and multiple MLS teams are investing in youth development and new stadiums.

The next few years provide an important opportunity for soccer to continue to establish itself within the United States. The U.S. Men’s National Team could have one of its most successful World Cups ever in 2026 if the team and the United States Soccer Federation properly prepare for the tournament.

 


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