The USMNT could view holding England to a goalless stalemate and making it out of the group in Qatar a relative success but with a roster full of young, developing talent, that’s no longer good enough.
Before the World Cup kicked off, Sportsmail looked at American soccer fans’ true evaluation of their expectations.
‘The United States should go into this tournament looking to get the team great experience on a much bigger stage than what CONCACAF provides,’ the piece read. ‘It’s the youngest team at the tournament, and playing them now in a high-pressure situation like this should pay off in the future.
‘In doing that, the USMNT will build momentum and team bonding towards a more likely scenario: domination at home in the 2026 World Cup.’
With uncertainty in the group going into the tournament, it was hard to predict what would happen for the United States as they faced Wales, England, and Iran.
What we saw was a team that dominated in the midfield, stayed relatively solid in defense, and despite a lack of quality attacking chances, managed to stay threatening.
It led to advancement into the knockout stages – their third straight appearance in the Round of 16 in World Cups they’ve qualified for since 2006.
But against Holland, that defensive wall fell apart, the attacking chances lacked quality, and the midfield seemed to be lagging behind.
It was by far their worst performance of the tournament – with all three goals being contributed to poor marking from Tyler Adams, Sergino Dest, and Antonee ‘Jedi’ Robinson.
For an American team that seemed to thrive on its defensive superiority across three matches, to have them lose because they were unraveled by Holland was a poor way to go out.
It highlighted that the United States had no reliable options in the middle of their attack – at least, there weren’t any capable of putting decent shots on net through Nathan Ake, Virgil van Dijk, and Jurrien Timber.
Even so, the USMNT finished that match with an xG rating of 1.49 – their highest of the whole tournament. They also had their highest number of shots (17) and shots on target (eight) of their time in Qatar.
So now that this is over, it’s time to consider the good and the bad the USMNT showed us in Qatar and how they can improve in the future – through the defense, midfield, attack, and coaching.
Starting at the backline, in the three games played in the group stage, Gregg Berhalter’s team never conceded a single goal from open play. That deserves a considerable amount of credit – considering they played against the likes of Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, and Mehdi Taremi.
Goalkeeper Matt Turner deserves a lot of credit for his performance. He managed five saves across all three games he played in – tied for the most of all the keepers in Group B with Wales’ Wayne Hennessey.
Looking ahead at 2026, the two starting center backs will likely be out of contention for the jobs. Walker Zimmerman will be 33 and Tim Ream will be 39. In their place, expect two players who missed this tournament due to injury to step in: Chris Richards of Crystal Palace and Miles Robinson of Atlanta United.
In midfield, the opportunities provided to the three starters will help them develop further with both the national team and their respective club teams.
Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie were both instrumental in their box-to-box roles for building up the attack, creating chances, and aiding in defensive recovery.
That final point was the main role of the engine of the midfield: Tyler Adams, who consistently turned in stellar performances. He shut down opposing attacks by running like a wolf with a rocket strapped to its back before promptly becoming the initial facilitator of the US’s own scoring opportunities.
Come 2026, the three of them should all still be in starting roles – and they all should still be as dominant and dynamic as they were in Qatar.
The final two parts of the team are parts that arguably need the most improvement from this tournament.
In attack, the United States had severe struggles – especially from their three choices for No. 9’s. In 360 combined minutes of play, Josh Sargent, Haji Wright, and Jesus Ferreira managed only ten total shots. Only two of those were on target. One of those two was Wright’s goal in the loss to Holland.
That’s a problem. It’s one thing if you can prevent others from scoring on you, but you don’t advance if you can’t score. Those three players are tasked with being the ones most likely to put balls in the net – especially Wright and Sargent, who got most of the playing time.
It makes the choice to leave Ricardo Pepi and Jordan Pefok at home more confusing. Both players are good through the air, which the USMNT could have used at times. Sargent and Wright are both better utilized as No. 10’s, so the continued reliance on crossing may not have been the best way to try and generate goals.
Elsewhere on offense, Christian Pulisic finally broke his duck with the sole goal that sent the USMNT to the knockout stages. He’ll be important as well come 2026.
On the opposite wing, Timothy Weah started all four matches and did pretty well for himself. He scored early against Wales, but couldn’t find the back of the net again this tournament. That being said, his importance in generating offense will carry over if he can be paired with a competent striker in the air.
But the biggest offensive impact – or lack thereof – came from Giovanni Reyna. Against Wales, Berhalter sat the team back for the second half and an addition of the Dortmund winger probably wouldn’t have changed that plan. That aside, there were many opportunities and situations Reyna could have improved the game. Yet, he was constantly left out of the lineup – despite insistence that he was fully healthy.
And that leaves us with the coach of the United States men’s national team: Gregg Berhalter. We’ve spoken before about our feelings towards him, but this World Cup brought up issues fans of the USMNT had brought up multiple times before.
The good news was that the United States was set up well defensively by Berhalter. In fact, for the most part tactically, the USMNT would start out games hot on offense, strong on defense, and controlling through the midfield.
But once the decisions needed to be made in-game, Berhalter’s lack of direction clearly showed. The USMNT almost never seemed to defer from the modus operandi given to them before kickoff. We weren’t the only ones to form that opinion, with Dutch manager Louis van Gaal saying, ‘Team USA didn’t adjust, they didn’t adapt. We based a tactical plan on [targeting the flanks] that probably allowed us to win.’
Beyond that lack of tactical nuance, Berhalter’s personnel decisions were often questionable – especially mid-match.
This includes the England match where Berhalter inexplicably waited to make a substitution until the 77th minute and didn’t bring on an attacking player until the 83rd in what became a 0-0 draw.
If the claims that he was fully healthy are to be believed, then the consistent denial of chances given to Reyna – arguably the most creative player on this USMNT squad – is impeachable.
At the end of the day, Berhalter did a passable job with the United States. But the question needs to be asked if the USA performed this well because of him or in spite of him.
Going into the next cycle, it might be wise for US Soccer to hand the reins over to someone new. Not because Berhalter is a bad coach, but because the lack of scoring at this World Cup demands fresh eyes and new solutions.
There are plenty of qualified candidates that have ties to the United States. If one wishes to look abroad, then Iran manager Carlos Quieroz has knowledge of what needs to be done and has been constantly linked with this job since the mid-1990s.
If an American is desired, then names like former VfB Stuttgart boss Pellegrino Matarazzo, Philadelphia Union manager Jim Curtin, and even Leeds United coach Jesse Marsch deserve consideration.
There were good and bad points to takeaway from this World Cup trip. It provided great experience for a team that was the second youngest in the tournament.
But this shouldn’t be the time to rest on laurels or pat the team on the back – at least not that long.
Instead, this tournament should serve as a strong, steady hand to continue pushing the team forward toward better things.
Since breaking their long drought from 1954-1986 of missing World Cups, the United States has qualified for eight of nine possible tournaments beginning in 1990. Of those eight tournament appearances, five of them saw the USMNT advance to the knockouts. However, only once did the USA go beyond the Round of 16.
If the United States will one day win a World Cup, like Berhalter thinks, it cannot continue to be a country that is happy with advancing out of the group stage. It must become a nation and a team that views such advancement as mandatory.
There must be a change of mentality for this team – especially with as good an opportunity to win a World Cup as any staring them in the face in 2026. If they can manage that, then maybe they’ll stand a chance.
The team proved they have the quality to compete among the world’s best. Maybe in four years, with more development and playing time under their belt, they can not only compete with them – but be better than them.