Within the ambitious group, however, there was a sense that they had only scratched the surface.
Thirteen players who helped form the core are 25 or younger and most are employed by clubs in major European leagues. Others in that age range, from that roster and from the wider player pool, were waiting in the wings.
USMNT’s hopeful run for World Cup fails with loss to Netherlands
It’s not just a promising group, but a tight group, which has turned chemistry into consistent performances for much of their time. Even after the disappointment of being knocked out, the players stuck together late into the night to talk about what’s possible in 2026 when the World Cup takes place in the United States, Mexico and Canada.
“Can we win against the best teams? Can we perform well enough against the best teams to win? I think this group is close,” coach Gregg Berhalter said. “The American public should be optimistic.”
Team USA showed they belong here, taking on England, pushing the Netherlands and being part of five of 32 countries to remain unbeaten in the group stage. The decisive moment against the titans of the game, however, remains elusive.
In 32 years and eight appearances, the American record is 2-13-7 against teams from Europe and South America, the dominant continents of football. In Qatar, the Americans drew against Wales and England and fell to the Netherlands.
Small steps for a team of teenagers.
Brewer: Don’t see the loss of the USMNT as the end. It is a down payment on the future.
“They can look forward to a bright future,” said Dutchman Denzel Dumfries, who dominated the right flank and added a goal and two assists. “They can definitely become an elite team.”
The first thing to do is to know who will lead the way. Berhalter’s contract is expiring soon and the US Soccer Federation must decide if he is the man to take the program to the next level.
This assumes that Berhalter wants to stay at work; he could decide to return to the day-to-day demands of club training.
“For the last month, a month and a half, I’ve just been focused on the World Cup and getting things done with this group,” Berhalter said on Saturday, when asked what his future holds. “The next few weeks I’m going to clear my head, I’m going to sit down and think about what’s next.”
Berhalter earned credit for fostering a family atmosphere, integrating young players, and implementing a style that, when effective, brought fun and joy.
Under his watch, the United States returned to the World Cup after a compact qualifying schedule and, in the summer of 2021, beat rival Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup finals.
Berhalter has also been criticized for his tactical decisions and roster and line-up choices – much like the scrutiny directed at nearly every coach at this level.
The United States have the youngest captain of this World Cup. When he speaks, his team listens.
In the World Cup, the United States were solid defensively until Saturday and created plenty of scoring opportunities, but lacked sophistication and finishing touches. Single goals against Wales and Iran were well crafted, and persistence led to a late score against the Netherlands, but many opportunities were missed, namely Christian’s golden moment Pulisic at the start of Saturday’s game.
In eight of their last nine games overall, the Americans have scored multiple goals against Grenada alone.
The best players in the American attack stay on the flanks and in midfield, not in the forward position. Josh Sargent, Haji Wright and Jesús Ferreira all received World Cup starts, with Wright scoring as a substitute on Saturday. A deadly goalscorer in this position is not mandatory, but with one there is a level of threat and an ability to draw in defenders, which opens up space for others.
As Berhalter – or whoever coaches the team – continues to shape the player base, the USSF will outline plans to prepare the team for the 2026 tournament.
The first camp of the next cycle will take place next month in the Los Angeles area for friendlies against Serbia and Colombia. Because the dates do not fall within a FIFA international window, most European-based players are unavailable. The first full availability will be in March for the Nations League matches against El Salvador and Grenada.
Since the United States, Mexico and Canada are set to receive automatic spots in the expanded 48-team World Cup in 2026, they will not participate in qualifying. Without these matches, tournaments such as the annual Nations League and the 2023 and 2025 Gold Cups will take center stage.
The pain and promise of exiting the USMNT World Cup
Several U.S. World Cup players are eligible for the 2024 Olympics in France, which for the most part is an under-23 tournament. The American men last qualified for the Summer Games in 2008.
There have also been talks to hold the 2024 Copa America, the prestigious South American championship, in the United States, an event which would presumably host the three World Cup hosts.
All of the activities over the next 3½ years will prepare American players for a World Cup that will provide another chance to develop both the program and the sport.
“It was a great opportunity for a lot of us,” midfielder Weston McKennie said of the Qatari odyssey. “We did very well. We went out [with Saturday’s defeat]and it sucks, but at the same time many of us will use this as a chip on our shoulder over the next four years to try to prove what we can do.
World Cup in Qatar
The last: The knockout stage continued at the World Cup on Saturday with Argentina beating Australia, 2-1, in the round of 16. Argentina, with world star Lionel Messi in what is likely his last World Cup, are among the favorites to win the tournament and managed to finish top of Group C and advance to the quarter-finals despite defeat shock against Saudi Arabia in their first game.
USMNT: The US men’s national team lost to the Netherlands 3-1 on Saturday in the opening round of the round of 16. The Netherlands, winners of Group A, had finished the group stage unbeaten, conceding only one goal. His winning streak continues, while the American race is over.
Knockout Round Schedule: A World Cup group stage filled with shocking upsets and dramatic reversals will now give way to a knockout round that promises more surprises.
Today’s worldview: The Post’s foreign desk columnist Ishaan Tharoor recounts his week at the World Cup in Qatar.