Despite World Cup exit, U.S. knows it’s heading in right direction

On Sunday, the American began checking out at the Kempinski Hotel, the five-star beach resort that was his home during the World Cup. The reservation was good for another two weeks, but after the 3-1 defeat by the Netherlands in the round of 16 on Saturday, the team was eliminated early.

However, the players took home more than just memories and a few souvenirs. They left believing they could play with the best teams in the world. The USA are no longer just happy to be invited to the big FIFA party, they now expect to walk away with some of the prizes.

“I think this team is inherently different than previous generations,” said Alexi Lalas, a two-time World Cup player and now a Fox analyst. “I think this side was raised from a young age to believe they deserve to be at elite level and they deserve to play at the best clubs in the world. that they deserve to compete at the highest level at the World Championships and that they deserve to win in a way we haven’t done in the past.

“That evolution has happened – not just the physical evolution, but the mental evolution of believing that as a football-playing nation, we deserve to be there. Now no one apologizes for anything. This inferiority complex is broken down. And any insecurities we may have harbored in the past are long gone.”

That’s progress, Lalas said, and that’s good because the US will host the next big FIFA party in 2026 alongside Canada and Mexico. The last time USA hosted a World Cup, they finished third in their four-team group. His only win comes via an own goal.

Four years from now, when the tournament returns, this team believes they can win. and this team is this team because the core of the squad in Qatar, the second youngest in the tournament, will be the foundation of the side in 2026. That was the whole point of bringing such a young team here in the first place.

“The core group of players, that’s 100% building their basis for whether or not they’re going to do anything of really serious magnitude,” said ESPN’s Taylor Twellman, who played for the national team for seven years.

“The rest of the world, when they have generations like this, they see positive, tangible results, that they’re moving the meter, that they’re moving in the right direction. That’s what the rest of the world does where they have six to nine players in this generation. They’re not 28, 29, 30 when we usually get these players. This is a young group.”

The USA used eight players under the age of 25 in the loss to the Netherlands. Two of them were teenagers three weeks ago. Captain Tyler Adams is 23 years old, making him the youngest captain in the World Cup. Nobody who scored or provided an assist for USA in the tournament was older than 24.

(US Soccer’s main goal by 2026 should be to find someone of any age who is more consistent in scoring or assisting; USA averaged 11 shots per game in Qatar and scored 13 goals, but only three of them were on target. )

Whether Gregg Berhalter will be there to continue leading the team to the promised land will be decided soon. Berhalter has done a tremendous job of building the foundation set up by Dave Sarachan, auditioning 88 players in 60 games, winning the Gold Cup and Nations League tournaments and helping put together an under-20 team competing for the Paris 2024 Olympics qualified.

Tyler Adams from the USA and Steven Bergwijn from the Netherlands fight for the ball.

USA’s Tyler Adams is challenged by Dutchman Steven Bergwijn in the round of 16 of the World Cup in Doha, Qatar on Saturday.

(Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press)

He was an excellent recruiter and convinced dual citizens like Ricardo Pepi, Yunus Musah and Sergiño Dest, Gio Reyna, Jesús Ferreira, Haji Wright and Jordan Pefok that their future lies with the US national team. The 26-man squad in Qatar included 11 dual nationals.

But Berhalter was overtaken at this World Cup and his contract expires this month. With the opening of the first training camp of the 2026 World Cup cycle at Dignity Health Sports Park in about six weeks, US Soccer must decide whether to stay the course and bring in a new voice.

“For the last month and a half I’ve just been focused on the World Cup and focused on doing something with this group,” said Berhalter when asked about his future Saturday. “Over the next few weeks I’m going to clear my head, sit down and think about what’s next.”

Fulham defender Antonee Robinson, one of 17 players in the US squad playing in Europe, is among those who would like to see Berhalter return.

FILE - The branding will be on display near the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center in Doha, Qatar on March 31, 2022

⚽ World Cup 2022 in Qatar

“He gave a lot of boys the chance to develop with this group. And we showed what kind of football we can play,” said Robinson, who made his international debut under Sarachan but became a regular under Berhalter. “I definitely enjoyed playing every single minute. It would be nice for him to continue this journey.”

Whether or not Berhalter continues the journey, he has helped put the US on this path. The first part of the trip ended in the Round of 16, where the Americans’ World Cup trips in 2014 and 2010 ended. So that hasn’t changed.

But everything has changed in terms of attitude, expectation and perception.

“Over the past few years, we haven’t had enough respect for US football and the way we play,” said Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie. “That’s something we did and I think we achieved part of that at this World Cup. We can only learn from the experience and simply prepare for the next four years.

“Americans are known as people who never give up and as a land of opportunity. It was a big opportunity for a lot of us in this tournament and I think we did really well.” Despite World Cup exit, U.S. knows it’s heading in right direction

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