USMNT mailbag: Your questions answered after Copa America exit (2024)

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Following the United States’ men’s national team’s Copa América exit at the group stage, we asked you, our readers, what you would like to know.

Your questions came thick and fast, although many had a common theme. Is Gregg Berhalter the man to lead the USMNT at the 2026 World Cup in the U.S., Mexico and Canada?

Here’s Paul Tenorio with the answer to that and a selection of the other things you’re thinking about…

Is it realistic to think Berhalter will be fired? Or should we accept that U.S. Soccer has already decided to keep him through the 2026 World Cup? — Andrew T.

It is absolutely realistic to think Berhalter could be fired. The idea that they’ve made up their mind to keep Berhalter through 2026 is misplaced, I think. U.S. Soccer was not happy with the results in the Copa América. Matt Crocker’s statement said as much. It is absolutely a possibility, and maybe a likely one, that U.S. Soccer moves on from Berhalter.

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What can the players do between now and the World Cup to improve their game? Is there a better club situation some of the them need to explore? — Michael N.

The idea that there won’t be growth in this player pool between now and 2026 is frightening. Of course there will be! Two years is a long time in professional soccer and every player is going to see their career change between now and the World Cup, some in good ways and others in bad. The hope, I think, is that more American players push their way into more important roles in their respective clubs.

Right now, there are only a few players asked to be important performers week to week at club level: Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Christian Pulisic (AC Milan) and Folarin Balogun (Monaco) spring to mind. The U.S. needs players like Tyler Adams (now he has recovered from injury), Gio Reyna, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, Tim Weah, Chris Richards and Matt Turner to become featured players in their respective clubs. That’s where growth will come for many players in the U.S. pool.

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Robinson plays regularly for Fulham in the Premier League (Jacques Feeney/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the hope is that depth continues to emerge, whether it’s players like Josh Sargent and Kevin Paredes, or younger players who break through in their respective clubs. I think it’s reasonable to expect players like Adams, Reyna, Musah and Richards to develop into bigger roles, but the U.S. needs it to happen to push the team forward.

With no qualifying and most of the world tied up in their own qualifying/Nations Leagues during the international windows, is it unrealistic to expect the USMNT’s next “big opponent” might not be until the 2026 World Cup? — Jt F.

The creation of the Nations League — for both CONCACAF and European governing body UEFA — and their impact on international scheduling is probably a story I need to write. It’s had a massive impact in shrinking both the number of windows available for friendlies and the teams who are available in those windows. Add in World Cup qualifying and you will see a very complicated picture for the U.S. to find quality games between now and the World Cup. Think about U.S. Soccer’s desire to host games to drive revenue (and, for that matter, teams wanting to come to the U.S. to play ahead of a World Cup co-hosted here) and it creates even more of a dilemma in terms of scheduling friendlies away from home.

I think the U.S. would benefit from hitting the road and playing good teams in tough environments, although I won’t totally discount the ‘away’ environments in friendlies like the recent Colombia and Brazil games as also presenting challenges.

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Pulisic in the USMNT’s 5-1 friendly defeat by Colombia on June 8 (Stephen Nadler/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

I did a spreadsheet on this for my own research a while back. UEFA has friendly windows in March 2026 (for teams who are not involved in World Cup qualifying playoffs), but otherwise has Nations League or World Cup qualifiers in every other window. South American governing body CONMEBOL has open windows in October and November 2025 and did in June 2024, thus the Brazil and Colombia friendlies. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has open windows in November 2024 and March 2026. The Asia Football Confederation (AFC) has a window in September 2025 and March 2026. Even CONCACAF has World Cup qualifiers, despite the U.S., Canada and Mexico qualifying automatically for the World Cup as co-hosts. Oceania had some teams available in September 2024 and has open windows once we get to the summer of 2025.

It’s a complicated puzzle. Here’s who I figured could be the USMNT’s likely opponents over the next two years:

  • June 2024: A team from CONMEBOL or Oceania (which ended up being Colombia and Brazil)
  • September 2024: CONCACAF or Oceania (ended up being Canada and New Zealand)
  • October 2024: CONCACAF (Panama scheduled, one open date)
  • June 2025: CAF, Mexico or Canada, or Oceania
  • September 2025: AFC
  • October 2025: CONMEBOL, Mexico or Canada
  • November 2025: CONMEBOL, AFC, Mexico, Canada or Oceania
  • March and June 2026: Anybody

What is the public perception of the personalities of this squad? Perhaps it is just me, but I don’t find many of them to be overly likeable the way I do other international players or other athletes outside the sport — Jack F.

An interesting question! I think, for the most part, players on this team have a positive reputation. A part of what U.S. Soccer and Berhalter discussed when they stated their goal of changing soccer in America forever was about introducing the nation to “a fantastic group of guys.”

“I’m excited for America to get to know the group better, both on and off the field,” Berhalter said.

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But, like you, I’ve also heard from fans that don’t see this group as “overly likeable.” I’m not sure how to diagnose that or why they can sometimes seem to be a bit polarizing. Is it about a disconnect between the general public and the team itself? There aren’t a ton of marketing campaigns built around players not named Pulisic. Is it because the discourse around the team itself has been negative; albeit mostly around Berhalter and not the team?

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The U.S. lines up ahead of the 2-0 win over Bolivia (Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

I was in Qatar for the last World Cup, so I’m not sure how the team was discussed during the tournament, but I felt like the group was mostly liked by the big World Cup audiences. Certainly it seems U.S. Soccer sees value in trying to help this group meet that wider audience more often.

Is it better for a player to be on the bench or a rotational player in a ‘big five’ league in Europe, or to be a crucial starter on a team in a lesser league (including MLS)? — Alex F.

It’s so hard to throw a blanket over two continents without losing some nuance that this discussion deserves, but I think overall it’s more important for a player to be challenging themselves in development and usually that happens when players move overseas. But, as addressed in an earlier question, I do think it’s crucial that some of these U.S. players develop into players who are counted on by their teams to deliver in substantive ways every single week. Having bench or role players isn’t going to push the U.S. forward, nor does it typically help development. The more players the U.S. can get starting and being asked to contribute in meaningful ways, week in and week out, the better off the team would be.

Does the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) hinder the men’s team’s ability to hire Jurgen Klopp (a deserving example) for more than Emma Hayes? If not, does it seem the attitude of the USSF (is) to limit men’s coach pay via an unwritten rule for “equal pay”, and how damaging is this to the men’s team? — Asta Q.

For clarity, Emma Hayes deserves what she makes as coach of the U.S. women’s national team, but the men and women are part of different teams.

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Emma Hayes took charge of the USWNT in May (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images)

I have not been told via any official channels that equal pay between the coaches has impacted or would impact any coaching searches. Hayes’ contract made her the highest-paid women’s soccer coach in the world and it was important for U.S. Soccer to chase after who they believed was the best-available coach and to pay her as such.

Her salary was not tied to how much Berhalter made. I imagine that, if U.S. Soccer opts not to stick with Berhalter, the coaching search would not be tied to Hayes’ salary.

(Top photo: Bill Barrett/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

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Paul Tenorio is a senior writer for The Athletic who covers soccer. He has previously written for the Washington Post, the Orlando Sentinel, FourFourTwo, ESPN and MLSsoccer.com. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulTenorio

USMNT mailbag: Your questions answered after Copa America exit (2024)
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