Eight years on: Who starts for the USMNT at 2026 World Cup?

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Imagine the year is 2026. The U.S. Men’s National Team is in the World Cup final. This is all hypothetical of course. But, who starts?

[ MORE: How 2026 World Cup was won by the United Bid ]

Wednesday’s vote to hand the United bid (Canada, Mexico and the United States) the World Cup has those in North America jubilant.

It may not take the sting out of the USMNT’s failure to reach Russia this summer, but it does give those that support the Stars and Stripes hope for the future.

Pro Soccer Talk takes a quick look at who could potentially start for the U.S. in 2026, with a number of bright, young stars aligning for the Yanks.


SQUAD BREAKDOWN

Zack Steffen has quickly become one of the top goalkeepers in Major League Soccer at the age of 23, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t have moved on to a top-tier European side by 2026. He could face some competition from other youngsters like Ethan Horvath or Jonathan Klinsmann, but things are shaping up for him to be the starter in net for many years to come.

Defensively, this is going to be a very strong unit, not to mention athletic. Matt Miazga and Erik Palmer-Brown could form a partnership for the next decade in the center of defense between the former’s size and the latter’s pace. Out wide, a pair of players playing in England and Spain, respectively, with Antonee Robinson and Shaq Moore will give the Americans two quality two-way players that can both defend and help in the attack.

It’s weird to think about life after Michael Bradley, but the U.S. has two studs in the midfield that will quickly change the perception of the nation. Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie will hold down the fort in front of the back four, with Adams being the wildcard because he simply doesn’t stop running. Ever.

Christian Pulisic will have already gone to Real Madrid and Barcelona and become a Champions League winner by this point. (Yes, maybe a bit too lofty on the expectations, but this is my dream.) Anyway, he’s a given. Andrew Carleton hasn’t gotten consistent time with Atlanta just yet due to the club’s massive amounts of attacking talent, but he’ll likely be in Europe as well by 2026. Then, PSG star Tim Weah will have the long-departed Neymar’s role of breaking down back lines and scoring 30 goals a year in Ligue 1.

Last, but not least, Josh Sargent will become the new Clint Dempsey/Jozy Altidore/Brian McBride hybrid that the U.S. has desperately needed up top. He’s fast. He’s strong. Dare we say, he’s used Werder Bremen as a stepping stone to Bayern Munich? Why not? He has star potential written all over him.

USMNT Projected XI 2026/Matt Reed

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.