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

Three things we learned from USMNT’s defeat in Dublin

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The U.S. men’s national team fell to defeat at the hands of Ireland in Dublin on Saturday, and it was a mostly abysmal performances on all levels of the field. Three thoughts and/or lessons to take away…

[ MORE: USMNT throws away HT lead, loses 2-1 in Dublin ]

Miazga, CCV struggle

Cameron Carter-Vickers has all the physical tools needed — size, strength, quickness, aerial presence — to develop into one of the best defenders the U.S. has ever seen, but his inability to read the game quickly and make the right decisions on instincts which plagued him not only last year when he made his USMNT debut (at 19) and a handful of appearances for Tottenham Hotspur in early-round cup games, but continued to do so on Saturday against Ireland.

Being overly aggressive is something that can be tempered and controlled as a player’s career unfolds — teaching players to be more aggressive when it doesn’t come naturally for them; not so much — but following a pair of half-season loan spells to the Championship, one would have hoped to have seen a bit of progression in that department. Alas, Saturday saw more of the same mistakes: over-committing into midfield without making the challenge or tackle; not recognizing runners in the channels.

Matt Miazga, who by all accounts had a brilliant season on loan to Vitesse — it’s the Dutch league, after all — struggled as well, but in fairness to him, much of his difficulties on the day stemmed from CCV’s shortcomings alongside him. Miazga getting torched by James McClean, however, was all on the former New York Red Bulls and current Chelsea man.

Directionless midfield

With Christian Pulisic, the USMNT’s de facto no. 10 these days, departing camp and heading for (a much-needed) summer vacation after the win over Bolivia, interim head coach Dave Sarachan opted for a three-man midfield of Wil Trapp, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie.

Some thoughts: that’s a whole lot of industry and work rate; that’s a ton of energy; that’s a ton of ball-hawking instincts.

A question: who’s supposed to harness all of that unbridled energy and youth?

Answer: there wasn’t anyone, and the first half looked like a trio of chickens running 60 yards up and down the field with their heads cut off.

Adams and McKennie have blindingly bright futures ahead of them, which they’ll come much closer to realizing during a run of games playing directly behind the focal point that is Pulisic.

Yedlin a continuous bright spot

DeAndre Yedlin is perhaps the best sterling example of what moving to Europe at a young-ish age can do for American players developed in MLS. When he moved from Seattle Sounders to Tottenham at the age of 21, he did exactly two things well: run fast and overlap to stretch the field.

Now, following years of tutelage under a defensive brute like Sam Allardyce, and a tactical mastermind of Rafa Benitez‘s caliber, Yedlin is only just entering the prime of his career (he’ll turn 25 next month) after undergoing a three-year transformation which has seen him come out the other side a genuinely passable right-sided defender on top of the threat he brings going forward.

After nearly a decade where right back was pretty clearly the USMNT’s greatest weakness along the backline, Yedlin now has the spot locked down for another World Cup cycle… if not two.

Player ratings: USMNT 3-0 Bolivia

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It’s worth noting that the young United States men’s national team that tangled with Bolivia on Monday in Pennsylvania was also facing an untested Bolivia squad which doesn’t do a ton at full strength.

[ WATCH: Zimmerman scores opener | 3 things ]

But there’s still much to be excited about, relatively speaking, as the USMNT kicked off a trio of friendlies with a win on Monday.

Six players earned their first United States caps. They are tagged with asterisks*.

Starting XI

Alex Bono* — 6 — No fault in his rating. Had nothing to do. At times had to feel like he was back at Empire United, playing a tournament game against also-rans.

Eric Lichaj (Off 74′) — 7 — Didn’t have to do much, but positionally sound as expected for the Nottingham Forest man.

Walker Zimmerman —  8 — A great goal to cap a solid if non-demanding 90.

Erik Palmer-Brown* — 7 — Barely more to do than his goalkeeper.

Antonee Robinson* — 9 — I’m not even sure what to do with an American left back handling his business like a possible 10-year answer. WHAT DO I DO, AMERICA?

Weston McKennie — 7 — He’s nearly as important a piece to the USMNT set-up as Pulisic. Today wasn’t a day to expect him to show what he’s good at — breaking up danger and quickly setting the stage for possession and/or attack.

Tim Weah (Off 61′) — 8 —Almost as dangerous as Sargent, the PSG youngster rebounded from an early leg injury to bag a goal in his second USMNT appearance.

Joe Corona (Off 61′) — 7 — Needed to be a steady veteran presence and was, wisely choosing when to adventure and when to stay safe.

Christian Pulisic (Off 89′) — 6 — By no means bad, but in dire need of a deserved offseason. Remains the future of the United States men’s national team.

Rubio Rubin (Off 74′) — 6 — Just fine. Active and adequate, but we can’t give out all 7s and better.

Josh Sargent* (Off 61′) — 8 — Became the fourth-youngest goal scorer in USMNT history when he capitalized on a keeper error, and was largely a threat for the duration of his debut.

Subs

Andriya Novakovich (On 61′) — 7 — The Telstar man again looked comfortable as he looks to keep his USMNT train on the right high-speed tracks.

Julian Green (On 61′) — 7 — Perfectly fine, but the game was largely over when he entered the fray. Great dribble and through ball to set up Villafana for a “shoulda” assist.

Keaton Parks* (On 61′) — 7 — The best performance of any sub, with apologies to Novakovich. Shocking that a 20-year-old midfielder of his skill and stature eluded the entire national team set-up until this stage of his career.

Matthew Olosunde* (On 74′) — N/A — The Manchester United prospect from the Mooch Soccer project makes his debut.

Lynden Gooch (On 74′) — N/A — Probably pleased to take a step up from the squad quality at Sunderland, but should’ve had a goal in stoppage time.

Jorge Villafana (On 89′) — N/A — Sueno gets a cameo for cap No. 17, and makes a pinpoint cross Gooch should’ve finished in stoppage time.

3 Things We Learned from USMNT vs. Bolivia

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The United States pummeled Bolivia in Pennsylvania, and while the incredibly poor level of competition should temper any major talking points, we can still learn plenty from this glittering performance by the youngsters.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Match recap ]

They’re all quite raw, and it showed early and often, even drawing the ire of the head coach at halftime, but it was clear they have the skills to grow and help this team in a big way moving forward.

Josh Sargent and Tim Weah have the potential to be a part of this squad for quite some time

The United States has struggled to replace Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan in recent years. While Christian Pulisic appears to be the new Donovan in someone who plays on the wing but is dangerous in front of goal, they’re still searching for a prolific target man in front of goal. Josh Sargent appears to have all the instincts to be that guy. While there’s still a long way to go for the 18-year-old, including making his professional debut at Werder Bremen, he seems to be strong and physical, as well as able to move fluidly and with purpose off the ball.

Weah is an exciting prospect as well, someone with the pace and ball skills to be a great compliment on the opposite of Pulisic. He seemed to be on the same wavelength as Sargent, playing a number of different one-two combinations that nearly resulted in a goal. He also makes excellent runs off the ball, which allowed Rubio Rubin to find him for his best chance on net. These are two guys who appear to be the real deal, albeit against admittedly abysmal competition.

What was missing is very teachable

These kids are young. Really, really young. They seem beyond their age in grasping the attacking flow of Dave Sarachan’s tactics which is a fantastic sign, but the finishing still needs work. Tim Weah, in his first start, had a few early chances that he should have taken, while Josh Sargent was also a little wild in front of net.

[ MORE: Full game recap of 3-0 win over Bolivia ]

The good news is that finishing can be improved, while the soccer IQ that the squad shows is the more difficult part of the game to teach, meaning there is plenty of room for growth with this team.

Dave Sarachan even admitted on the Fox broadcast at halftime coming off the field that the shooting was rushed, and that he might have a chat with a few of the youngsters up there (ie: Weah, Sargent, Rubin, McKennie) about taking their time and developing better shots. While there are plenty of teachable moments from this match despite the dominating performance, what most U.S. fans should take from this game is that anything that appeared to be missing – first and foremost patience and vision in front of goal – is very teachable.

Dave Sarachan may have something with the 4-1-4-1

Interim head coach Dave Sarachan has deployed a 4-1-4-1 in consecutive matches against Paraguay and now Bolivia, with Weston McKennie at the CDM spot, and it’s worked both times. McKennie does a fabulous job protecting the back line, allowing the defenders to stretch and cover wide areas. In a personally signature moment, the 19-year-old bulldozer muscled Leonardo Vaca off the ball, shrugging him to the ground in the 70th minute.

[ MORE: Player ratings from 3-0 win over Bolivia ]

With both McKennie and Kellyn Acosta figuring to be in the selection pool for quite some time, this is a system that could be useful down the road. The United States has not had a consistent system to play for a very, very long time following the experimental years of Jurgen Klinsmann.

4. Christian Pulisic is very tired

Bonus! It was very obvious that Christian Pulisic has had an extremely long season and is quite exhausted. He was somewhat influential in the buildup – especially early on – but was not his typical flashy self, and the faded into the background as the game went on, eventually substituted off in the 89th minute. Pulisic is an extremely talented player and there shouldn’t be any concerns about his future, but if there is one bright side to missing the World Cup, it’s that Pulisic gets the summer off, and the 19-year-old desperately needs it after a long, brutal season with Borussia Dortmund where many times he wasn’t at his best.

USMNT 3-0 Bolivia: U.S. kids pummel visiting CONMEBOL side

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The average age of the United States starting eleven on Monday night was under 23 years old. It showed at times, but ultimately it did not matter.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Walker Zimmerman, Josh Sargent, and Tim Weah all grabbed their first international goals – including debut strikes for the latter two – as the United States clobbered a hapless Bolivia side 3-0. The visitors, also playing a number of young prospects, offered as little competition and opposition as comprehensively possible, with the U.S. pummeling their leaky high line.

The United States looked the more dangerous side in the opening 10 minutes, attacking down the left with a host of brilliant touches to spring white jerseys sprinting down the touchline unmarked. The best early chance came in the 10th minute as Rubio Rubin cut a sparkling through ball from the midline to spring Tim Weah completely unmarked one-on-one with Guillermo Viscarra, but the Bolivian goalkeeper stood strong to make the save and deny the US the opening goal.

The hosts were vicious in the final attacking half, pushing forward to challenge the Bolivian back line on the ball. In the 15th minute, Weston McKennie whiffed on a good shooting chance at the top of the box, and the ensuing cross was blocked hoping to give the U.S. a second chance on net.

[ MORE: 3 Things We Learned from 3-0 win over Bolivia ]

Weah went down appearing to need a substitute, but he came back on and was involved again down the attacking end almost immediately, playing a one-two with Josh Sargent that resulted in a shot for the latter, but it was blocked out of play. The U.S. attack often featured slick one-touch passing at the top of the box, although occasionally there were a few too many passes which allowed the defense to step in and break things up.

On 33 minutes, Weah and Sargent connected together again, but Sargent’s shot was blocked just wide. The pair appeared to be on the same page, able to predict each other’s movements on a number of occasions. The opening goal was coming, and finally it was delivered, albeit by an unlikely source in defender Walker Zimmerman. Off a 38th minute corner, Walker Zimmerman rose higher than his defender Ronald Raldes and powered a strong header into the top-right corner. The goal is the LAFC defender’s first international strike in his third international cap.

McKennie had a half-chance near the penalty spot just two ticks before halftime, but his effort was blocked as he looked to get it through traffic.

[ MORE: Player ratings from 3-0 win over Bolivia ]

After the break, the U.S. continued to hold the bunk of the dangerous possession, but the second goal came from a bad mistake at the back with Bolivia on the ball. With Bolivia making a change between the sticks at halftime, substitute Carlos Lampe made an ill-advised pass attempting to lift the ball over Sargent. The 18-year-old striker used his flexibility to pick the ball out of the air, and finished through the legs of a charging Lampe once he settled in the box. Sargent’s goal makes him the second-youngest debutant goalscorer in U.S. Soccer history, behind just Juan Agudelo in 2011.

The floodgates opened up just before the hour mark as Weah grabbed his own debut goal. Antonee Robinson delivered a cross to the doorstep from the left, and Weah snuck in between the central defenders completely unmarked to poke home their third goal and making it look easy.

As the game wound down, Dave Sarachan handed appearances to Benfica prospect Keaton Parks, Stuttgart winger Julian Green, Reading striker Andrija Novakovich, Stoke City’s Lynden Gooch, Manchester United prospect Matt Olosunde.

These players will wish they were warming up for a World Cup in under a month, but considering the hand they’ve been dealt, so far the future looks quite bright.