The United States men’s national team has finished its World Cup run with a fizzle at the hands of the Netherlands. The Dutch side may have had less possession and fewer shot attempts. However, it still looked much stronger than their American opposition.
A credit to the Dutch, Louis van Gaal came out and said the United States did not modify or modify. Gregg Berhalter stuck to the same formula with his young unit both offensively and defensively. And while a number of players are active in Europe, Berhalter added that he did not have ‘Memphis Depay’ at his disposal. Memphis scored the opening goal and Daley Blind mirrored his goal just before half-time.
It was always going to be a tough task to get to the top Orange. Memphis Depay is a top talent when he is playing. Virgil van Dijk remains one of the best defenders in the world. Frenkie de Jong is a game changer in midfield for both club and country.
However, the elimination of the World Cup showed something different. It showed the need for the United States to play in elite competition.
That could be USMNT’s participation in the UEFA Nations League or Copa America, as it has done several times in the past. The opportunity for growth and experience is crucial if this team is to achieve its dreams of success.
Need top experience
Mexico and Canada are good teams. Costa Rica is aging, but it has certainly been challenging for the United States over the last decade. Constant opposition to these CONCACAF sides did well to make the United States the best team on the continent. At least, looking at the Gold Cup and the CONCACAF Nations League.
What it has failed to do, however, is prepare the United States for important and meaningful matches against teams brimming with world-class talent. While the Netherlands had ‘warm-up’ matches in the Nations League against Belgium, Poland and Wales, all World Cup teams, the United States played Nations League matches against Grenada and El Salvador in June. Those two countries have had two World Cup appearances together, and none in the last 40 years.
The Netherlands must not only be talented, both on and off the field, but must also adapt to play different styles of play with those opponents. Belgium, Poland and Wales are different teams that have players who can play against the Netherlands. For the United States, their talent simply surpasses both Grenada and El Salvador. That said, Berhalter’s side only drew with El Salvador, 1-1, with Jordan Morris saving a point in stoppage time.
A USMNT appearance in the UEFA Nations League
Jumping from CONCACAF to UEFA for the Nations League might seem like a far-fetched idea. To be fair, there is no intercontinental jumping for the Nations League. Outside friendlies, this comes closest to the Finalissima, most recently contested between Copa America winner Argentina and Euro 2020 champions Italy.
However, teams from South America could soon compete in the UEFA Nations League, largely for the same reason as the US. Consider all 10 teams of CONMEBOL participation in the UEFA Nations League from 2024 and beyond. To fit them in, the top six teams in the World Cup qualifying table would join League A, the top division. That means Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia would join League A. The other four teams would join League B.
All games would take place in Europe to limit travel to South America.
The reason why CONMEBOL has linked up with UEFA is to provide direct competition to FIFA’s plans for a bi-annual World Cup. However, it also ensures more teamwork and practice between elite teams. Argentina and Brazil are surefire contenders at every World Cup. Nevertheless, this ensures that teams such as Ecuador, Peru or Chile regularly play more against the European top.
How the USMNT can tie in with top teams
Just like we saw in the World Cup for the US against Iran, the USMNT fielded an all-European lineup for the first time in its history.
Since the vast majority of USMNT players play in Europe, it makes more sense to have the national team play competitive games in Europe than in the United States or South America. It means less travel for the players and it puts the United States in a tough test against European competition.
We have seen how competitive the European teams are in the UEFA Nations League.
And if we look at the last four World Cup tournaments, the winners have all been European teams. The confrontation with European competition would be a tougher test for the United States. That experience is valuable.
Logistically, watching the USMNT compete in the UEFA Nations League can be a daunting task. That said, the inclusion of South American teams sets a precedent. The unfortunate case for the United States is the missed opportunity to create a North and South American Nations League. Competing against Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay would mean a lot to the experience of an increasingly young USMNT squad.
However, there is still a chance to participate in the Copa America, a South American tournament that often sends invitations to other teams. The United States has played in four Copa America tournaments since 1993. In two of them, it was eliminated in the group stage. In the other two, it even reached the semifinals, losing to Argentina and Brazil.
In addition, it hosted the 2016 tournament when it lost to Argentina. The United States played against Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay in the group stage, winning two and losing one. Next, the Stars and Stripes defeated Ecuador in the quarterfinals. The 2016 tournament was the only instance of the Copa America not happens in a CONMEBOL country.
Grant Wahl, a reporter for the USMNT, says the United States “absolutely must playat the 2024 Copa América. Wahl even went so far as to say it should look into hosting the tournament. Wahl added that Ecuador, the intended host, had lost interest in hosting the 2024 Copa America. It could provide an opportunity for the 2026 host cities.
In that respect, the 2026 World Cup means no World Cup qualifiers. Those were the best competitive games this group of USMNT players had, as is the case for many teams. For example, Qatar did not play any competitive matches in the run-up to hosting the World Cup. It is the first host country not to score a point in the group stage and only the second to fail the knockout stage.
Whether those competitive fixtures come from the Copa America or the UEFA Nations League, they are of utmost importance to the USMNT. Come 2026, expectations for the current squad will be higher. Fans not only expect better quality, they also expect a better tournament.
If Gregg Berhalter remains manager until then, he will have to try different tactics and player selections against top sides. He was wrong against the Netherlands, but as one of the three host countries he cannot be wrong.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Colorsport
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