USA’s World Cup report card: best and worst players, plus predictions for 2026

Did the US reach their potential in Qatar? Should Gregg Berhalter stay on as coach? And who will lift the trophy? Our writers have their say

Did the US reach their potential in Qatar?

Probably. Inexperience told in the end, as it usually does, and proved their undoing. By exceeding the expectations of a general public that leaned pessimistic after the Americans’ failure to qualify in 2018, yet falling short of what the team expected from themselves, I’d say they hit it right on the nose. BAG

It’s a fair reflection of where the US stand right now. They can go head-to-head with anyone, but they can be beaten by more experienced teams, and the possession game breaks down because they have no direct option to vary the attack. BD

Performance review: meets expectations. Losing to more clinical and streetwise opponents in the first knockout stage? Normal service has been resumed after the 2018 blip. But, had they performed at their best, did this team have the capacity to shock the Netherlands? Yeah. Even without an elite-level striker and little depth off the bench. So no recriminations, just regrets. TD

Given the history of the US’s performance at the World Cup, a round of 16 exit would have to be considered a par score. But given the quality in the squad and the limp manner of the loss to the Netherlands, it’s hard not to be left with the sense that this team should have done better. AT

Best US player …

Tyler Adams enhanced his reputation at this World Cup
Tyler Adams enhanced his reputation at this World Cup. Photograph: Julio Cortez/AP

Tyler Adams. His lone mistake of the tournament was a costly one: failing to track Memphis Depay’s run before he scored Saturday’s opening goal. But the Leeds United midfielder, who was announced as the US captain one day before the opener against Wales, more than lived up to the role, both on and off the pitch. BAG

Tempting to say Adams, who led the team in all the nerdy stats showing how effective he truly was, but Christian Pulisic was involved in every goal despite taking a beating from opponents and suffering a nasty injury against Iran. BD

At various points you could make arguments for Adams, Pulisic, Tim Ream and Tim Weah. Overall – though he wasn’t over-taxed in the group stage – Matt Turner was irreproachable. Adams was an admirable on- and off-field leader, but his only glaring mistake (not tracking Depay for the Netherlands’ first goal) proved crucial. TD

It’s got to be one of the Tims and I’m going with Weah, a springy presence on the right flank who scored the best American goal of the World Cup and was often responsible, in combination with Sergiño Dest, for many of the US’s most rewarding moments in attack. AT

Most disappointing US player …

Jesús Ferreira. The FC Dallas forward’s inclusion in the squad over Ricardo Pepi (or Jordan Pefok) will go down as one of the USMNT’s all-time WTF squad decisions, so it’s almost not his fault. But Ferreira was useless when finally called into action on Saturday due to Josh Sargent’s injury after not playing at all in the group stage. BAG

May seem unfair to give it to someone who only played 45 minutes, but Ferreira had to be better than that. The starters generally played as expected or better. BD

None of them. The only sustained bad performance was Ferreira’s feckless 45 minutes against the Dutch, but he was unwisely thrown in at the deep end for his World Cup debut. Hard to blame him for the coach’s error in not putting Weah at center forward. Inexcusably, Gio Reyna had an entire half but didn’t dribble past six Dutch defenders and score from 35 yards. TD

Their non-goalscoring forward (take your pick between any of the three who were handed starts: Sargent, Haji Wright, or Ferreira). The team combined well in attack but the lack of a first-class finisher was pretty straightforwardly glaring in all four matches. The image of Wright spurning a jewel of a chance against the Dutch then scoring when he didn’t mean to offered a cruelly accurate summary of the team’s finishing woes. AT

Should Gregg Berhalter stay as coach?

Gregg Berhalter led the US back to the World Cup but faced criticism during the tournament
Gregg Berhalter led the US back to the World Cup but faced criticism during the tournament. Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP

No. Berhalter will always be remembered fondly for his principal role in nursing the program back from the trauma of their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup: the rare US coach who will leave the team better off than he found it. But standing pat with a steady hand isn’t worth the risk of holding this young group back with tactical rigidity and questionable decision-making. BAG

No. It’s telling that the US outplayed all four opponents in the first half and then stayed on the back foot in most of the second halves they played. And in general, a coach staying for more than one cycle simply isn’t the best way to progress. Give him a solid “B” for his effort and wish him well as he takes over a team in MLS. Or the Eredivisie. BD

If he wants to, sure. The players like him and a country previously known for a direct and physical style just played some of the most exciting and ambitious soccer in the tournament and only lost to the Dutch – the Dutch! – because of individual errors. If we’re expecting that this young team will grow with experience and peak in 2026, shouldn’t we also believe the same is true for the coach? TD

No. Despite impressive spells of possession, some slick passing, and a few nice runs into wide areas, the US couldn’t score. This felt like a failure on Berhalter’s part to pick a starting XI with the right combination of players to engineer a route to goal. There was a tactical rigidity to Berhalter’s selections, his substitutions and mid-match decision making were generally uninspiring, and he also must bear some of the responsibility for the deficiencies in defense and game management on display against the Dutch. Berhalter has done well to get US soccer back on track after the debacle of 2017, and his diplomat’s work in squad assembly – scouring the globe for promising potential recruits with ancestral connections to the US – has been impressive, but it’s time for a fresh start. The squad is strong. A better manager would get more out of it. AT

Best US moment

On the field? It’s hard to pick against Pulisic’s winner against Iran that lifted the US into the knockout stage and settled a politically fraught rematch a quarter-century in the making. Off it, Adams’s confident, assured response to an Iranian journalist who asked him to answer for America’s legacy of inequality and racial discrimination. BAG

A few years ago, Alexi Lalas called out this team as “tattooed millionaires.” In Qatar, there were many moments that showed the grit they’ve developed despite years of coddling in US academies. None more than Pulisic sacrificing his body to score the goal that sent the US through. BD

Wright’s fluke goal against the Netherlands. Not only for the five minutes of hope it bestowed, but because it defied the laws of physics and should be studied by scientists for years to come. How is it possible to loop the ball high into the far corner while facing away from the goal towards the corner flag? TD

The goal against Wales. Pace in transition, efficiency of movement, a cultured finish with the outside of the boot: Weah’s strike was a video-game goal that whet the appetite for what the US might achieve in Qatar. More of this in 2026, please. AT

Who will win this World Cup?

Kylian Mbappe: be afraid, very afraid
Kylian Mbappé: be afraid, very afraid. Photograph: Luca Bruno/AP

Brazil. With an embarrassment of attacking riches and a clearer path to the semi-finals than they could dream of, the Seleção are right on course for their sixth star. After a titanic showdown with Argentina in the last four, Richarlison and co will take care of unfinished business with the French in a classic final. BAG

I’ll stick with England because I’m a sucker for punishment. Also because they dismantled Iran, and we saw in the next two Iranian games that such a feat should not be taken for granted. BD

Argentina, France or Brazil. The South American sides are the most gifted in the top half of the draw (with Argentina’s main talent being to do just enough while hinting at the potential for more) while the French, though they live dangerously at times, have the tournament’s best player. TD

France. Could this be the World Cup where Kylian Mbappé announces himself to the world? (Insert irony emoji.) AT

Very early prediction for 2026 …

If you think Twitter is bad now, just you wait until England v USA in the 2026 World Cup final. BAG

The good news: US players are working their way into the European club elite. The bad news: That means they’ll be playing tons of games in domestic and European play, and they’ll come into the World Cup exhausted. They’ll suffer three key injuries leading into the tournament, they won’t have the depth to compensate, and they’ll depart in the group stage. Or they’ll stay healthy and make the semi-finals. Canada will make the quarter-finals. BD

Battle-hardened after being invited into (and hosting?) the 2024 Copa América, the US beat a European team and reach the quarter-finals; a nation rejoices. Touchline footwear fashionista Berhalter swaps his Air Jordans for his own line of Gregg-branded sneakers. The Dutch play in Los Angeles and Denzel Washington seeks out Denzel Dumfries for an autograph. TD

The US and Canada will both make the quarter-finals – after Qatar’s lame showing here, we all want to see at least one decent host run at the next tournament – the success of the 48-team format will convince Fifa to stage a 96-team tournament across three different continents in 2030, and France will become the first nation to win three World Cups in a row. Et un, et deux, et trois Mondials! AT


Bryan Armen Graham, Beau Dure, Tom Dart and Aaron Timms

The GuardianTramp

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