The USA has a golden opportunity to win the 2026 World Cup: so why are they throwing it away?

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The 2022 World Cup in Qatar was seen as a significant step in the right direction for the USA’s men’s team following a thoroughly respectable showing in the desert. Of course, a 3-1 defeat against the Netherlands in the round of 16 was disappointing but, by that stage, Gregg Berhalter’s men had proved that they were a good team.

Perhaps more significantly, however, was that along with convincing the watching world of their undeniable ability, there was also a reminder that this was a young side with an average age of just 25 years and 214 days. In other words, the best was still very much to come for this talented American team at World Cups.

Obviously, what makes this statement even more exciting for USA fans is that when the next World Cup does come around, it will be staged on home soil. This current group of players, for all intents and purposes, should have come of age by the time the greatest footballing spectacle in the world arrives on their shores. Understandably, this is a scenario that has allowed fans to dream of the impossible in 2026 and even ask, could this team actually win the World Cup?

When you consider that the likes of Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, Sergiño Dest, Antonee Robinson, and Gio Reyna will be making up the spine of a team in 2026 that will also be roared on by fanatical home support, it begins to seem like a very plausible suggestion.

What do the odds say?

Tellingly, the official odds currently price the US at 50/1 which, on the face of it, seems incredibly generous when you take into account the part that home momentum plays in knockout football at the World Cup.

Needless to say, this price will undoubtedly make fans and bettors, all around the globe, instantly sit up and take notice. To a degree, the same can also be said for America’s own supporters but given that online sports betting legislation around the country isn’t consistent, fans would be forgiven for asking: is sports betting legal in the US? As Oddschecker highlights in their comprehensive breakdown, sports betting is legal in 33 states, which provides more than enough opportunity to place a bet on the men’s team to win the World Cup at their current odds of 50/1. With three and a half years to go before this event, it’s hard to imagine another nation attracting as much attention both home and abroad as the States are getting in the outright winners’ market for the 2026 World Cup.

However, in the quest to complete thorough due diligence, one has to enquire why these odds are so high when America has one of the best emerging sides in the world that could make history. The answer is that it’s complicated and comes down to a few key developments that have taken place in the wake of the World Cup in Qatar.

The fallout after the World Cup in Qatar

The US soccer fraternity has always been somewhat of a closed shop at the top in the sense that ex-players often have offspring that follow in their footsteps by playing for their country. With this being the case, petty dynamics can take hold in the team changing room, which isn’t always befitting of an international organization that has eyes on reaching the summit of world football.

This has been evident after the 2022 World Cup where, in particular, Gio Reyna’s parents have been outspoken about his lack of playing time in Qatar. Normally, a parent’s disgruntled voice wouldn’t really create a stir in professional football but given that Gio’s father is none other than ex-USA men’s star Claudio Reyna, his opinions have made headlines around the world and caused a distraction.

Unsurprisingly, what this public questioning does is create an environment where the coach’s authority is questioned. So perhaps we should phrase that question in the second paragraph one more time after this revelation: Could this team actually win the World Cup when their coach may be undermined by ex-players owing to trivial grievances about the makeup of the starting XI? The answer all of a sudden seems less certain.

When all is said and done, the truth is that this US team will need space from any outside noise if they are going to lift the World Cup in front of their own fans.

Losing momentum

As initially touched on, there were many positives to take out of the 2022 World Cup where America would go undefeated in the group stages and finish on five points after recording two draws and a win. It should be pointed out that one of these draws included an impressive showing against England in a game that ended 0-0 at the Al Bayt Stadium.

Essentially, this impressive campaign in Qatar gave the States a renewed sense of confidence and crucially, a powerful momentum going forward which was timely considering that they are the next World Cup hosts. Regrettably, this coveted momentum has been almost immediately squandered with the powers that be now uncertain of the way forward in terms of the personnel that they want to represent the country in four years’ time.

It goes without saying but indecisiveness and dragging of heels will not end with World Cup silverware. Almost always, World Cup triumphs are masterminded years in advance and involve meticulous planning which ultimately means that the hierarchy of US football needs to settle on a plan as soon as possible.

Players will keep the US’s World Cup chances alive

Whilst some of the ongoing confusion around the men’s national team will be understandably concerning for fans of the Stars and Stripes, the reassuring news is that all of the country’s best players are getting on with the business of football in some of Europe’s most prestigious leagues. For instance, we’ve seen Adams become a cult hero at Leeds United after putting in some of the most dominant midfield displays in the Premier League this season.

In London, Pulisic continues to deliver man-of-the-match performances for Chelsea while AC Milan’s Dest consistently catches the eye at the San Siro following a loan move from parent club Barcelona.

In other words, these players are carrying on with their football education at some of the best clubs in the world and by the time 2026 comes around, they could have established themselves as some of the biggest names in the game.

With this in mind and given the current status of the men’s team, it could be seen as beneficial that the country’s top stars spend the majority of the season away from the national setup. Indeed, in a settled environment and being mentored by the game’s most tactically astute minds, the USA’s current golden generation won’t be affected by the goings-on across the pond. That is to say, for now at least.

US will never get this chance again

Yes, the time will come when these players will return home to begin World Cup preparations and when they do, it is integral that they come back to represent an organization that has a clear idea of what they would like to accomplish. The inescapable reality is that the US will never have a better chance of winning the World Cup than the summer of 2026 when they will attempt to go all the way in their own backyard.

They simply can’t throw that opportunity away and let in-house squabbling derail their moment in the sun.

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