With a crop of outstanding youngsters dotted around Europe’s biggest clubs, Team USA believe they have a genuine shot of winning the World Cup when they co-host in 2026.
The big dilemma surrounds next month in Qatar. Should they rely exclusively on Generation Z to give them fast-track experience or bring in short-term fixes to boost their chances of qualifying from England’s group.
So far manager Gregg Berhalter is favouring the former despite outside pressure.
USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has put together a squad full of promising young talents ahead of the upcoming World Cup
The squad that starts their World Cup campaign against Wales will be based around a trio of teenagers Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Yunus Musah (Valencia) and Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach) plus 21-year-olds Sergino Dest (AC Milan) and Brenden Aaronson (Leeds). Malik Tillman, on loan from Bayern Munich to Glasgow Rangers, is 20 and the “elders”, captain Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) and Weston McKennie (Juventus), are themselves just 24.
Berhalter did include 29-year-old MLS defender Walker Zimmerman as the oldest member of his squad for the final warm-up games Japan and Saudi Arabia but resisted pressure to pick Fulham’s in-form and experienced defender Tim Ream and 26-year-old striker Jordan Pefok who is top of the Bundesliga with Union Berlin and scoring goals.
At 6ft3ins, he’d certainly have given the Americans another option.
Their absences were noted in a lacklustre 2-0 defeat against the Japanese in Düsseldorf and another flat show on Tuesday against the Saudis will increase calls for the coach to do a U-turn.
Aged 29, former Newcastle full-back DeAndre Yedlin is one of the elder statesmen of the team
Young players with speed and energy can create momentum but when things are going wrong on the pitch, there is a lack of leadership to pull them through.
Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner had the best vantage point against Japan and candidly acknowledged it should act as a wake-up call for the rookie squad, only one of whom, DeAndre Yedlin, has played in a World Cup finals before.
‘Japan thought quicker than us and we took too long to adapt,’ summarised Turner.
‘There are times we will suffer in matches and have to make adjustments on the fly.
‘We wish we had shown our personality but better now than in Qatar. Reaction to failure is what greatness is built on.
”We are a young team and will go through some tough moments. Look in the mirror and improve. Understand what it means to wear the crest.
‘Japan were up for the fight. They got muddy. It was an eye-opener for us.’
Despite the warning, America won’t lack belief when they face Wales on November 21 and England – who they held 1-1 at the 2010 World Cup – four days later.
There is a buzz in America about international football and the Stars and Stripes will be one of the best-supported teams in Qatar.
Borussia Dortmund starlet Giovanni Reyna has become a key component of the side
English-born Reyna, who made his Dortmund debut at 17 and became the youngest player to make 50 Bundesliga appearances, is working his way back from last season’s injury problems and can unlock defences. Former team-mate Erling Haaland dubbed him ‘an American dream’ because of the assists he provided.
Leeds pair Aaronson and Tyler Adams have been big hits at Elland Road under another American manager Jesse Marsch.
Zimmerman said he’s seen a difference since they moved to the Premier League in the summer.
‘They’ve always had a lot of energy and competitive spirit but I have noticed their confidence, to know they are having success in the top league in the world.
Captain Christian Pulisic remains one of the team’s star players going into the tournament in Qatar
‘We look at our youth as an advantage. We know we have the energy, intensity and capacity to cause teams trouble.
Manager Berhalter was part of the U.S. team that reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 2002. His favourite phrase is ‘building this group’ which sounds good but does lead to suspicion that this World Cup is a dummy run for 2026.
Certainly, 21-year-old MLS striker Jesus Ferreira did little to appease the pro-Pefok lobby against Japan and was substituted at half-time by Norwich’s Josh Sargent.
Pulisic, who missed Friday’s game with a minor knock, wears the US armband so is naturally known as Captain America.
Berhalter’s side will face Iran in a major tournament for the first time since the two teams met in 1998
His fans back home are relishing his upcoming battle with Gareth Bale who hasn’t impressed MLS-watchers since he joined Los Angeles FC.
When they face England, Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Chris Richards (Crystal Palace), Musah and forward Tim Weah (Lille) will be available having been ruled out of this camp through injury.
Despite the political symbolism behind their match against Iran, who they also faced in France ‘98, it’s the clash with England which is creating most interest over the Atlantic.
Gareth Southgate won’t take lightly a team ranked 14th by FIFA but when you look at the U.S. team that held England 12 years ago, it was full of hard-bitten pros like Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Landon Donovan.
With this American team, you can never be sure what you’re going to get.