Soccer in the States: USMNT gives fans hope that something special is brewing

The United States flamed out in the Round of 16 of the World Cup, but more success may lie ahead of us.

Three USMNT players are hugging and celebrating after United States win against Iran. They are wearing blue uniforms.

It’s safe to say this weekend was one of the worst sporting weekends of my life.

I sat in a pub in Las Vegas early Saturday morning running on three hours of sleep. The night before, I witnessed USC football’s demise in the Pac-12 Championship Game — and as the final whistle sounded, my sporting spirit dipped about as low as it ever had before. The United States were knocked out of the World Cup.

After observing the proper mourning period after the USMNT’s 3-1 loss to the Netherlands, I’m here to share my thoughts on the campaign.

The defeat in the Round of 16 sucked the air out of rooms around the nation. The hope and optimism kindling amongst the USMNT faithful was succinctly snuffed out.

It hurts knowing it’ll be another three and half years before we see the U.S. on the biggest world stage again. It hurts knowing the talented roster of American newcomers had what it took to pull off an upset. It hurts knowing the upset never came.

But, in the end it was deserved.

The Dutch had the U.S. beat in most facets of the game, and the most clear distinction was in energy. You could see the Americans’ legs failing as the game went on, and a well-rested Netherlands team took advantage of a few defensive lapses in concentration.

The writing was on the wall after a grueling group stage. After squandering three points against Wales and grinding out a draw against England, the U.S. had to cling on for dear life in their 1-0 win over Iran. There was little energy left in the tank by the time the knockouts came around.

It really makes you think what could’ve been had the U.S had more depth, or more aptly, if they had utilized their existing depth. Manager Gregg Berhalter is to blame.

Now, this isn’t going to be some scathing cry for Berhalter to be fired. I’ve come close to writing that before, but at this point, it would be unfair to him. He showed more tactical awareness in this group stage than we’ve ever seen from him, and he earned my respect in getting out of a group that was by no means easy.

Instead, I’m taking more of the “thanks for everything, it’s time to go” approach. It’s undeniable that Berhalter took the U.S. from one of its lowest points in recent history and got it back to the knockout rounds of the World Cup. I’m choosing to be grateful for his impact in ushering in a new era of United States soccer history.

We made it out of the group, after all, a feat that none of the other CONCACAF teams (looking at you, Mexico) could claim. It was a memorable campaign to say the least, and I’ll never forget the feeling of overwhelming joy I shared with friends and family when we scored.

That being said, Berhalter’s limitations when it comes to game management and talent evaluation are too glaring to ignore. Hell, Gio Reyna played just 11 minutes in the group stage. Managerial malpractice 101.

It’s time for the U.S. to have loftier aspirations, and it’s time to move on from Berhalter and find a new manager. Finding the right candidate is crucial in maximizing the potential of this generation of talent.

I do tend to get ahead of myself though, so I’ll slow things down and take a step back. This World Cup campaign was a massive step in the right direction for soccer in the States. I’ve never seen so many people in this country care about men’s soccer — we even had Charles Barkley hyping up the team on national television. I had friends following the team that I didn’t even think watched sports.

There’s finally a sense that people really do care, and for someone like me who has always wished everyone else would care like I do, I couldn’t be more overjoyed. This team really does have a high ceiling, and with the right pieces, it should be able to push further in the competition come 2026.

Now’s a better time than ever to keep the fandom momentum going because the United States Women’s National Team is going for its three-peat this coming summer. And if you’re tired of seeing Americans lose at soccer, then you clearly haven’t watched enough of the women’s team.

As this column moves forward into the new year, I’ll discuss the USWNT as well as provide updates on the men’s squad when news comes around. Until then, stay believing.

“Soccer in the States” typically runs every other Friday.