The United States Men's National Team returned to the World Cup stage this year full of optimism after missing out on the tournament in Russia four years ago.
In the end, Qatar 2022 turned out to be a mixed bag. On the one hand, the Stars and Stripes went unbeaten in Group B alongside England, Iran, and Wales, impressing many with their high-energy pressing. But on the other hand, the manner of their 3-1 defeat to the Netherlands in the round-of-16 was disappointing, while the US failed to get the best of their forward line.
As co-hosts alongside Mexico and Canada, the United States have already turned attention to 2026; learning from past mistakes and developing young talent to make sure they go much further on home soil.
How different could the side be that lines up in 2026 compared to that of 2022? Let's build a very early starting XI:
USMNT's potential 2026 World Cup starting XI
GK: Gabriel Slonina - Matt Turner was one of the top American performers in Qatar but the fact remains his situation at Arsenal, stuck behind Aaron Ramsdale, is not ideal. In the meantime, the US have a number of supremely talented prospects emerging in this position, with new Chelsea signing Gabriel Slonina chief among them. Breaking in at Stamford Bridge will be tough, but if he can manage it, Slonina has all the tools to be an elite goalkeeper and one of the first names on the teamsheet in 2026.
RB: Sergino Dest - Sergino Dest was mostly excellent in Qatar and his speed and ability to press offered the USMNT another dimension. Age is very much on his side, with the only complication for Dest right now figuring out whether he should return to Barcelona following his loan spell with AC Milan, stay where he is now, or try something new. Regardless, he should be peaking by 2026.
CB: Chris Richards - Had he been fit, Chris Richards would almost certainly have gone to Qatar and, likely, played extensive minutes. He would have been better for that experience but over the coming years, the defender is primed to thrive at Crystal Palace. By the time the next World Cup comes around, he'll be 26, seasoned and, hopefully, playing the best soccer of his career.
CB: Miles Robinson - Who lines up next to Richards is the biggest question. Existing options like Tim Ream and Walker Zimmerman will be pushing well in their 30s, while it looks like John Brooks' international career is over already, let alone in 2026 when he'll be 33. One player you shouldn't sleep on is Miles Robinson. He likely would've partnered Richards in Qatar had it not been for an Achilles injury suffered earlier this year. However, he's ready to return for Atlanta United and continues to draw interest from Europe.
LB: Kevin Paredes - There's every chance Antonee Robinson will maintain his left-back spot, but we wanted to give you some food for thought. Kevin Paredes was often overlooked as one of the most exciting talents in the league during his time in MLS with DC United, but Wolfsburg didn't miss him and even paid over $7m to secure his services in January '21. Paredes has all the attacking attributes to be an elite full-back, and is an incredible presser. He just needs to refine his defensive tools and gain experience, but he has four years to do that.
CM: Tyler Adams - At 23 years old, Tyler Adams is already the USMNT captain and one of the best players on the team. He's thriving in the Premier League with Leeds United and all being well, looks set to remain on an upwards trajectory. Adams is the complete package and will maintain his spot in four years.
CM: Weston McKennie - There were a couple of dissenting voices calling for Weston McKennie to be dropped in Qatar prior to the tournament, but once there, he more than proved his worth. There are areas McKennie needs to work on and his fitness might be an issue, but his ability to arrive late in the box and coordinate the press are invaluable. If the USMNT stick with a midfield three, he'll be there.
CM: Yunus Musah - Musah impressed in Qatar perhaps more than any other American. The 20-year-old's speed, skill, and work rate put him on the map, but his passing ability and the way he drives the ball forward shouldn't be overlooked either. Musah has the potential to be the perfect all-rounder and is drawing the attention of multiple Premier League giants. No reason to predict anything other than him being a key piece in 2026.
RW: Christian Pulisic - There's an argument to say Christian Pulisic is no longer the USMNT's most important player. However, he's still 'Captain America' and has the ability to individually turn a game on its head like no other in this team. The chances of him still being at Chelsea in four years are very slim, but the chances of him still being with an elite European club? Much better.
ST: Ricardo Pepi - Few, if any, ommissions from the USMNT's 2022 World Cup roster hurt more than Ricardo Pepi. The teenage striker burst onto the scene in qualifying and went to great lengths to turn his form around on loan with FC Groningen. In reality, he should've been on the plane. Pepi now has four years to keep developing and make himself indispensible for the United States; we're backing him to do just that.
LW: Giovanni Reyna - On a pure talent level, Giovanni Reyna is both the best prospect the United States have and, probably, the best they have right now. That makes his limited minutes in Qatar and all the fallout that came after all the more shocking. Whether it's Gregg Berhalter or someone else, they simply have to make sure they manage Reyna properly and put him in the positions to succeed. He'll do the rest. A potential elite of the game by 2026.