U.S. men’s national soccer team has time to turn it around. Can they?

After getting ‘grouped’ in Copa America, the U.S. needs to find momentum heading toward World Cup.

As part of my job, I have the pleasure of covering loads and loads of youth soccer. Girls in the fall and boys in the spring.

Growing up, I played a bit of footy. Never was good enough to play at a high level and was forced to choose soccer or baseball at the high school level. I chose the latter.

That is the extent of my soccer experience. But due to the pandemic and my overall infatuation with sports, I have found a passion for soccer. When the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams play, along with the Sounders and just the national events are on, I’ll tune in.

With the U.S. hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2026, and games even here in Seattle being played in the group stage, it seems soccer has potential to grow exponentially in our home country.

This summer has been a great time to watch high level football. The Euros going on in Germany have been the center of jaw-dropping goals and unparalleled fan support. Here in the U.S., the Copa America tournament has been a physical bloodbath and just ended its group stage with America failing to make it through after a 1-0 loss to Uruguay.

This column isn’t about that loss or the 2-1 loss to Panama a couple of days prior — there are plenty of other pundits and writers to discuss that. But rather, how the USSF should respond and start the hype train for the 2026 World Cup.

The U.S. is out. Cooked. Finished with international competitive play until that 2026 tournament. Fans, players and staff are left dissatisfied and disappointed after a dud of a showing in Copa America.

Since 1994, the U.S. has been scratching and clawing its way in these intercontinental tournaments — fighting to get out of group stages, rallying to semifinal matchups and proving doubters wrong in true patriotic fashion. But the reality is this current team is riddled with top-flight European league players, is the best team in recent memory talent-wise, and is struggling to get results against the better teams in the world.

What is truly the gut punch is the team is so likeable and easy to root for, but they keep falling short. When that happens, questions of leadership need to be asked. Is a coaching change needed? Is a complete staff overhaul required? They tried that and ended up hiring the same guy before. To me, coach Gregg Berhalter isn’t the guy, but he might have to be.

Berhalter has been rightfully criticized. He hasn’t gotten results that this team is more than capable of and even has dropped games that shouldn’t be even thought of as possible losses. Apart from a draw against England in the World Cup and wins over a Mexican side that has been historically not up to snuff, that is all Berhalter can claim. But at this point, where do you go? Where can you go?

With the World Cup coming up in two years, there are no more Copas, no more intense, high-level competitions. All this team can do is play friendlies and really focus on tactics and their mentality over the next two years.

The opportunity to grow the game with the best players this country has ever seen shouldn’t be taken lightly. Back in the 1990s, this game grew immensely because of that team’s success, and who knows where it could lead to.

Take the T20 Cricket World Cup, kind of modeling itself after its soccer counterpart. The U.S. took a chance at hosting and was better for it. After the American side beat Pakistan, cricket was headlining news. People found that players were software engineers at Oracle, and even a sport that has a speck of the popularity of soccer has captured the minds of a nation.

That cricket team got results, a team that most of the country never knew existed, with essentially all amateur players. They finished better than a team with players on some of the best clubs in the world.

Will this opportunity be squandered? The U.S. soccer group as a collective can’t afford that level of embarrassment. Massive changes, mentally and emotionally, need to happen and happen quick so this country can shine like the gem that it is.

Ben Ray writes about sports in King County. Contact benjamin.ray@soundpublishing.com.