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HomeWorldCopa América cheat sheet: everything you need to know about the USMNT

Copa América cheat sheet: everything you need to know about the USMNT

So you want to impress your friends during Copa América? We’ll help you stock up on smart observations about the USMNT that will have the group chat showering you with adoration. Or, like, at least a few thumbs-up emojis. From key players to expectations, you will become the expert of your local football bar, viewing party or group of friends.

It’s getting real

For many, the last time they watched the US was during the 2022 World Cup.

That World Cup, which ended in a defeat in the eighth finals, was not a failure. But it also wasn’t meant to be the USMNT’s final stop on their ascent up the international football mountain.

The US had the youngest team in Qatar. According to FBref, their average age, weighted by minutes played, was only 24.5. Eighteen months later, the USMNT is nearing its peak. Based on their Copa América friendlies against Colombia and Brazil, Gregg Berhalter’s first-choice average this summer is 25.3.

There is no doubt that this is still a young team. Performing well at home during the 2026 World Cup is the main goal for the US. But this team has major tournament experience under its belt and is entering a golden window to compete.

“It’s becoming a reality for the US,” you message in the group chat.

How will the US actually play?

Expect to see two different versions of the USMNT. These two versions will overlap – they both play from a version of a 4-3-3 and they will both feature some patient possession at the back. But there will be plenty of differences.

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The first version of the USA is the one we will see against Bolivia and Panama in their first two matches of the group stage.

When the USMNT has the talent advantage, they look to use the ball to break defensive blocks. The centre-backs will step forward, the wide players will rotate and the whole team will counter-press. Without many visionary passers, Gregg Berhalter’s side won’t look like Spain. But they have enough skills to break through their first two opponents.

The second version of the US is the one we will see against Uruguay in the final match of the group stage and in the knockout rounds – if they advance.

Against South American giants with attackers who simply cannot be left unattended, the core of Berhalter’s game plan will shift from passing patterns to disciplined defending in a 4-3-3 central block. The USMNT will not completely abandon the use of the ball against Uruguay and others; they put together some nice passing sequences against Brazil in a recent friendly. However, they will be more selective in their possession game.

“Look how much deeper the USMNT are in this match against Uruguay than they were earlier in the tournament,” you say to the man next to you as you both sip your drinks.

Keep a close eye on these guys

His role in the 2022 World Cup was limited, initially shrouded in mystery and later full of drama. Now Gio Reyna is a locked-in starter.

Reyna’s mix of precise control and creative passing is unparalleled in the American pool. Previously I said that the US has a shortage of visionary passers-by. Reyna is the active American closest to that benchmark. He plays as an attacking central midfielder and semi-regularly hits nice slipping passes like this:

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If the USMNT creates a dangerous chance through the middle, Reyna’s fingerprints will be all over it. If he can find a way to unlock Pulisic on the left wing, the US attack will reach another level.

At center back, Tim Ream brings veteran experience and keen reading ability, both on and off the ball. Ream, 36, is the elder statesman on this American team. He is occasionally prone to mistakes, but his clever distribution will be an asset going into the group stages, just as his defensive timing will prove crucial later in the tournament.

One player under the radar for the USMNT is the man between the sticks: Matt Turner. His club season was a disaster, but he has been a reliable shot-stopper at international level. If the US wants to get past the quarters, they will need the Turner who started and made 11 saves against Brazil.

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‘Reyna drops too deep in possession of the ball. He needs to be closer to the final third so he can get Pulisic behind him,” you mutter under your breath as everyone around you nods and appreciates your wisdom.

Greatest strength and weakness

No part of this American team is perfect, but it’s easy to fall in love with the balance of the midfield when everyone is fit. With Reyna handling the creative duties and McKennie and Adams covering every blade of grass, the USMNT’s control through the middle is their greatest asset.

Take Adams out of the team as he works his way to full power and, well, things get a little more complicated. The US should be able to advance to the knockouts with backup spelling Adams, but they will need him in the lineup as the matches become more challenging.

Further out in the field, attacking output is an important point of attention. Without the injured Sergiño Dest, right winger Timothy Weah will have to take on too large an attacking role. Pulisic is a crucial piece on the left. But lacking an elite striker, opposing defenses could sell out to stop the USMNT’s talisman. Folarin Balogun would be that top striker, but he has yet to establish himself as a real game changer. He scored just three times in twelve matches in international football, with only one coming in a competitive match.

“If Balogun looks dangerous early on, defenders will have to move towards him, giving Pulisic more space. That could be huge in the second half,” you post on social media. Likes start raining from above.

Measuring success

The USMNT were dealt a tough draw this summer: their side of the bracket features three of the four favorites. If they finish in the top two in their group with Uruguay (there is one favourite), they will likely clash with Colombia (there is second) or Brazil (there is third). At the other end of the tournament, Argentina are the clear favorites to waltz into the final.

Berhalter and company would welcome a move to the other side. However, there is one useful part of the draw: it makes defining success for the USMNT quite simple.

Are you having trouble getting out of the group? That’s a big failure. Beat Brazil or Colombia and advance to the semi-finals? That is an undeniable success.

And the most likely outcome for the US this summer: dropping out of the group and losing to Brazil or Colombia in the quarterfinals. If the USMNT plays poorly in a blowout loss, it would be classified as a failure. If they play well after a narrow defeat, it would simply be unsatisfactory. No failure. But no success either. Just unsatisfactory.

“The USA won’t be the favorites in the knockouts, but this team has enough quality to stay around and compete,” you say as a “USA, USA, USA” chat thunders around you. Nobody hears you.

Okay, fine, that insight might not play well at the bar. It’s up to you to choose your spots. I can’t do everything for you.

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