Former United States Men’s National Team head coach Bruce Arena believes the US must find a way to play matches against ‘better teams’ if they’re to improve during the 2026 World Cup cycle.
The USMNT crashed out of the 2022 World Cup with a 3-1 defeat to the Netherlands on Saturday in their first knockout match at the tournament since 2014.
The loss comes after a Group B campaign that saw them take five points and go unbeaten against Wales, England, and Iran, although they only scored two goals during those three matches.
Already, attention is turning to the next World Cup, which the USMNT have already qualified for as co-hosts alongside Mexico and Canada.
According to Arena – who is currently in charge of MLS outfit the New England Revolution – the Stars and Stripes must find a way to test themselves more regularly against stronger opposition compared to what they face in Concacaf if they’re to grow as a World Cup power.
“We need to play better teams moving forward. That will be the challenge over the next three years or so, going into North America 2026, to get our team ready for the World Cup,” Arena wrote in a column for MLSsoccer.com. “Look at how Concacaf teams performed in Qatar. They played 13 games at the World Cup and won just three – it’s not even close to being good enough.
“Now, there’ll be opportunities with tournaments and teams are going to want to come to the US anyways to prepare. It will get better, but I’ll repeat how important it is.
“We also have to figure out how to be more dangerous in the attack because we scored three goals in four games. It’s hard to advance far at a World Cup that way.”
In the build-up to Qatar, the USMNT played just four matches against teams from outside Concacaf in 2022: Morocco, Uruguay, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.
Gregg Berhalter’s side won just one of those matches (3-0 vs Morocco), drawing 0-0 with Uruguay and Saudi Arabia, and losing 2-0 to Japan. The last time they faced European opposition prior to the World Cup was in a 1-0 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina in December, with both nations fielding experimental line-ups.
“I’ve said it a few times because I think it’s a crucially important point: The US were not well-prepared for this World Cup in terms of the competition they faced over the last couple of years. The pandemic played a huge role in that,” Arena added.
“You see it in a round-of-16 loss like this, where it’s pretty clear what the Netherlands were doing. They let the US bring the game to them and they were going to catch us on the break. The Netherlands were clinical in key moments and it’s 3-1 at the end.”
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