USMNT Copa America review: Who’s to blame? Fire Berhalter?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The U.S. men’s national team program has endured plenty of grim days in its history. Heck, we’re talking about a team that went 40 years between successful World Cup qualifications. Getting bounced early from the 2024 Copa America doesn’t rise to the level of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but it can easily be placed in the top five worst moments.

The U.S. was hosting the tournament, was well supported by U.S. fans and was placed in what was thought to be a manageable group. And yet the U.S. somehow managed to squander all of those advantages, getting knocked out in the group stage.

Even worse, there are no competitive games outside Concacaf until the 2026 World Cup, raising major concerns about how tested the U.S. will be heading into that tournament. Clearly, the U.S. men’s national team is not headed in the right direction, so what’s next?

Jeff Carlisle and Jeff Kassouf have been on the ground covering the USMNT every step of the way on the team’s very short Copa America campaign, and they examine where it all went wrong.

Who deserves most of the blame for the USMNT’s early exit?

Carlisle: Suffice it to say, there is plenty of blame to go around. Let’s start with Berhalter.

This team has shown little in the way of progress since the start of the 2026 cycle. When the last cycle ended, the pain points were a reliable starting striker and more overall creativity, especially in midfield. Berhalter was able to recruit a genuine No. 9 in Folarin Balogun (more on him later), and he engineered a rapprochement with Gio Reyna that seemed poised to address, at least in part, the creativity issue. The team’s accumulated experience was expected to help in this area as well.

Yet the team hasn’t improved. The attack still seems way too reliant on Christian Pulisic to conjure up a moment of magic. The glaring lack of chance creation remains a huge issue, one that has been compounded by a lack of discipline, and some suspect defending. And before someone points out that the U.S. created 26 chances in its three games, 15 of those came against Bolívia, arguably the worst team in the tournament.

By Berhalter’s own admission, the U.S. doesn’t always bring the needed intensity, especially against higher-ranked opponents. Whatever message Berhalter is delivering on this issue isn’t getting through. When that happens, it’s time to look elsewhere.

That said, the players bear plenty of responsibility as well. It wasn’t Berhalter who failed to convert some wide-open opportunities against Bolivia. It wasn’t him who got sent off against Panama or struggled to create scoring opportunities against Uruguay.

The red card to Tim Weah marked a huge turning point in the tournament — it’s tough to imagine the U.S. losing if he doesn’t commit that offense. That said, there are simply too many U.S. players who haven’t moved themselves forward since the World Cup. Some of this is due to injury, like those sustained by Tyler Adams. Others, such as Reyna and Weah, have found themselves in suboptimal playing environments. This has been a critical development. It is with clubs, not the national team, that the bulk of player improvement occurs.

Now the ripple effects are being felt with an early Copa America exit. The term “Golden Generation” ought to be tabled until this group actually achieves something. The earliest that can happen is the next World Cup.

Kassouf: That’s a fine point about the so-called “Golden Generation,” Jeff, and the players have to own this performance, as you said. The tone of players postgame suggested as much. Tyler Adams talked about how he loves pressure, but all 11 guys have to be able to handle it. Matt Turner talked about needing to keep up more consistent intensity in training and games.

There’s something not clicking with this group. I hate rolling out the trope of a team lacking “fight” — players at this level rarely lack motivation. They do, however, seem to lack urgency — but do they just lack a clear direction?

That’s where Berhalter comes in. U.S. Soccer and sporting director Matt Crocker will hold their review to figure out what went wrong at Copa America, and they need to get their assessment right. Nothing happens in a vacuum — the tactics, the Weah red card, top players underperforming. It’s all related, but change is needed, and that will require Crocker to decide exactly what needs fixing.

Do you think U.S. Soccer will keep Berhalter on as head coach? Should they keep him?

Kassouf: Let me start by acknowledging two parallels whenever this conversation comes about: It is both an accepted occupational hazard of coaching to discuss this and it should never be forgotten that we’re talking about human beings.

Should they? I think the answer is yes because recent performances show regression and a rigidness to tactics that aren’t getting the job done. With respect to the Nations League triumph, we see now how dire things are for Mexico, and the USMNT hasn’t been good enough lately. That is true of Copa America but also — as Berhalter referenced after the loss to Uruguay — the drubbing from Colombia in the buildup to the tournament.

Will they keep him? I’d say there is a non-zero chance, which is more than some will want to believe. U.S. Soccer has been pretty pragmatic in the past (that’s how we got here, to be fair), but Crocker is still new enough to not be an entirely open book.

Another important question follows the one about potentially firing Berhalter: Who would replace him? And who can get the team on track in two short years — and be the right person for the job with a 2026 World Cup on home soil? The lack of clarity to those answers might lead to a line of thinking to keep Berhalter, but it feels like we just crossed the threshold on the point of no return.

Carlisle: As I wrote after the game, no they shouldn’t keep Berhalter. Jeff has already touched on a lot of the reasons, but I remember being surprised when he returned given (1) the Gio Reyna episode and its possible impact on the locker room, (2) the disclosure of the domestic violence incident, as well as the fact that (3) historically, second cycles haven’t worked out well for the USMNT. The last item in that list seems to be coming to the fore.

There seems to be a level of comfort in the camp that isn’t healthy. Besides Balogun, who has really played well enough to force their way into the lineup? There doesn’t seem to be that much competition for places. There’s been a lack of discipline as well — since the last World Cup, there have been four different USMNT player ejections — and it proved costly again in the Copa.

Overall this team hasn’t improved enough this cycle for Berhalter to continue. In fact, the team seems to be regressing.

In terms of whether U.S. Soccer will keep Berhalter, there are rumblings that they will. But for how long? Through the fall friendlies? Longer than that? The time to act is now. While it might seem like the U.S. has time before the 2026 World Cup, two years in international soccer isn’t as long as it might seem. This isn’t the time for patient deliberation.

The question of Berhalter’s possible replacement is a pertinent one. Part of the reason Crocker was hired was because of his international contacts. Time to work the phones.

Which U.S. player impressed the most?

Carlisle: I can think of only two: Balogun and Christian Pulisic.

Balogun is showing the kind of ability that got people excited when he first joined the team, but then only revealed in spurts. In this tournament he was consistently dangerous, no matter the opponent, and took his goals well. He was impactful against a very physical Uruguay side before finally being forced to leave the game due to injury. That’s probably the most encouraging sign to come out of the Copa.

Pulisic was impressive as well, getting the U.S. off to a flying start against Bolivia, and looking dangerous on the ball during the rest of the tournament. He’s also grown into becoming more of a team leader, though he is more of a quiet captain than a vocal one. The only problem is that the technology doesn’t exist to clone him.

Kassouf: Agreed all around. Balogun was the best player against Panama in a difficult role as a No. 9 with the USMNT down a man. Pulisic was constantly the player chasing every ball and showing the urgency you’d expect in these scenarios. After that, it was really a mixed bag of performances — and even at that, neither Balogun or Pulisic was 100% “on.”



Moreno explains what USMNT got wrong against Uruguay

Alejandro Moreno believes the United States had the wrong game plan against Uruguay in their pivotal Copa América group stage match.

Which U.S. player disappointed the most?

Kassouf: I’ll agree with the teamspeak put out by players over the past few days, which was to say that the blame for the tournament does not rest solely on one person — but it’s impossible to look at this tournament and not think it goes in a different direction if Timothy Weah doesn’t get baited into a senseless red card.

Getting ejected 18 minutes into Thursday’s game against Panama was far worse than anything he or any other player did on the field at this tournament. It derailed the entire Copa America for the USMNT.

We can talk about plenty of disappointing performances and poor timing to have bad games. The Americans were incredibly sloppy in possession at times, starting from the back with Chris Richards and, at times, Tim Ream, even in the 2-0 win over Bolivia to open the tournament. That set the tone for issues that continued against Panama. Ironically, those two improved that issue significantly against Uruguay, but the damage had already been done earlier in the tournament.

Carlisle: About the only thing I can add to this is that the midfield was disappointing, full of average to below-average performances. Tyler Adams’ fitness remained an issue, affecting his availability. Sure, the red card against Panama affects things, but it’s no reason to fail to have an impact on defense.

Weston McKennie seemed quiet throughout most of the tournament on both sides of the ball. His passing percentage in the attacking third was 54.5% at the Copa America. This mark was 83.3% with Juventus last season. His tackle/duel/aerial percentages were 0%/20%/16.7%. Quiet indeed.

Is this the right group of players moving forward, or does this team need a shake-up?

Carlisle: It’s not like Berhalter — or any other manager for that matter — can just dial up a bunch of new players, though he has effectively mined the dual national market in the past. He has mostly stuck with the player pool he has. But the only player not in the squad’s core making any kind of case for more playing time was Johnny Cardoso, and he has blown hot and cold with the USMNT.

Tim Ream has been a steady contributor to the U.S. over the last two years. But at age 36, it’s time to look for alternatives. The fact that Mark McKenzie and Miles Robinson didn’t see a minute over the past month, while Cameron Carter-Vickers played only sporadically, hints that Berhalter didn’t feel like he had any alternatives. But one needs to be found.

Kassouf: Now this team is in a really awkward spot. Two years isn’t actually very long to overhaul a roster with new, young players ahead of a World Cup on home soil. And to the point of the “Golden Generation” chatter, this is already a group filled with talent in their prime. At its core, this is the group. Now it’s about getting more out of it.