‘Tis the season of new gym memberships, diet plans and self-development books – in other words, the season of New Year’s resolutions.
And if so many of us are going to spend the start of a new year tirelessly thinking about how we could improve ourselves, then we might as well keep that same energy for the teams we love.
The latest news on the USMNT head coach position came in early December from ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle, who reported U.S. Soccer were set to begin discussions with Gregg Berhalter on a new contract. (Berhalter’s current deal reportedly ran out at the end of 2022.)
Quickly following the report, U.S. Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart released the following statement: “As we always do after a major tournament, we are taking time to reflect. We will conduct a full review with everyone involved as we determine our next steps. We look forward to building off the performance in Qatar and preparing for the journey towards 2026."
Though Stewart’s statement essentially amounts to a “no comment,” it’s fair to assume U.S. Soccer are at least considering a new contract for Berhalter, but that neither side is (was?) rushing to get an agreement over the line. Carlisle also reported Berhalter is interested in exploring coaching jobs with European clubs.
Still, a domestic-heavy January camp culminating with matches against Serbia (Jan. 25) and Colombia (Jan. 28) looms large. Following that are Concacaf Nations League matches in March and the Concacaf Gold Cup in June and July.
None of these singular events or tournaments are likely to have a major effect on 2026, but together they offer a half-year stretch for whoever is in charge to try new players, lineups and tactical ideas.
The more settled the coaching situation is during that time, the more intentional those decisions can be. Plus, according to captain Tyler Adams, Copa América participation may be just around the corner in 2024 (reportedly even hosted in the US).
Longstanding debate over Berhalter’s tenure aside, there’s a lot to be gained in finding the coach of the future for the USMNT sooner rather than later.
Striker, center mid and center back – the three positions colloquially known as the “spine” of a team – are each areas of concern moving forward for the USMNT. Though the causes for concern vary by position.
At striker, there’s plenty of young talent, from the players who made the last World Cup roster (Josh Sargent, Jesus Ferreira and Haji Wright) to those who just missed the cut (Jordan Pefok, Recardo Pepi, Brandon Vazquez) and beyond. The problem is, no one has unequivocally seized the starting role, and many have had their opportunities. Finding the next Brian McBride or Jozy Altidore in 2023 would be a major boon.
Center back proved more stable in Qatar, with Tim Ream and Walker Zimmerman combining to make seven out of eight possible starts. But at ages 35 and 29 respectively, it’s possible at least one, if not both, will have aged out before the 2026 World Cup.
The USMNT don’t need to pick their next World Cup-starting center backs in 2023, but finding a young leader to anchor them through the upcoming cycle would be a plus. Chris Richards (22) and Miles Robinson (25) are both strong candidates, with each missing out on the 26-man roster for Qatar due to injury.
In contrast to the striker and center back situations, the center mid group has proven starters who should be in their prime for the next World Cup, and, in fact, Weston McKennie (24), Adams (23) and Yunus Musah (20) could all feasibly make the leap to “world-class” status by 2026. But the depth behind those three remains a question.
McKennie, Adams and Musah started every match in Qatar and eventually looked gassed by the Round of 16 fixture against the Netherlands, contributing to a comprehensive 3-1 defeat. It’s hard to imagine a quarterfinal or better run for the US in 2026 without at least some rotation in the middle of the park.
First things first: USMNT elder-statesman Tim Ream declared the Gio Reyna controversy dead. And with 50 caps and over 10 years of international experience to his name, the veteran defender has the cachet to make that declaration stick.
But whether or not the air is cleared around Reyna, a more simple truth remains: the 20-year-old only played 406 minutes in non-friendly matches for the US over the last two years.
That translates to a little more than four matches worth of playing time over a stretch that included 28 meaningful fixtures between Concacaf Nations League, World Cup qualifying and the World Cup.
While some of those missed minutes were coach’s decisions, plenty more were injury related.
If nothing else, 2023 can offer a clean slate for Reyna to rack up time and cohesion with the broader USMNT pool. That way, even if the Borussia Dortmund playmaker misses long stretches due to injury in the future, there’s some blueprint for how he could contribute upon his return.
Right now, if given a fully healthy roster (which almost never happens), it’s not clear whether the New York City FC academy alum best role would be on the wing, through the middle, as a false-No. 9 (given the team’s current lack of a clear starting striker) or as a super-sub.
As with the other New Year’s resolutions, figuring out Reyna’s role isn’t so much a box to be checked off as it is a proverbial North Star to be traveled toward, a goal that’s success is better determined in degrees than completion.
Because the year after a World Cup is not about destinations; it’s about course-setting. And getting one of the United States’ most promising-ever players back on track would be a pretty good way to start the new journey.