National Writer: Charles Boehm

USMNT handle Bolivia with “good starting point” to Copa América


First box: Checked.

After months – years, really – of hype and hubbub about the state of the program at this momentous juncture in the buildup to the 2026 World Cup, the US men’s national team began their Copa América campaign with a straightforward 2-0 win over Bolivia at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Sunday evening.

The Yanks completed their initial task of the tournament with a performance that was no more, and no less, than was required. A beautifully-struck goal from Christian Pulisic off a short corner kick provided a dream start. Pulisic also helped provide the calming second by assisting on Folarin Balogun’s calm left-footed finish just before halftime, and a tenacious but limited opponent was unable to post much threat of a turnabout.

“The biggest thing was, there wasn't any doubt,” Gregg Berhalter told FOX’s Jenny Taft afterward. “To get the early goal really took a lot of pressure off. And then we knew they were going to be high pressing, we knew they were going to be aggressive. [The plan] was actually to play beyond their press and try to put long balls behind their back line, try to contest some balls higher in their end, and then play for second balls and try to attack from there.

“When we did that, I think we were able to create enough chances,” added the coach, for whom so much hinges on this event, the Yanks’ only real competitive barometer of the 2026 World Cup cycle. “The message to the team is, it's always important to win your first game. We talked about progressing our performance, improving our performance throughout the tournament, so I think it was a good starting point.”

Cameras and fieldside microphones captured Pulisic searching for Gianni Vio, a specialist set-piece coach who has been working with the USMNT since last autumn after stints at Watford and Tottenham Hotspur, to salute his role in the game-winning sequence. Vio earned plaudits for his contributions to Italy’s triumph in the 2020 European Championship and is said to have nearly 5,000 different iterations of set plays in his catalog.

“We had the idea that if they only brought one out, we’d take that 2-v-1. Basically, the idea was just to shoot at the back post and things can happen. And sure enough, it went in,” said Pulisic to Taft postgame. “Shout out to Gianni for that one, he had a really nice play drawn up.”

Areas to improve

The three points are essential, and the confidence shown figures to be essential for building belief both inside the team and out. The weakness of La Verde, 84th in the latest FIFA World Rankings, ensured that the rest of the United States’ display would be compared to their perceived top level rather than their adversary, however.

For a group with stated aspirations of threatening South America’s elite with a deep run in this tournament, there are ample nits to pick at.

The Yanks failed to build on the momentum from Pulisic’s early inspiration, opting for caution over aggression even with blood in the water. Midfield linchpin Weston McKennie picked up a soft yellow card that could prove costly in the days ahead. Center back Chris Richards made a few mistakes in distribution that a stronger opponent might’ve exploited. Balogun was quiet outside of his goal, and his replacement and competitor Ricardo Pepi failed to finish any of several gilt-edged chances served up by teammates in the second half.

“I was happy with how we played today as a team,” said left back Antonee 'Jedi' Robinson. “I think if we were being picky, we could have been a lot more clinical. We could have put another two or three goals away. So we'll take the positives from this and move on.”

Up next

Perhaps this is a mode the USMNT will need to install if they are to join the global elite. If the group-stage opener can be won without shifting past third gear, then why not bank the victory and save physical and emotional energy for the tougher tests to come?

“We came out flying with a lot of intensity. Obviously, the early goal helped us a lot,” said Pulisic. "All around, a pretty dominant performance. I think we could have put it away and had a couple more goals there, but definitely a really good start from the guys.”

In that sense the Yanks’ Group C slate is a staircase, with Panama likely to pose a more rugged challenge in Atlanta on Thursday before the ferocious quality and tempo of Marcelo Bielsa’s Uruguay on July 1 in Kansas City. Berhalter & Co. will want to be in top gear, or close to it, by that point.

“The intensity from the start was important. We know the performance was good, but it can improve. That's important,” said the coach. “I think we can finish some more chances than we did today. But the most important thing for us now is just Panama, that's all it is. We focus on Panama. We get the group recovered, healthy and we go and try to win that game.”