FIFA Men's World Cup
Club connections could give USMNT boost ahead of 2026 World Cup
FIFA Men's World Cup

Club connections could give USMNT boost ahead of 2026 World Cup

Updated Sep. 7, 2023 8:42 p.m. ET

Nobody at U.S. Soccer can say for certain that the six sets of club teammates on the men's national team's current roster is the most on a single USMNT squad, tied with the number at the 1998 World Cup. The program has been playing games for more than century. Detailed records of players called in for many matches, particularly those contested during a 40-year World Cup drought between 1950 and 1990, have been lost to history. 

But this much is for sure: nobody at U.S. Soccer or anywhere else can remember any roster having more. 

"It's definitely a big positive," U.S. winger Tim Weah, speaking to reporters two days before the Americans meet Uzbekistan in a friendly Saturday (kickoff at 5:30 p.m. ET) in St. Louis, said of playing alongside fellow U.S. standout Weston McKennie with Italy's Juventus this season. 

"Already me and Wes, we have pretty much a good understanding — I understand how he plays, he understands how I play. So our chemistry is really good. And then now that we're on the same team training every day, it's just gonna make it even better. 


"And when we come to [U.S.] camp," Weah added, "it's just very fluid. So hopefully that translates to the games."

Club teammates representing the same country on the global stage is as old as international soccer itself. At the 2022 World Cup, runner-up France had six sets of club teammates. Champions Argentina had five. The U.S. had four: Shaq Moore and Walker Zimmerman of Nashville SC, Leeds United's Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams, Seattle Sounders Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris, and Tim Ream and Antonee "Jedi" Robinson of Premier League Fulham

That familiarity can make a difference international games. With little time to prepare even for high-stakes contests, it's hard to get national teams that don't regularly convene up to speed. Chemistry must be fostered over years; often it begins on youth national teams. For instance, four members of the U.S.'s 2022 World Cup squad played went to the U-17 version seven years earlier. 

Still, the more recent reps the better. It's notable that when the USMNT was trying to close out its eventual knockout stage-clinching 1-0 win over Iran in Qatar last November, coach Gregg Berhalter subbed in defenders Moore and Zimmerman on the right side of the back line late, while Ream and Robinson held down the left. 

For the U.S., having six sets of club teammates on the current squad is significant. Most domestic leagues tend to be top-heavy. MLS, the highest circuit in the U.S. and Canada, was designed to have far more parity between the best and worst clubs, meaning national teamers based at home don't tend to all represent the same couple of clubs. 

It's not like that elsewhere. A dozen members of Saudi Arabia's 26-man team in Qatar were contracted to Al-Hilal. Germany had seven Bayern Munich players, while Spain took six from Barcelona. Even Canada, which has three MLS teams compared to the USA's 26, had six from CF Montreal

Understanding the tendencies of the guy next to you on the field doesn't automatically equal success, though. Canada lost all three of its games at the 2022 World Cup. Germany, a four time champ, also failed to survive the first round. 

So did that 1998 U.S. World Cup team, which finished dead last among the 32 participants in France. Club rivalries can even torpedo national teams; former Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard once said there was "hatred" between the Reds cohort and his Chelsea and Manchester United counterparts when they met up for England duty. 

This American squad is different from the 1998 side. So is the caliber of the clubs that sent more than one U.S. player to Missouri this week. Juve has won the Scudetto more than any other team. Christian Pulisic and Yunus Musah — also both U.S. starters — are at AC Milan; only Real Madrid has more European titles all-time. 

PSV Eindhoven, which has three players in this U.S. camp (Sergiño Dest, Ricardo Pepi and Malik Tillman), will compete in the UEFA Champions League this season. Just one of the six sets hails from MLS: Drake Callender and Benjamin Cremaschi of Lionel Messi's Inter Miami. 

For a team trying to climb FIFA's ranking and, as McKennie put it Thursday  — "change soccer in America forever" at the 2026 World Cup on home soil —  they'll happily take any available advantage.

"It definitely helps," McKennie said of having so many club teammates play on the USMNT. "I think we already have a good understanding from the many years that we played together here on the national team, but I think it could just be that much more heightened with the fact that we're together every day."

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports who has covered United States men's and women's national teams at FIFA World Cups on five continents. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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Timothy Weah
Weston McKennie
United States

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