FIFA Men's World Cup
For USMNT, the 2026 World Cup cycle starts now
FIFA Men's World Cup

For USMNT, the 2026 World Cup cycle starts now

Published Sep. 6, 2023 3:38 p.m. ET

The 2026 World Cup cycle technically began for the United States men's national team back in March, when most of the squad that reached the round of 16 of last year's World Cup reconvened for the first time since Qatar 2022. 

The two CONCACAF Nations League group games that month, the finals in June (which the U.S. won by beating North American rivals Canada and Mexico) plus a Gold Cup contested mostly by reserves later in the summer have all happened since. 

Yet, funnily, Saturday's comparatively inconsequential friendly against Uzbekistan in St. Louis (5:30 p.m. ET) still feels like the real beginning of the journey toward the next World Cup — one that will of course be co-hosted on American soil. 

There's an obvious reason. 


"With it being Gregg's first camp back," U.S. defender Tim Ream told FOX Sports in a phone interview earlier this week, "it does feel like the start of the cycle." 

He was talking about Gregg Berhalter, of course, the USMNT's 2022 World Cup coach who was rehired in June but didn't officially retake the reins until Sunday, when the 24 players he summoned for Saturday's exhibition and another versus Oman Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET) in St. Paul, Minnesota, began trickling into camp. 

Berhalter's eight-month hiatus wasn't voluntary. Had the parents of midfielder Gio Reyna not reported a decades old incident of domestic violence between the coach and his now-wife that an independent investigation determined was retaliation for leaked comments Berhalter made about the younger Reyna's poor attitude at the World Cup, his contract almost certainly would've been reupped in January. 

With all that drama behind them, Berhalter and his backroom staff can finally get back to the work of leading the USMNT. 

"Right now, there's a new level of energy with everybody on the staff, in the whole organization," assistant coach B.J. Callaghan said Monday. "We know the opportunity that we have coming up here over the next couple years."

Despite the time that has passed, there's also a familiar feeling within the roster, half of it comprised of holdovers from Qatar. (Reyna is still recovering from the fractured leg he suffered in the Nations League final and was unable to participate, but is expected to return to the USMNT next month.) 

"It's completely normal, natural, nothing out of the ordinary at all," Ream said of the in-camp vibe. "Just business as usual."

Because Ream was speaking before some players who had club games on Sunday arrived in Missouri, Berhalter had yet to address the entire team as a whole. But the 35-year-old defender wasn't expecting much different there, either. 

"I don't think anybody has thought about having a sit-down, heart-to-heart meeting that rehashes everything," Ream said of the post-World Cup flare-up. "We're looking to move on."

St. Louis is a fitting place to start. The city has long been regarded as the birthplace of American soccer; besides boasting dozens of National Soccer Hall of Famers, almost half the starting lineup of the U.S. team that famously stunned England at the 1950 World Cup hailed from a St. Louis neighborhood known as The Hill. 

Ream became the latest native son to play in soccer's marquee event last year, joining the likes of Brad Davis (2014) and Mike Sorber (1994) and Steve Trittschuh (1990). Davis, Sorber and Trittschuh were among 16 local USMNT alums welcomed by Berhalter and his players following Tuesday's training session across the street from City Park, the gleaming downtown home of St. Louis' brand-new MLS club and the site of Saturday's contest. 

After playing at his first World Cup at 35 (he turns 36 next month), some wondered if Ream would want to continue his international career, or if he'd even have the opportunity to with younger options like Chris Richards and others steadily climbing the center back depth chart. 

But it's clear that Ream is still considered a key leader on the field and inside the U.S. locker room. The captain of Fulham in England's Premier League, he's also still performing every week in the most competitive domestic circuit there is. 

Ream is hoping to stick around long enough to participate in the next World Cup, but admits the more immediate goal is to keep his starting spot at least through next summer's Copa America, which will also be staged in the U.S. That's a realistic aim for the steady veteran.

"He just exudes this, like, calmness," USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner said of Ream. "Even just the way he speaks." 

"Tim Ream is a player that I think can make a massive impact for quite a long time," Callaghan added.  "We look forward to that."

They're looking forward to plenty more starting this weekend, with the new World Cup cycle for the USMNT now indisputably underway. 

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.


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