Americans falter in biggest test before the 2026 World Cup

Photo cred: Sasha Wagner

In what many pegged as the litmus test for the USMNT prior to the 2026 World Cup, the Americans failed to advance past the group stage in Copa America after a loss to Uruguay on Monday night.

The US men started off the tournament with a 2-0 win against a Bolivia side that has won just 1 Copa America Match since 1999. While seemingly not much of a test for the USMNT, the Americans failed to capitalize on numerous chances in front of goal – which could have proven to be problematic as goal differential is the first tie breaker in the group stage.

The team then faced a familiar CONCACAF opponent in Panama, who tested the USMNT’s discipline. A Tim Weah red card in the 18th minute for striking a Panama player, forced the Americans play 70+ minutes a man down, in a game that the USMNT truly should have escaped from with at least a point.

After Berhalter made significant adjustments to “park the bus” in the second half down a man and with the score level, Panama broke through in the 83rd minute, ultimately stealing all three points from the match and forcing the USMNT into a virtual “must-win” against tournament contenders, Uruguay, to wrap up group play.

And Monday night, in a match that captain Christian Pulisic exclaimed would require “the game of our lives’’ vs. Uruguay, the Americans fell much too short in the end, as Gregg Berhalter was caught “score watching” on the sideline.

The refereeing

It would be a disservice to the game to speak on both the Panama and Uruguay matches and not mention the refereeing display in both.

The degree to which the referees in each match affected the overall outcomes was catastrophic.

In the second group stage match, Panama had clear intentions of frustrating the US by playing tight and physical – hacking and trying to pull the USMNT out of their shell.

They succeeded.

Panama committed 19 fouls to the USMNT’s 4, with Panama earning just 4 cards in total.

The USMNT earned 3 cards on their 4 total fouls, with both teams earning 1 red card.

A key moment in the match featured a crunching foul on USMNT keeper Matt Turner early in the first half that forced the US keeper to leave the contest at half time. It would be hard to imagine any other keeper in the world not drawing a yellow card for the offense committed on Turner. How the referee, and VAR for that matter, saw this offense as just a foul and did not feel there was a clear and obvious error, was an egregious misuse of the resources the referee has at his disposal.

This specific foul set the tone for the match.

As Panama hacked, kicked, and wrecked without consequence, Tim Weah lost his cool, which led directly to a red card and subsequent two game suspension, that changed the complexion of his team’s tournament. It was a moment that he truly should have been prepared for.

Balogun, who had an absolutely stellar outing vs. Panama, was virtually undressed by Panamanian defenders throughout the contest. As the striker would beat his man with muscle, he would constantly have his jersey tugged, always to the result of the whistle being blown and no card being given for clear tactical fouls.

The first real sense of equity didn’t occur until the 88th minute where Adalberto Carasquilla violently hacked at Pulisic’s ankles, taking him down and earning the Panamanian star a red card.

Yet, it was too little, too late for there be any sense of justice served.

Then came Monday, where one of the worst displays of officiating to grace a football pitch took place in USMNT’s match vs. Uruguay in Kansas City.

In the 15th minute, Tyler Adams took a heavy touch and lunged for a ball where his ankle was crushed by the studs of Uruguay’s Matias Oliveira. The result? A yellow card to Tyler Adams that, you guessed it, was not checked by VAR.

One has to wonder if this would have been a clear red card on Oliveira if this tackle was on any Argentinian, as Olivera’s studs went dangerously into Adam’s ankle.

In the 32nd minute, Tim Ream forced a risky pass that was intercepted and Uruguay quickly countered the other way. Chris Richards had to step up and throw a leg in the way of an Uruguayan attacker, earning him a yellow card. The issue? The referee issued the yellow card as Uruguay tried to play a quick restart. The referee signaled that he was playing advantage after issuing the yellow card, and allowed play to continue as if there was never any stoppage for the yellow card to have been issued.

If not for a heads up play by Tim Ream, the USMNT could have easily been picking the ball out of their net as a result of the referee’s ineptitude.

The irony of this is that later in the match, the USMNT tried to break out on advantage twice. Both times, the referee looked to see the result of continued play, ultimately deciding to blow the play dead and pull both back for the foul and not letting the clear advantage play-out.

On one of these instances, Pulisic had his man beaten short of the midfield line with US  numbers in the attack – yet the referee blew it dead.

In the 65th minute, the USMNT were defending an Uruguay set piece in their own half. Crossed in, a Uruguayan headed chance on Turner was parried into the feet of an offside Mattias Olivera, who put the ball in the back of the net. However, the flag from the assistant referee never went up.

The USMNT protested the goal, and a long VAR check followed. The head referee stood at midfield while the VAR team ran the unreasonably long check. The VAR team apparently felt it right to not send the head referee to check the monitor, and eventually it was ruled a good goal.

The Fox broadcast showed a still image with Olivera’s knee highlighted in red clearly beyond Chris Richards’s foot, which would indicate offside. Minutes later, Fox showed another image from a slightly different angle doctored to make it appear that Olivera was not offside.

Both matches are two clear occurrences where inconsistent officiating between the two teams affected the outcome. Puzzlingly, both times, the USMNT were the victim.

Still, the preparation for moments like these, for a CONCACAF team after all, seemed to be lacking.


With fingers pointing to and fro, the utterly disgraceful results in the Panama and Uruguay games were not indicative of a team with a starting XI wholly sourced from Top 5 European leagues.

Where does the blame fall? Surely, you can look at these players and say they didn’t do enough. Not scoring a single goal in a must-win match on home soil is an embarrassing way to crash out.

The sample size on Gregg Berhalter’s performance as USMNT coach is now paunchy. He has unquestionably the most talented player pool ever assembled in American soccer, and has yet to accomplish a win vs. a top 15 ranked opponent outside of Mexico.

We are talking about a player pool that includes:

  • a UEFA Champions League winner,
  • Fulham’s reigning “Player of the Season” in the Premier League,
  • a center back who if he was 10 years younger would be Pep Guardiola’s man,
  • a goal-keeper signed by Arsenal,
  • a top 4 scorer in Ligue 1,
  • and most importantly, the first ever USMNT starting XI in a major tournament to consist entirely of players in top 5 leagues.

So with the added context, who is truly to blame?

Say what you want about Gregg Berhalter’s lofty goal in “changing the perception of US Soccer.” He certainly has changed the style with which they play – for better or for worse.

That is all well and good, but when there is no actual measurable progress and the team cannot win a big game against a good (not even great) opponent, with the talent at his disposal, these results are unacceptable, no matter the refereeing display.

To draw comparisons, former USMNT coaching candidate Jesse Marsch was just appointed the coach of the Canadian Men’s national team no more than one month prior to the Copa America. He steered his team through to the knockout stage of the tournament in a group consisting of Argentina, Chile, and Peru, albeit with far less talent.

The team lack the preparation. The team lack the discipline. The team lack the gumption to succeed when it matters most.

One single moment from the match last night should cement Gregg’s fate.

Just before the set-piece leading to Uruguay’s goal, there was a shot on the Fox broadcast of Berhalter telling his team the score of the Panama vs. Bolivia match from the sideline. Bolivia had just tied the match 1-1, which meant that all the US may need to do at that moment was keep things level at 0-0 and they would advance.

USMNT Coach Gregg Berhalter Signalling 1-1 (Bolivia v Panama Score) seconds before conceding to Uruguay.
byu/pork_chop_expressss insoccer

The problem?

Everything the US needed to advance to the knockout round was in Arrowhead stadium on Monday night. 

If the US won, they almost certainly would have gone through, barring Panama running up the scoring vs. Bolivia.

Even after the US’s unglamorous 2-0 win vs. Bolivia, even after the undisciplined loss vs. Panama, even after 65 minutes of scoreless soccer vs. Uruguay, the USMNT still effectively controlled their own fate.

For a “leader” to score-watch in that way, to communicate that to his players in that particular moment lacks any semblance of integrity, leadership, and people management wherewithal.

If it wasn’t his questionable management and usage of talent at the 2022 World Cup, or the accusations that shrouded the fallout from that tournament, or his tactics that don’t seem to fit with a national team that have you down on Berhalter…

Let it be this:

The two year period leading up most important tournament in the history of US soccer just became even more harrowing.

Decisions need to be made sooner rather than later.

The level to which Berhalter stooped in that particular moment was caught on camera. At the height of the preparations for 2026, this is the specific proof that, beyond all else, Gregg Berhalter is not the guy that is deserving of serving US Soccer in its finest hour.


  1. I can’t disagree with anything you’ve said here. I hope he’s gone sooner rather than later.

    I also wonder if there can’t be some kind of inquest regarding the officiating. Cause that was unconscionable.

    My hope is that with a new coach and a massive chip on the USMNT’s shoulders they will play in the World Cup with the skill, desire and tenacity that I saw break through a few times in this Uruguay game. These are potentially extraordinary players.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    Regardless of the officiating in the game against Panama, the issue lies with Weah putting his team in a position to lose.
    Regarding the Uruguay goal, offsides is essentially a VAR decision unless it’s a judgement as to whether someone who was offsides interfered in the play. On the Uruguay goal, the ref was never going to look at the monitor, VAR would tell him whether the scorer was onsides or off since there was no question as to whether he was involved in the play.
    One thing that irks me is when FOX talking heads call this team the “golden generation”. Maybe this team is playing in stronger leagues and has more talent, but it’s also a team that has continuously looked mediocre in tournaments outside CONCACAF (and even some within) and seems to make a lot of stupid decisions like Weah did last Thursday.
    Compare this team with the group from 2009-2014 that upset Spain in the Confederations Cup, won its group in 2010, finished second to eventually champions Germany before taking a strong Belgium to overtime before bowing out, and won CONCCACAF World Cup qualification twice (compared with the current team barely squeaking through in third avoiding the playoff on goal differential).

  3. paulcontinuum22 says:

    Gregg Burhalter makes one yearn for the halcyon days of Steve Sampson.

    • Eddie Would Go says:


      Remember Sampson’s visionary 3-6-1 formation? At least the guy beat Brazil.

      GGG should definitely go. It was so stupid to hire him back in the first place, but at least he tried to step away from that 4-3-3 formation in this tourney.

      Give us Glenn Hoddle and his psychic, please!!!

  4. paulcontinuum22 says:

    It seems rather obvious now the only reason GB was rehired was to avoid the inevitable lawsuit that would have followed. What a way to run a railroad.

  5. as a host nation in ’26, it won’t matter how mediocre the team is.i expect the same poorly-organized, mediocre talent to crash out in the group stage. if there was something to fight for, the right to represent at the tournament, quiet the doubters, then i’d brush this off. that isn’t the case.

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