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Copa America: Can USMNT be the surprise team of the tournament?

Hosts United States are hoping to surprise their South American opponents at the Copa America.

Christian Pulisic playing football for the USA USMNT

United States are hoping this summer’s Copa America is the start of a soccer revolution in their country.

The Americans will host the tournament which kicks off on Sunday and hopes are growing Gregg Berhalter’s side could be a team to watch.

Also co-hosts of the 2026 World Cup, a good showing this summer could inspire the nation to enjoy further success in two years time.

So how far can the USA go at the tournament? In this article we will take a deeper look.

Is this USA’s moment?

The Stars and Stripes have undoubtedly produced some quality talents over the years – take Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan as two shining examples.

But when it comes to producing a ‘soccer’ side capable of challenging in a major tournament, they have generally fallen short.

Their surprise run to the semi-finals in 2016 when they were also hosts stands out, while the quarter-finals is their best showing at the World Cup.

Expectations were high to at least match that record for the Qatar World Cup in 2022 and while they qualified from a group containing England, they were made light work of by the Netherlands in the last 16.

With two host tournaments in the space of two years, now seems as good a time as any for the USMNT to break new ground.

How is their squad shaping up?

The growing expectation is not without good reason, either, with the majority of their squad playing at a high level in Europe.

In fact, just three of Berhalter’s 26-man squad for the tournament play their club football in MLS.

That figure was at nine at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, while 10 of their 23 players at the 2016 Copa America played for MLS clubs.

That is no slight on MLS – but their is no doubt that having most of their players operating at a high level in some of Europe’s top leagues bodes well.

Christian Pulisic remains the poster boy for football in the country. The team captain is currently plying his trade at AC Milan after time with Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund.

Weston McKennie and Timothy Weah are also in Serie A with Juventus and will be key men alongside Pulisic.

Fellow midfielder Tyler Adams has had an injury-hit season at Bournemouth but displayed his prowess for Leeds the season before, while former Arsenal and now Monaco youngster Folarin Balogun is another exciting striker at their disposal.

Anthony Robinson, Tim Ream and Chris Richards are established Premier League defenders, as is goalkeeeper Mat Turner at Nottingham Forest.

Young stars to watch

While there is a youthful feel across the squad, there are a few that stand out who could be capable of breaking through at the top level.

One of those is certainly Yunus Musah, who is a team-mate of Pulisic’s at AC Milan.

The 21-year-old caught the eye in Qatar and has since been snapped up by the Rossoneri after impressing in LaLiga with Valencia.

He is an energetic midfielder who can operate wider due to his fantastic dribbling ability and possess plenty of flair.

Striker Ricardo Pepi is another rising star who could endear himself to a home crowd.

The 21-year-old Texan has scored 19 goals across two seasons for PSV Eindhoven, while his international record stands at an impressive 10 goals in in 25 caps.

Who are their group opponents?

A group made up of Bolivia, Panama and Uruguay is one you would expect them to have little issue progressing from.

While Uruguay will be the favourites to top the group, the talents at USA’s disposal is far superior to that of Panama and Bolivia, meaning a group-stage exit would be a failure.

And with Bolivia and Panama in their first two games, they could already have their place in the knockout stages wrapped up by the time they face La Celeste.

It is in the knockout stages where things get really tricky for Berhalter’s men.

Who could they face in the knockout stages?

Come second in the group and it is set to be Brazil in the quarter-finals, naturally one of the favourites to win the whole thing.

Top the group ahead of Uruguay and it is most likely to be Colombia awaiting them, which is another test of their credentials against South America’s finest teams.

They will undoubtedly be underdogs against both sides and progressing from either should be considered a success.

Do that, and it will be Uruguay again in the semi-finals – witht the third favourites making it undoubtedly a difficult path.


Given their 2016 run, anything less than a semi-final finish is likely to feel like something of a failure.

But given the quality of their opponents that looks a tall order this time round, even with a home crowd roaring them on.

The 2026 World Cup is no doubt the main aim for this youthful American side and this summer will definitely provide vital experience to make their mark in two years.

We are predicting USA to be losing quarter-finalists this summer – albeit disappointed ones.

Picture of Cian Cheesbrough

Cian Cheesbrough

Cian is a sports journalist with a wealth of experience writing for national titles, including LiveScore, MailOnline, Eurosport and Sky Sports. He has covered a number of key events during his time in the industry, including from the press box at live Champions League fixtures.

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