The USMNT made same mistakes that led to World Cup exit: Can they learn from it ahead of Copa America?

LANDOVER, Md. — It has now been a year and a half since the United States men’s national team crashed out of the World Cup in Qatar at the hands of the Netherlands, 3-1 in the round of 16. Facing top opposition ahead of Copa America, similar questions remain. During a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Colombia, the USMNT paid for their mistakes and manager Gregg Berhalter called out his team for a lack of respect toward not only their opposition but also to the game of soccer.

With less than two weeks remaining before Copa America, the only major tournament that the USMNT will be playing in before the 2026 World Cup, this is exactly the opposite of what you’d want to see. Some difficulties were expected with the absence of Sergino Dest, but in fact, right back wasn’t one of the top five issues in falling to Colombia. Under Berhalter, the USMNT is 35-5-8 against Concacaf opponents but only 8-7-7 against the rest of the world. While opportunities for friendlies against top nations can be hard to come by, so far, the USMNT haven’t proven to be ready for those opportunities as they still seek a signature win and continue to make silly mistakes, as they did against the Dutch a year and a half ago. 

Speaking ahead of the Colombia match, Berhalter mentioned how these friendlies can help build confidence ahead of Copa America but now the result has been chalked up as a reality check before facing Brazil in Orlando on Wednesday. Not much time remains before facing Bolivia on June 21 to kick off the Copa America group stages but Berhalter and the team will need to find a way to pull together and do what is needed to not only get out of a group containing Uruguay but also win a knockout stage match as well.

“For sure, that’s what it is. We were nowhere near the level that we need to play at to win games coming into Copa America,” Christian Pulisic said in reference to Berhalter’s reality check comment. “Absolutely, yeah for sure. It’s better that it happened now but we can’t be anywhere near playing like that and expect to win games.”

Diving deeper into looking at how it got to this point, all Pulisic could say was, “I  don’t have any answers for you right now. I’ve got to go watch a little bit of video.”

Pulisic’s views are shared by other members of the team and no one looked for excuses for the performance but they were carved apart by Colombia on the counter attack. It was a pro-Colombia crowd, sure, but that’s something that should only drive the team to do better in order to give their supporters something to cheer about instead of the opposition. 

“A lot of negatives. I mean, that’s what happens in life. You just have to bounce back,” Tim Weah said following the match. “I think we’re a strong-minded team and, I take full accountability for what happened out there, but we just have to get back into training and bounce back. Playing against a high-quality team like that is always difficult. Obviously, when I scored, I thought we had a bit of momentum. I thought we were going to get back into it. It just happened to not be our day. We just have to bounce back for the next game It’s gonna be a tough one against Brazil.”

The accountability factor that both Pulisic and Weah show are going to be things that help the USMNT move past this result but belief can’t be the only thing that this team runs on. It will only get them so far, and when they come up against tactically, well-drilled teams, it won’t be enough alone to prove to be the difference. Tactics and skill are needed to topple top 20 teams in the world and on Saturday, the USMNT were lacking in both just like against the Netherlands 1.5 years ago.

Louis Van Gaal, the Netherlands coach at the last World Cup, was able to get his players into space with ease because even if the United States knew what they were going to do, no one was stopping the Netherlands from doing it. 

“I’m still trying to figure it out I don’t have so much to say right now,” Pulisic said when asked what he would say to the team as captain. “I need to hang out a bit, I need to watch some film but for sure I think we need to start right now and hold each other accountable because, like, I would say, it just has to be better.”

Reflection is needed on this result as well as reflection on how to avoid it again in the future because even if the United States can get out of their group at Copa America unless that comes with a victory over Uruguay, it won’t have done much to show that they can win big games. There’s another chance to dispel that narrative on Wednesday against Brazil but being tentative with the ball will lead to being picked apart again. Losing to Colombia was a lesson but it’s on the USMNT to dictate where they go from here. Without a change of course, the only play they are headed is for an early exit at Copa America.

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