Pepi and Slonina in, Turner and Ream out: How will the USMNT line up at the 2026 World Cup?

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After some encouraging displays in Qatar, the U.S. can now start planning to potentially contend for the title on home soil

Think back to what the U.S. men's national team looked like just after the 2018 World Cup. Players like Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams were still total newcomers to the senior team. Tim Weah had just earned his first cap. Yunus Musah? No American fan had ever heard of him.

The point is that much can change in a few short years, especially for a national team. And that's what makes predicting how the USMNT will look like in 2026 so hard.

But that's the nature of this business: projecting what's next. The USMNT's 2022 World Cup is officially over and, from the moment the final whistle blew against the Netherlands, the focus began to shift towards 2026.

We know some players that should be there. The USMNT is a young team, after all, one loaded with stars that might not even be in their prime even in 2026. In all likelihood, there will be plenty of familiar faces in that squad with World Cup experience from their time in Qatar.

But there will surely be some surprises. There are more Musahs out there just waiting to be found, more Tim Reams waiting for their career resurgence to catapult them toward 2026.

With that in mind, GOAL takes a look at what the U.S. XI could look like on home soil in three-and-a-half years:

  1. GK: Gabriel Slonina
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    GK: Gabriel Slonina

    Just as a caveat, Matt Turner will only be 31 by the start of the next World Cup. He'll be in his goalkeeping prime and, considering the fact that he's currently at Arsenal, there's a chance he'll be playing at a very high level.

    But there's also a chance that Slonina is playing at an even higher level. His potential is just that absurd.

    He's been compared to Gianluigi Buffon despite being just 18 years old. For a teenage goalkeeper from the U.S. to be compared to arguably the best to ever do it just shows how good those in the know think Slonina can be.

    He's joining Chelsea this winter, so we'll see how the next four years go, but, make no mistake, Slonina has the potential to be the best goalkeeper the U.S. has ever seen, which really is saying something given the legends that have preceded him.

  2. LB: Antonee Robinson
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    LB: Antonee Robinson

    In theory, there are some young players coming for this spot, but Robinson is also fairly young himself.

    It's easy to forget that he's only 25, which would mean he'll be just 28 by the time the 2026 tournament rolls around. And there's reason to believe that Robinson will only get better. AC Milan was interested in signing him for a reason.

    There are other contenders, though. Young Atlanta United star Caleb Wiley could be in the mix, as could John Tolkin. And then there's Kevin Paredes and Jonathan Gomez, who will be looking to break through at Wolfsburg or Real Sociedad, respectively, at some point soon.

    Point is, there's a bit more hope at this position, with several young stars seemingly on the way.

  3. CB: Chris Richards

    CB: Chris Richards

    Many thought Richards would be in this squad. It didn't quite happen.

    Form and fitness weren't enough for him to push his way in, but the talent is certainly still there. Richards is a damn good defender and there's reason to believe he has a high ceiling with the national team.

    He'll need to improve at Crystal Palace or move on, though, as his first half-season in the Premier League has been less-than-ideal. You shouldn't bet against him, though, as he's risen to the challenge everywhere he's been so far.

    The U.S. will need at least one new centerback with Tim Ream on his way out. If you had to pick one, Richards would likely be the safest bet.

  4. CB: Miles Robinson

    CB: Miles Robinson

    Another one that would have, and probably should have, been in Qatar. Robinson would have been a locked-in starter if not for his devastating Achilles injury. He was the USMNT's best defender until that point and his presence was sorely missed after he went down.

    Robinson will be just 29 by the time the next World Cup rolls around, right about in the prime of his career as a defender. Much will depend on how he comes back from his injury, though.

    In terms of other contenders, there are plenty. Justin Che is on the way up in the Bundesliga at Hoffenheim, while Mark McKenzie, one of the final cuts for this squad, is shining in Belgium. Keep an eye on Kobi Henry too as he begins his professional career in France with Reims.

  5. RB: Sergino Dest
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    RB: Sergino Dest

    It's very hard to imagine someone unseating Dest in the next four years.

    He's simply too talented and too good on the ball. The hope is that time in Serie A will help him avoid the mental lapses that have plagued him to start his career, and he's already shown signs of doing just that.

    Dest was, generally, very good at the World Cup, despite one bad moment against the Netherlands. He's a key player for this team and likely will be again in 2026.

    As for those looking to push him out, there's still reason to hold onto your Bryan Reynolds stock, while Joe Scally should only continue to get better in the Bundesliga.

    Scally, more than likely, will be the best bet when it comes to challenging Dest for this spot, even if he didn't get on the field at this World Cup.

  6. CDM: Tyler Adams

    CDM: Tyler Adams

    No doubt here. Something would have to go very, very wrong for Adams not to have this spot again in four years.

    He was the USMNT's best players at this World Cup, and he's only getting better. There's legitimate reason to believe he can be world-class and, by the time the 2026 tournament rolls around, he'll only be 27.

    Gianluca Busio could develop as a deep-lying playmaker, while James Sands' versatility will always help. But, by any measure, this is Adams' spot to lose, and there's little reason to think he'll be losing it in the next few years.

  7. CM: Weston McKennie
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    CM: Weston McKennie

    It's almost cruel to say but, if you were to bet on any of the midfield three losing their spot, it would likely be McKennie.

    It seems very harsh, considering how good he is and can be. And, even with that said, it's unlikely we'll see anyone surpass McKennie any time soon.

    The Juventus star just brings so much to the game, both as a defender and an attacker. In Qatar, it would have been nice to see his ability on set-pieces utilized more effectively, but so it goes.

    In terms of replacements, ex-Bayern youngster Malik Tillman is also a player with a high ceiling. The same can be said for Caden Clark, even if he still has a lot of developing to do outside of MLS.

  8. CM: Yunus Musah
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    CM: Yunus Musah

    There may not be an American player with more upside.

    Musah showed glimpses of just how good he can be throughout his time in Qatar, with his ability on the ball essentially unmatched by any U.S. player. He's still learning the central midfield position, having just switched there for his club Valencia, and all signs point to him being a legitimately world-class player at some point.

    Brenden Aaronson is the obvious alternative, but he won't be the only member of his family coming for a midfield spot, though, as Paxten Aaronson could also push his way into the picture in the next four years after joining Eintracht Frankfurt. So too could Djordje Mihailovic as he gets set for his own move to Europe with AZ Alkmaar.

  9. LW: Christian Pulisic
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    LW: Christian Pulisic

    It's got to be Pulisic, right? Much can change in the next few years for the Chelsea winger who, in all likelihood, won't even be at Stamford Bridge by the time the next World Cup rolls around.

    The road to 2026 will be his third World Cup cycle, which is crazy to think about considering just how young Pulisic is. He's been in the spotlight for so long, and it'll only grow brighter as the 2026 tournament nears.

    Is there anyone that can unseat him? Probably not. Brenden Aaronson, of course, could start in the attack, even if he didn't during this World Cup as he features as a midfield supersub.

    Let's be honest, though. Barring injury, Pulisic will be the guy for a long time.

  10. ST: Ricardo Pepi
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    ST: Ricardo Pepi

    Probably the most important position and, in many ways, the most uncertain.

    Josh Sargent and Jesus Ferreira could still be in the mix as both are young enough to keep growing on the road to 2026. Young strikers like Cade Cowell could get a lot better while Daryl Dike's fitness should allow him to finally make a mark.

    The favorite, though, might just be Pepi, who shouldn't be given up on despite his struggles over the last year. He still has insane upside and is starting to turn the corner in the Netherlands with Groningen despite his struggles in Germany with Augsburg.

    One outsider to look out for is Folarin Balogun. The Arsenal product is eligible for the U.S., Nigeria and England, and could make his decision at some point soon. The success of players like Musah, Dest and Robinson could help convince him and, if he does join, the U.S. may just have their star striker.

  11. RW: Tim Weah
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    RW: Tim Weah

    Perhaps one of the more controversial starters at the beginning of the World Cup, Weah left no doubt as to why he was selected by the end.

    The Lille winger was fantastic throughout the World Cup, scoring the USMNT's first goal while proving dangerous throughout. And he did so at just 22 years old, meaning he'll be only 26 by the time the next tournament rolls around.

    But, by then, there's a pretty good chance that Gio Reyna will be a must-start, even if he controversially was the exact opposite in Qatar. He'll be 23 when the World Cup kicks-off and, with a few more seasons at Borussia Dortmund, there's no telling how good he can be.