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With the United States out of the 2022 World Cup, it's time to look forward to 2026. The future is bright as the talent coming through at the youth levels is better than it has ever been before. The U-20s recently won the Concacaf U-20 Championship to qualify for both the U-20 World Cup and the Summer Olympics, which will give the players time to play competitive matches before pushing to make the roster in 2026.

Will they be able to parley that into growth and big European moves over the next few years? Paxten Aaronson has already sealed a move to Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany showing that the spotlight is certainly on United States youth, but how will that impact the 2026 roster? Let's take a look at predicting that team three and a half years before the action kicks off:

USMNT roster locks

Locks for 2026 are few and far between as only the absolute core of this year's World Cup run should be assured a place on the roster, but the below 10 players will be in the team for major tournaments as long as they are healthy and playing for their clubs.

  • Matt Turner (Goalkeeper)
  • Sergino Dest (Defender)
  • Weston McKennie (Midfielder)
  • Christian Pulisic (Forward)
  • Gio Reyna (Forward)
  • Tyler Adams (Midfielder)
  • Antonee Robinson (Defender)
  • Brenden Aaronson (Forward)
  • Yunus Musah (Midfielder)
  • Tim Weah (Forward)

Pulisic, Adams, and McKennie are talented players who are only getting better by the day. Currently playing their soccer for major European teams, that's expected to continue as they'll all be in their prime during the 2026 World Cup. Weah likely is the toughest player of the group to project in the future but even if he's still starting at Lille, that will likely be enough to be a fixture in the squad.

After them, it's a good mix of youth and importance to their teams that shows just how bright that the future is for this squad. It's fair to expect all 10 to regularly be involved in Champions League play as they continue to raise the bar of what's expected of a national team regular. 

On the bubble

  • Luca De La Torre (Midfielder): In the future, de la Torre will have hopefully broken into the midfield at Celta Vigo. If he hasn't either become a regular or gotten a move after struggling to contribute so far in his start to La Liga life, there are plenty of young midfielders who are chomping at the bit to take his spot among the reserves.
  • Miles Robinson (Defender): While injury recovery will be important for Robinson, he is 100% a part of the future national team setup if he can regain the form that he showed during World Cup qualifying. He was already expecting a European move with Atlanta United, and if he shows that he can regain his pre-injury form, it will come.
  • Malik Tillman (Midfielder): An electric attacker, Tillman is a player to watch over the next few years. Able to take set plays, dribble, pass, and shoot, it will be interesting to see how he performs with Michael Beale at Rangers. After Reyna, Tillman may have the highest ceiling of attacking players in the pool.
  • Folarin Balogun (Forward): This is where things get interesting, the United States' search for a striker is no foreign subject, but a dual national could be the answer. With eight Ligue 1 goals at Reims, Balogun is showing what he can do at only 21. Born in New York City, Balogun is able to represent the United States or England and has played youth games for both nations but the draw of leading the line for the USMNT could be enough to sway him to commit to the United States before the 2026 World Cup. Dual nationals are already bearing fruit considering Robinson, Musah, and Dest, so the path is there for Balogun to be the next recruit to the side.
  • Ethan Horvath (Keeper): Horvath is a guy that finds a way to hang around the squad. A good backup keeper with experience making saves in key moments, he'll be able to use that as he moves into a leadership role with the team.
  • Ricardo Pepi (Forward): Despite not making the World Cup squad for 2022, Pepi will likely get competitive games at the Olympics while also being involved with the senior team. Pepi's next move after Groningen will be an important one as his time at FC Augsburg has likely come to an end. With the right move, not only will he set himself up for success, but he will also be in a good position to become the starter for the national team.
  • Joe Scally (Defender): Already performing at a high level in Germany, if not for Dest's presence in the squad, Scally would have a shot at being a starter but in 2026 with DeAndre Yedlin likely out of the picture, he should move up the depth chart and could eventually surpass Dest as well.
  • Josh Sargent (Forward): Despite not scoring a goal at the World Cup, Sargent showed what he can bring to the team. It will be interesting to see how he turns this current promotion campaign with Norwich City into a growth experience as a player but consistent playing time and stringing seasons together with double-digit goal contributions could do wonders for Sargent. It's hard to tell where his ceiling is but at 22, he has room for growth.
  • Cameron Carter-Vickers (Defender): Center back is a thin area for the USMNT but Carter-Vickers has earned his first World Cup start and did well. Making up for his lack of pace with excellent anticipation, Carter-Vickers has become an important part of the Celtic side, and after multiple loans from Tottenham, has a home for the foreseeable future. With the most consistent situation of top USMNT center backs, he could end up as the top option for the national team.
  • Jack McGlynn (Midfielder): When McKennie leaves the pitch, the USMNT lose a cutting edge as the other midfielders don't have the inventiveness with the ball that he has from deeper areas on the pitch. One player who could help bring that is McGlynn as he grows with the U-20s. He's set for more playing time with the Philadelphia Union where he will also appear in Concacaf Champions League, gaining more experience at a higher level. Already tracked by European teams, it's only a matter of time until he makes the jump to the next level as well.
  • Gabriel Slonina (Goalkeeper): On the move to Chelsea, it remains to be seen if Slonina will stick with Chelsea as their third keeper or head on loan in January but by 2026, the expectation is for him to rise to become the number one keeper for the USMNT. 
  • Mark McKenzie (Defender): Now in the starting lineup at Genk, McKenzie is back on track to benefit from the lack of depth in defense for the national team. Confident on the ball, he can help push the playstyle for the national team forward as they'll need to spend more time on the front foot in front of fans.
  • Kellyn Acosta (Midfielder): Despite being 31 at the time of the World Cup, there will still be at least a few locker room guys in the squad who can do a job in a pinch. Acosta fits the bill there due to his set piece delivery and being the most natural backup to Adams as a defensive midfielder.
  • Reggie Cannon (Defender): Cannon hasn't taken an easy route in the Portuguese top flight but he has performed well with Boavista. If he's able to keep consistently starting, experience and ability to slide into a back three will help Cannon make the squad raising the versatility of the team.
  • Kevin Paredes (Defender): Another player with a high ceiling, Paredes will need to earn more playing time at Wolfsburg or get a loan to play more but if he does, his attacking abilities as a wing-back are undeniable. Not as defensively sound as Robinson, Paredes could offer an option for when the team operates as favorites to break down a staunch defense.
  • Chris Richards (Defender): If not for injuries, Richards could've been a starter at center back for the 2022 World Cup but he'll have plenty of time to settle with Crystal Palace before the next edition. Already back in training, Richards will be able to contribute for the second half of the Premier League season to get back on the right track just in time.

Listen below and follow In Soccer We Trust: A CBS Sports Soccer Podcast where three times a week your three favorite former USMNT players cover everything you could possibly want to know about the beautiful game in the United States.

2026 roster projection 

Goalkeepers (3): Gabriel Slonina (Chelsea), Matt Turner (Arsenal), Ethan Horvath (Luton Town).

Defenders (9): Sergino Dest (AC Milan), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Chris Richards (Crystal Palace), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Kevin Paredes (Wolfsburg), Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic), Reggie Cannon (Boavista).

Midfielders (7): Weston McKennie (Juventus), Tyler Adams (Leeds United), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Kellyn Acosta (Los Angeles FC), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Malik Tillman (Rangers); Jack McGlynn (Philadelphia Union).

Forwards (7): Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Ricardo Pepi (FC Gronigen), Tim Weah (Lille), Folarin Balogun (Reims), Josh Sargent (Norwich City).

On the outside looking in

This is a group of players to watch, mostly dependent on upside panning out or possible transfers down the road.

  • Zack Steffen (Goalkeeper): After missing the World Cup in Qatar, Steffen's future with the national team is up in the air. Long seen as the number one, not only has he been surpassed by Matt Turner but his club performances have also been less than stellar. It's also easy to forget that Steffen is already 27. While keepers age gracefully, Slonina is an up-and-coming talent and should take the number one shirt leaving Steffen out in the cold.
  • James Sands (Defender): Is Sands a defender or a midfielder is the biggest question that Rangers need to help answer. Becoming a bit of a tweener, Sands could be a top defensive midfielder to provide a natural backup to Adams but if he continues to be a swiss army knife utility player, his growth could be capped.
  • Sam Vines (Defender): If not for his injury Vines may have made the 2022 World Cup due to his performances for Royal Antwerp. If Vines is able to get more confident going forward, he'll have the inside track on being Robinson's backup but there are players who have more potential than him.
  • Cole Bassett (Midfielder): Sticking with former members of the Colorado Rapids, Bassett is getting consistent playing time on loan at Fortuna Sittard. A solid box-to-box midfielder with good passing range, Bassett is someone to watch.
  • Jonathan Gomez (Defender): Another dual national who could end up playing for Mexico, Gomez has represented both nations at the youth level. Currently acclimating to Spain in the youth ranks for Real Sociedad, it's only a matter of time until he breaks through to the first team. Electric on the ball, Gomez and Paredes will give Robinson a run for his money if their development pans out.
  • Haji Wright (Forward): The only striker to score a goal for the USMNT during the World Cup, Wright seemed overmatched during most of his minutes for the team but the striker race is still open and he'll be in the mix.
  • Cristian Roldan (Midfielder): Similarly to Acosta, Roldan could be the locker room guy on the roster. The players respect him as could be seen in his consoling Pulisic after the loss to the Netherlands. 
  • Erik Palmer-Brown (Defender): With Carter-Vickers captaining Celtic, Palmer-Brown is another name who has fallen down the pecking order at the national team level. He starts consistently for Troyes which will keep him in the mix, but Palmer-Brown is someone who would benefit from a manager employing a back three.
  • Brandon Vazquez (Forward): Also eligible for Mexico. Vazquez deserves a shot but with so many forwards to take a look at, he may need to go through the Gold Cup and be competitive, serving as a proving ground that led Shaq Moore to this past World Cup roster.
  • Johnny Cardoso (Midfielder): Likely on the move from Internacional in Brazil, it seems like Italy will be the next destination for Cardoso. If he's able to stick with a Serie A side, that would be a great place for the 21-year-old to develop, putting him in a good position to fight for a spot on the 2026 World Cup roster.
  • Jesus Ferreira (Forward): Another player who was hurt by the 2022 Wold Cup, Ferreira dropped from the likely starter at the nine to only playing 45 minutes in four matches, appearing once. While surprising, this was a chance for Ferreira to take a stranglehold on the position and that didn't happen. Now he's back to fighting for a spot on the roster.
  • Djordje Mihailovic (Midfielder): Another player who could benefit from a new coach changing the formation, Mihailovic will look to take his form to  a potential move to AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands. Mihailovic can produce but with the midfield trio locked and plenty of depth on the wings, he'll need to be stellar to keep himself in the national team conversation. 
  • Jordan Pefok (Forward): There's a fair case that Pefok should've made the 2022 roster but his chances for 2026 look just as murky. His goal-scoring can't be ignored but with the potential of the younger forwards in the pool, he could be surpassed over the next few years.