Christian Pulisic is helped off the field after colliding with the Iran goalkeeper in the final group match. (USA TODAY Sports)
With the United States co-hosting the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada, it was mandatory for the squad to compete in the current one in Qatar.
The Americans did just that, avoiding disappointment and the embarrassment of not qualifying for the World Cup. That’s what they did when they failed to book a spot for Russia 2018.
Buoyed by a young squad, the USA reached the Round of 16.
Several players stood out.
Center Tim Ream, a surprise selection who hadn’t played with the team in more than a year, was superb in the middle of defense as the old man of the team (35).
The young and talented midfield of team captain Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie was the strength of the team.
Christian Pulisic was involved in all three American goals, scoring twice and earning two assists.
Tim Weah was a reliable threat on the right wing.
And goalkeeper Matt Turner made head coach Gregg Berhalter’s decision to start him a good one.
The USA went 1-1-1 in Group B, moving onto the knockout round.
The games followed a similar route in each game with the USMNT coming out strong before losing momentum in the second half.
In their Group B opener, the Americans started out with a 1-1 draw against Wales and Gareth Bale, the same Gareth Bale who came off the bench to lift Los Angeles FC into a draw with the Philadelphia Union before the former won the MLS Cup in a shootout. Bale tallied another equalizer in this game after Weah put away a Pulisic feed.
The U.S. continued its undefeated streak against England in the World Cup by playing to a scoreless draw in the second encounter.
In the final group game, the Americans secured a 1-0 win as Pulisic scored the lone goal while colliding with the Iranian goalkeeper late in the opening half. The Chelsea midfielder-forward suffered need to go to the hospital and suffered what he called a “pelvic contusion.”
He returned to start against the Netherlands in the Round of 16 and squandered an early scoring chance. That came back to haunt the USA as the Dutch scored two unanswered goals before Pulisic set up Haji Wright with a score in the second half in what turned into a 3-1 loss.
There was even a controversy or two, including how sparsely Berhalter used Gio Reyna.
The next World Cup is 3 1/2 years away, although there are strong indications the U.S. will participate in 2024 Copa America.
One thing is certain: Berhalter will be back in January, hosting Serbia at Banc of California Stadium on Jan. 25 and Colombia at Dignity Health Sports Park on Jan. 28.