Pulisic fails and USMNT dumped out of Copa America; Berhalter must be sacked this time

Ryan Baldi
UMSNT head coach Gregg Berhalter shakes hands with Matt Turner
Gregg Berhalter has the support of his players but cannot continue with USMNT

The United States had to beat a Uruguay side already coasting into the Copa America quarter-finals. They failed and Gregg Berhalter must pay this time.


Bizarre refereeing decisions. An injury to the in-form Folarin Balogun. Tim Weah’s absence due to suspension.

There were plenty of excuses available to the United States in their win-or-bust game against Uruguay last night. And they took each of them.

“I mean, that sums up the sum of the tournament for us,” defender Chris Richards said, complaining about a controversial performance by Peruvian referee Kevin Ortega. “The refs in the last two games especially have been very anti-USA. We expected that, we’re playing on home soil and we’re the best team in CONCACAF. So we expected that. But again, it still hurts regardless.”

Consternation at the game’s officiating was understandable to an extent. Initial video replays appeared to show that Mathias Olivera was offside before he struck the game’s only goal, yet a VAR review saw no infraction – and subsequent replays showed the Uruguay defender was actually just about in line with Richards’ outstretched toe before he bundled the ball past goalkeeper Matt Turner.

There were a handful of questionable decisions through the match, too, and Ortega refused to shake hands with Christian Pulisic after the final whistle. Speaking after the game, Fulham left-back Antonee Robinson labelled the official’s performance “amateur hour”.

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Despite their aggravation at the man in the middle, though, the USMNT didn’t do enough. With so much at stake – a place in the quarter-finals, the potential to escape an embarrassing early exit after losing 2-1 to Panama in their last game and the opportunity to generate some much-needed momentum ahead of the 2026 World Cup on home soil – Gregg Berhalter’s side were edgeless and uninventive.

They were up against a Uruguay team that, yes, had been flying under Marcelo Bielsa and have looked comfortably the best side at the Copa so far. But it was a Uruguay team playing with the comfort of having already booked a place in the next round as group winners. This game was effectively active rest for the Celeste.

A measly three shots on target were all the USMNT could muster – two fewer than Uruguay. The expected goals (xG) tallies for the two sides suggest the right team won, too, with the States accumulating just 0.56 xG to Uruguay’s 1.40.

The USMNT’s attacking struggles were exemplified by the performance of their star player. Pulisic is coming off a stellar season with AC Milan that saw him post career-best numbers for league goals (12) and assists (eight). His Copa campaign started brightly as well, with a stunning goal just three minutes into the first game against Bolivia.

But just as the USMNT needed to prove themselves capable of beating top-level international opposition in a game that mattered, so too Pulisic had to prove he is able to be the focal point of a national team ready to compete with the very best. The 25-year-old completed just 15 passes all game, landed one shot on target and created no chances for team-mates.

They need better from him, but Pulisic will still be front and centre for the USMNT in 2026. The same cannot – and should not – be said of Berhalter. Chants of “Fire Gregg” were heard from the stands of Arrowhead Stadium after the final whistle. The coach insisted he is still the best man to lead this talented group into the next World Cup, and the players backed their manager post-match.

“I believe we all have a comfort with Gregg and we all understand him and we’ve had him for a long time,” midfielder Weston McKennie said after the game. “He’s progressed the team very far from where we started off four or five years ago.”

The second part of McKennie’s comment is just plain wrong. A couple of CONCACAF Nations League triumphs cannot paper over the cracks evident in a last-16 exit at the 2022 World Cup and a Copa America that saw the USMNT become the first host nation in the competition’s 108-year history to be eliminated in the group stage.

And the first line of McKennie’s post-match statement might be part of the problem too: are the US players too comfortable with Berhalter? Unlike previous generations, this crop of USMNT talent, almost to a man, ply their trades at club level with some of the biggest teams in Europe. They are used to elite-level coaching and being challenged physically, mentally and tactically by complex systems at the forefront of modern footballing thought. Under Berhalter, they don’t seem to be pushed, tested and thus maximised in the same way.

A clear sign of the standards to which Berhalter holds his charges came in the 64th minute when the USMNT head coach informed his players that Bolivia had equalised against Panama in the group’s other game, and that a draw, as things stood, would be enough for the States to progress. Uruguay scored a minute later.

The United States Soccer Federation issued a statement shortly after the USMNT’s early exit from the Copa America was sealed. ‘Our tournament performance fell short of our expectations,’ it read. ‘We must do better. We will be conducting a comprehensive review of our performance in Copa America and how best to improve the team and results as we look towards the 2026 World Cup.’

There was a similar process of review back in December 2022, when Berhalter’s previous contract expired. The USSF spent half a year searching for a viable coaching candidate before deciding Berhalter was still the best man for the job, reappointing him the following June. They can’t reach the same conclusion this time.

Two years is not a long time in international football. The 2026 World Cup is approaching faster than the USMNT appear prepared for. They don’t have time for any more excuses.

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