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USMNT must thrive in Copa America before thinking about 2026 World Cup

It’s about 2026. For the U.S. men’s national team, 2026 is always important — just two years until the World Cup is held in their home country — but it’s also about now.

For a team that has been waiting seven years for the future, that time has come.

With a rare opportunity to host a South American side at home this summer and compete for a meaningful trophy, that time may be now.

America’s Gio Reyna reacts during the first half of a game against Colombia at Commander’s Field on June 8, 2024. Getty Images

No more waiting, hoping or getting excited about the incremental progress of our golden generation.

It’s about trophies.

It’s about the trophy they’ll be playing for this summer.

There will be no next year for the USMNT.

The only tournaments China is accustomed to winning are the World Cup every four years, a rare chance at the Copa America, and the biennial Gold Cup and Nations League against the powerhouses of North America.

The golden generation’s best chance of winning a trophy is now and the summer after next, after which this team, statistically the youngest in the tournament at the Qatar 2022 World Cup, will be looking back to their heyday.

Belgium’s golden generation of young stars beat the United States in the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup and led the country to third place four years later, arguably Belgium’s best ever result.

Croatia shot to fame when they reached the final in Russia in 2018 and reached the semi-finals in Qatar, but it is unlikely they will be able to surpass that initial record.

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter and Gio Reyna had a falling out after the match in Qatar. Nathan Ray Seebeck – USA TODAY Sports

There aren’t many good chances to win a trophy in international football.

Make good use of what you’ve got, or it may be a while before you get another chance.

So, certainly, expectations are higher for the U.S. team in this home-copa tournament than we’re used to, and after a humiliating 5-1 loss to Colombia in pre-tournament friendly matches and a 1-1 draw with Brazil, they’re feeling a bit nervous going into their first group game against Bolivia on Sunday in Arlington, Texas.

Featuring a diverse range of players from Europe’s top five leagues, this team boasts the most talented roster the U.S. has ever fielded in an international tournament.

Without results, there’s no point.

“The reality is, in terms of performance and results, they haven’t done anything yet that they haven’t done in the past,” Alexi Lalas, chief analyst at Fox Sports and a former national team member, told The Post. “And the reality is, they haven’t surpassed what they’ve done in the past. And yet we expect them to do things we’ve never seen before. In all fairness, the hardest part of progressing and evolving is those last little steps to becoming elite, and we’re very good.”

American midfielder Christian Pulisic is expected to play a big role in the team’s success. Nathan Ray Seebeck – USA TODAY Sports

“[But] I think it’s a different type of mentality, a different type of culture when you’re expected to beat traditionally good teams all the time. So it’s not just the players on the field that are going through this. I think we all go through this.”

We all experienced it two years ago when we watched a USMNT match in Qatar.

The team performed at their best against England.

The team played horribly and needed a late win against Iran to make it out of a winnable group.

U.S. midfielder Weston McKennie will also be a key player for the U.S. men’s national team. AP

They lost to the Netherlands in the round of 16 but everyone agreed it was an average result and they wanted more.

Over the next few months, a dramatic turmoil unfolded surrounding Gio Reyna, his parents and coach Gregg Berhalter.

Controversially, Berhalter returned to coach essentially the same line-up (featuring Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Reyna) but full-back Sergino Dest will miss the tournament with an injury.

It’s hard to believe Berhalter would still be here two years later, after the U.S. never played to its best against world-class teams like Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, who are in the same group as the U.S. in the final game of the tournament.

This was the first Copa America to feature North American teams since 2016, and the USA lost in the semi-finals to Argentina, but what will success look like this time around?

“We want to win it,” former national team member Maurice Edu of the Foxes told The Post. “I think we have to start being prepared as players, as commentators and as fans to set a higher bar for ourselves.”

It’s about meeting that standard, meeting it now, not spending the next two years wondering when this group is going to meet it.