Gregg Berhalter knows what you want. The United States men’s national team coach hears and absorbs the talk. He’s aware of the vibe and is not blind to the reality.

The World Cup is coming to North America in three summers and the status quo is not going to satisfy anybody.

A courageous run to the round of 16, leading to an outplayed-by-a-better-opponent departure? That won’t fly any longer.

Not at home. Not in 2026. 

As the USA grows as a soccer nation, with an improving domestic league, booming participation and viewership rates, and oh, the greatest player ever performing on these shores, a big breakthrough for the national team is the missing piece in the puzzle.

Berhalter hung onto his job in the wake of the 2022 tournament and the fallout from the Gio Reyna mess and an investigation into a domestic violence incident between him and his wife from the early 1990s. The result is that he is the man charged with delivering what, so far, has proved impossible.

[Gregg Berhalter says he’s ‘looking forward to’ conversations with Gio Reyna]

Namely, a World Cup run where the USMNT sticks around long enough to flirt with contending for the whole darn thing, not creeping into the third week and then peace-ing out. Big boy stuff. Not the last 16. Probably not even the quarters, managed in 2002, but at least one step better than that.

It is a monumental task because of the simple fact that nothing is going to happen over the next three years to suddenly give the United States a group of players capable of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the very best. 

Christian Pulisic has made a strong start in Italy’s Serie A after falling out of favor at Chelsea. Tyler Adams is a fine captain, but spent last season with relegated English Premier League squad Leeds United and has now joined Bournemouth, who will never be unfairly accused of being too trendy. Exciting striker Folarin Balogun just made a much-publicized $50 million move to Monaco, last season’s sixth-placed finisher in France’s Ligue 1. 

[USMNT striker Folarin Balogun joins Monaco in $43.4 million transfer from Arsenal]

The USA does not currently have a batch of superstars on the global level, like Argentina, France, Brazil, England, Germany, Spain or the Netherlands. So, the Americans need something else. 

If the magic formula is to be found, it will come not so much from an enhancement in how they play, but in how they think. 

“We want to basically acknowledge that there has been good work, but now we can to take it to a different level,” Berhalter told reporters. “Here is how we can take it to a different level. 

“Part of that is a player ownership model where they have more ownership in what’s happening.” 

He’s talking mental, not financial ownership. He means he wants them to feel invested, so they care more and strive harder and reach deeper and bond better. Top-level sports deal in small margins. Of course, Berhalter’s players care already. He needs them to care obsessively, collectively and permanently. 

“We are guides here,” Berhalter added, referring to himself and his coaching staff. “We all want the same thing — to be successful in 2026. That’s what we are trying to achieve. It is just working together to achieve that.” 

What will give the USA a chance is if, to a man, the squad signs up for the sacrifice. 

[Gregg Berhalter names Ben Cremaschi, Ricardo Pepi to first roster since rehire]

International soccer is a peculiar and intricate science. Coaches don’t get to work with their players for long periods of time. Unlike club coaches, they don’t get to sign whoever they want as long as the owner signs the check. In the case of elite stars from the major leagues, the amount of remuneration they get for representing their national team is miniscule when compared to their weekly club pay packet.

It is not one of those things where you put in the work and there are all kinds of hidden benefits. The reward is the concept itself, playing for, fighting for, and if things go well, winning for your country. Potentially being part of history.

The coaches through World Cup lore who have managed to get their players to believe in the worthiness of that idea are among those who have been the most successful.

Spain in 2010 had a brilliant squad filled with some of the best players in the sport. They were united, fraternal and lifted the trophy with an invincible level of revolutionary soccer. Spain in 2014 and 2018 had a brilliant squad filled with some of the best players in the sport. But it didn’t have the other stuff, the same willingness, and got bounced out early.

Last winter in Qatar, Morocco’s deep sense of unity and the aura of a team bound for destiny, was the spur for an inspirational run to the semifinals for a team predicted to fall much sooner.

In 2002, co-host South Korea also made the last four, benefiting from months working together at a training camp, with the entire domestic Korean league having had its schedule shifted to accommodate such a level of brotherly preparation.

France, which came so close to going back-to-back in 2022, is a prime example of how the right mental approach is critical. When things click, Les Bleus play beautiful soccer. When discord strikes, events such as the team’s infamous 2010 meltdown occur, when the squad threatened mutiny and were subsequently admonished by the country’s parliament.

An altruistic thought process is a must and to get that the coach needs to say the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, and have the right kind of leadership amid the playing core to maintain it.

A World Cup is not a place for the selfish. Yes, soccer’s biggest event can be a shop window for those seeking better club situations, but less so than in the past.

Success can even work in reverse. Players who have outstanding World Cups, at times, suffer a noticeable decline the following club season, on account of the effort and exertion — and maybe even the party afterward — while others had their feet up on a beach somewhere recuperating for the new campaign.

Berhalter needs to get his guys to believe this upcoming World Cup, which is three years away but will be here in the blink of an eye, is the most important thing they will ever do in the sport. No easy task.

It needs to be about a different ideal, one that requires things to be viewed in a certain way.

It can mean playing in a system that doesn’t entirely fit your style. It is most certainly about working yourself to the point of exhaustion during the summer months coming off a long club season and heading into another one.

If you have a group that is willing to do that, where everyone buys in and works together it can overcome all kinds of deficiencies.

Grit and spirit and effort alone can’t win a World Cup. But if any of those things are missing, forget about even trying.

That’s the task that lies ahead. Berhalter is back, presented with another chance to produce the moment American soccer has waited so long for.

It is a grueling challenge, and, as much as anything, a psychological one.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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