DALLAS, Texas — First thing’s first: the United States men’s national team wants to win its third straight Concacaf Nations League title. As Jedi Robinson put it this week, “I want to keep winning this trophy to the point that it bores people that we keep winning.”

But when it comes to the big picture, the USMNT fully understands everything it’s doing now — how it performs in this tournament, in upcoming June friendlies against Colombia and Brazil, and at this summer’s Copa América — it’s all about building toward the 2026 World Cup on home soil.

“We’re using this tournament as a pivotal part of our preparation for the World Cup,” U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re using Copa América, we’re using these high-profile friendly games that we have, because the way we look at it is, elimination games and playing against the best teams in the world are going to prepare us for 2026.”

As a World Cup co-host — alongside Mexico and Canada — the U.S. has automatically qualified. While that’s certainly a positive, the squad therefore misses out on high-stakes matches in the lead up.

“We don’t have qualifying, so we say, OK, what else is there?” Berhalter continued. “And it’s clearly Nations League, [which is a] knockout competition, a chance to win a trophy. Colombia and Brazil are big profile friendlies before the summer, and then Copa América, one of the oldest, most regarded tournaments in the world to help prepare us for 2026.”

USMNT vs. Jamaica preview & reaction to new USA Kits | SOTU

USMNT vs. Jamaica preview & reaction to new USA Kits | SOTU

As it pertains to the more immediate future, the USMNT faces Jamaica in the Nations League semifinal on Thursday and will play Sunday in either the final or third place game against Mexico or Panama. All matches are at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

And it’s clear Berhalter’s message of how to treat these matches has made its way to the players.

“For us, it’s about thriving in knockout competition,” Christian Pulisic said Wednesday ahead of the squad’s training session. “We need to be really strong in those moments and know that one mistake can cost you. And we need to punish the other opponents as well when we get the opportunity. That’s just one area where we can improve.”

Another main objective for the squad to work on over the next few years, Pulisic said, is being more intentional and dangerous in front of goal. The last time all eyes were on this group during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the U.S. scored just three goals in four matches. 

“It’s about being as clinical as we can in the final third with our final ball, with our finish and when we get an opportunity, making sure we don’t let up on teams,” said Pulisic, who is having his most productive season ever with AC Milan. The American superstar has scored 12 goals in 39 appearances, which is better than his previous record of 11 goals during the 2019-20 season at Chelsea.

It’s also about “being more effective if we have a type of game where we might not create three, four or five chances, maybe if we do create one chance, we capitalize on it,” Weston McKennie said.

In addition to Pulisic, there are other capable goalscorers within the 23-player roster, which Berhatler said was the most difficult to pick given how competitive and deep the international player pool has become. For example, after struggling to find a reliable striker during the last World Cup cycle, Berhalter now has too many to choose from and decided to include three here (instead of two) with Folarin Balogun, Ricardo Pepi and Haji Wright, who replaced an injured Josh Sargent. 

While some coaches might use a tournament like Nations League to experiment and tinker with lineups and player combinations – especially with only a few months to go before  Copa América — Berhalter is sitting on what’s arguably the most talented roster he’s ever had. 

“Our objective is to win our third [Nations League] title,” Berhalter said. “That’s what we’re here for. And I don’t think it’s really about experimenting. It’s about putting 11 guys on the field that can play well together and win a game.”

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her at @LakenLitman.

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