The United States is headed back to the FIFA Men's World Cup.
I fell in love with this sport following the USMNT at the 2014 World Cup. The special feeling of watching your country at the pinnacle of the sport is unique and unforgettable, and losing that in 2018 was heartbreaking.
The failure of the 2018 World Cup cycle left a permanent scar on the federation and men's soccer program and completely changed the way things were run. Over the last four years, Gregg Berhalter has led a fresh-faced men's national team built around a seemingly endless pipeline of promising young players.
The USMNT is one of the youngest teams in the entire world. The "veterans" are guys like Christian Pulisic, 23, and Tyler Adams, 23. The only current national team player from that 2014 group is Deandre Yedlin, himself only 28.
Failures in development forced this team to rely on the next generation, with supplemental help from MLS late bloomers like Walker Zimmerman, and this new group is headed back to the World Cup.
For US fans, this is a time to celebrate. People can complain about only finishing third in qualifying, disappointing results every now and then, or certain roster selections, but right now it doesn't matter.
For all the criticism heaped on the USMNT and Gregg Berhalter, this cycle has been an unquestionable success so far. After the failure in Couva, the goal this time around was to qualify. That was the goal and the US did it. Nobody will remember how you qualify, only that you did.
Who knows what will happen in Qatar this fall for the USMNT. With a team this talented, the US could feasibly make a memorable run deep into the tournament. At the same time, it's a young group with only one World Cup veteran that could lose all three group stage games. The fact of the matter is, this is gravy.
The overarching men's national team plan is to win it all in 2026. The role of this cycle in that masterplan is to qualify and build a foundation. That foundation is strong now, with the young stars building experience together and establishing a good team culture. In Qatar, this generation will get their feet wet and gain necessary experience to win on home soil in '26.
Obviously we all want a historic month this fall, and failing to at least get out of the group would be disappointing. But it's all about perspective. Just getting to have this moment, to celebrate and showcase on the world's brightest stage, is something to cherish.