2026 World Cup final in New Jersey is extra motivation for Gregg Berhalter

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For U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter, having the 2026 World Cup final played in New Jersey adds another layer of incentive.

Berhalter grew up not far from MetLife Stadium, the venue that will host the championship match of the expanded 48-nation, 104-game tournament.

“If there wasn’t motivation already to try to get to the final, there’s a little bit of extra motivation now to be playing, potentially 15 minutes away from where I grew up, in a World Cup final,” Berhalter said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday. “It would really be a dream come true … We really want to make the country proud.”

FIFA awarded the July 19 final to the home of the NFL’s New York Jets and Giants, which opened in 2010. It will cap the first tournament spread across three nations, with Mexico and Canada hosting 13 matches each.

The U.S. team will train at their national training center in suburban Atlanta ahead of the World Cup and play their opener at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, on June 12. Sticking to the same time zone, the Americans play seven days later at Seattle’s Lumen Field and finish the group stage at SoFi on June 25.

“I don’t think we could have went wrong,” Berhalter said. “We’re going to have great home support.”

Since reaching the semifinals of the first World Cup in 1930, the U.S. has advanced to the quarterfinals just once. That happened in 2002 with Berhalter being part of the team that lost 1-0 to Germany in South Korea.

The advantages of playing at home with their core of players — led by Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, all still in their mid-20s — are tantalizing for Berhalter, who coached the U.S. to the last-16 at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

That’s where Morocco had a stirring run to the semifinals, becoming the first ever African team to reach that stage in the tournament. Berhalter wants his team to aim high.

“If you think of Morocco before the last World Cup, you know, anything can happen, right? You get into the semifinals, you’re one game away from the final,” Berhalter said. “The diversity in our team is exactly what America is. And that’s the beauty of our group … You hope that Americans see themselves in our team. And, when they see us play, they can identify with our group.”

As host, the U.S. won’t be playing World Cup qualifiers. The team will be busy this year with two tournaments, the CONCACAF Nations League and the Copa América, both at home.

They are the defending champions of the CONCACAF competition, facing Jamaica in the semifinals on March 21. Mexico and Panama will play in the other semifinal game. At the Copa América, they will play Bolivia, Panama and Uruguay in the group stage.

Berhalter confirmed that defender Sergiño Dest will be on the roster for the Nations League despite being suspended for the match against Jamaica.

“I’m not sure for this group to continue to develop that we need World Cup qualifiers now,” Berhalter said. “It’s about how do we beat the best of international soccer.”

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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