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The U.S. is eliminated from Copa America with a 1-0 loss to Uruguay

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Another big disappointment for the U.S. men's national soccer team, this time on its home soil. The U.S. has been bounced out of Copa America, the team's biggest test ahead of the 2026 World Cup, which it is co-hosting - all the more painful because fans had hoped the squad was on the rise, and that's raising questions about the team and its coach. NPR sports correspondent Becky Sullivan joins us now. The U.S., Becky, was eliminated yesterday, losing its final two group stage matches. What happened?

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: I mean, as you said, this was just an enormous disappointment. I mean, taking a step back here, as you know, the U.S. men traditionally just haven't been that competitive internationally. But the team had improved a lot in recent years. They're currently ranked number 11 in the world. There are big hopes for the 2026 World Cup. Copa America was the - you know, the premier international soccer tournament for South America. This year, there were teams for North America competing, too, and the U.S. was hosting it. And so, you know, this was thought to be a situation which the U.S. was a lock to get out of the group stage, maybe even in good position to reach the semifinals. They won the first game against Bolivia as expected, but then it just unraveled from there.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Yeah, how did it unravel? What went wrong?

SULLIVAN: It started to go wrong in the second game against Panama, in which it was just a disaster. Not even 20 minutes into the game, winger Tim Weah, who's normally this very coolheaded guy, got mad, struck a Panama player in the head and got a red card, which means he is sent off. The U.S. doesn't get to replace him and has to play a man down. And so, you know, with only 10 men to Panama's 11, they couldn't hold them off. They lose 2 to 1. And then last night against Uruguay, you know, another 1-to-0 loss, and this one is going to - you know, the players, I'm sure, are just kind of wondering what if running through their head. Coach Gregg Berhalter used very straightforward words afterwards to describe the loss.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREGG BERHALTER: We're bitterly disappointed with the results. We know that we're capable of more. And this tournament, we didn't show it. It is really as simple as that.

SULLIVAN: In all that, there were some questions about the reffing. You know, the main ref was a younger official who didn't have much experience calling games at this level. Uruguay's only goal came on a controversial call that the U.S. surely believed was offside, but video replay seemed to show it was offside as well. But, look, at the end of the day, the U.S. just didn't score. In fact, it only had five shots at all in the entire game. So you can complain about the officiating, complain about the calls, but if you don't score, you're just not going to win.

MARTÍNEZ: That is true. Now, we heard from the coach, Gregg Berhalter. Here's a couple of headlines, Becky. ESPN - "Why U.S. Soccer Needs To Move On From Berhalter." And CBS Sports - "Why It's Time For A New U.S. Men's National Team Manager." He's been in the hot seat before, but it kind of feels like the water is boiling right now for him.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. This was really the last thing that Berhalter needed to quiet the concerns about him. He was just reappointed coach about a year ago to lead the USA through this World Cup cycle, which came after this bizarre situation that had emerged kind of around and after the World Cup in 2022. Kind of hard to summarize quickly, but basically, the parents of a player on the national team were unhappy about their son's lack of playing time, and so they threatened to reveal information about a decades-old domestic violence incident between Berhalter and a woman who would become his wife back when they were college students. So Berhalter apologized for this incident. U.S. soccer brought him back. Anyway, on top of all of that...

MARTÍNEZ: Wow.

SULLIVAN: ...His soccer coaching was also heavily questioned, as you know, after the disappointing result of the 2022 World Cup. This was really his biggest chance since to show that they were turning things around. And there were already some calls for him to be fired, but obviously, this is just going to add to that fuel.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. NPR sports correspondent Becky Sullivan. Thanks, Becky.

SULLIVAN: You are so welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF EPHILEXIA'S "MELANCHOLIA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.