The announcement of the joint bid for hosting the 2026 World Cup — which includes the United States, Canada and Mexico — had to have some U.S. fans thinking at least a little bit about just who might be around representing the country by then.
People in Canada and Mexico will be wondering the same thing. Who might be joining Alphonso Davies on a Canadian World Cup team in 2026? Will Club America prospect Diego Lainez live up to the hype and be the leader for El Tri in nine years?
Nine years is a generation away in national-team time, with very few current members of the U.S. squad likely to still be involved by then. But which American players might actually be playing key roles for the Stars and Stripes in 2026?
Nobody was talking about Christian Pulisic nine years ago, and there are surely players well off the radar who will emerge over the next decade. But we have already seen enough exciting American prospects who are playing well on the youth levels to be worthy of a generous long-term projection.
Here are 10 players — some you already know well, and some you probably haven’t heard of yet — who could have key roles to play in the first World Cup on American soil since 1994 (if the joint World Cup bid succeeds, that is).
The U.S. national team sensation is already the most exciting talent in the national team pool, and he’ll still only be 27 when the 2026 World Cup would be played. If he can manage to continue building on the insanely impressive start to his professional career, Pulisic could be a world superstar in nine years. He would definitely be a good candidate to captain the U.S. team by then.
Looking for someone to lead the American defense on home soil? Carter-Vickers is your man. Though only 19, he is already making the bench for Tottenham and has made a handful of first-team appearances in cup competitions. Though still not cap-tied to the United States, all signs point to the English-born defender being committed to the U.S. and sources tell Goal he is expected to be part of the U.S. Under-20 World Cup team in May.
Since the likes of Tim Howard and Brad Guzan will have long since retired by 2026, there will be a need for a new option by the time two World Cup cycles come and go. Horvath is 21 years old and the most highly rated of the young prospects at the position for the United States. He has been a backup at Club Brugge since joining the Belgian champions in a transfer from Norwegian side Molde during the winter, but he showed enough as a starter at Molde to make him a good goalkeeping prospect to bet on for future success. Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen could also grab this spot if Horvath’s career doesn’t blossom.
The Golden Ball winner in the recent CONCACAF Under-20 championships, Palmer-Brown is a prospect who has intrigued scouts since Italian giant Juventus attempted to sign him back in 2014. Having spent a year on loan to Porto B, Palmer-Brown is still trying to break into Sporting Kansas City’s first team, but he has a bright future and should shine at the Under-20 World Cup this summer.
The Schalke U-19 midfielder and FC Dallas academy product made waves when he turned down an MLS deal to ply his trade in Germany, but if there’s a top candidate to follow the trail blazed by Pulisic into the Bundesliga, it’s McKennie. The 18-year-old central midfielder could play a key role on this year’s U.S. Under-20 World Cup team if Schalke releases him for the competition, and there remains some question about whether that will happen. A source tells Goal that U.S. Under-20 coach Tab Ramos may actually save a roster spot for McKennie and let him join the team just before the tournament.
Though he is also eligible to play for Mexico, and most recently played for Mexican youth teams last fall, Alvarez is a 14-year-old already turning heads in the youth soccer scene on both sides of the border. The LA Galaxy academy product spent time with the U.S. U-15s, but more recently with Mexico, and we could see a real tug-of-war for the extremely skilled midfielder.
Claudio Reyna’s son is making noise with the U.S. Under-15 national team and with the NYCFC academy. The 15-year-old midfielder has his father’s feel for the game, though he’s more of an attack-minded prospect than the former U.S. national team captain was. He’ll be 24 when the 2026 World Cup is taking place, and it would be 20 years after his father played in the last of his three World Cups.
The top prospect on the current U.S. Under-17 national team, Sargent has drawn considerable attention from European scouts, while Sporting Kansas City has already made him an offer to sign in MLS (which he has turned down). Boasting excellent technical ability, finishing and a strength/speed combo scouts rave about, Sargent will likely turn pro soon and should enjoy a breakout performance at the Under-17 World Cup later this year.
The California native chose to play for the Mexican Under-17 national team after a falling out with the U.S. U-17 team, but even though he played for Mexico at the last U-17 World Cup he still isn’t cap-tied to Mexico. A highly rated prospect for Pachuca, Lara still has time for a change of heart, and he wouldn’t be the first player to switch back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico.
Atlanta United’s arrival in MLS should help further cultivate a market that was always good at producing talent, and one player who should benefit from that is Bello, an exciting left-back prospect currently on the U.S. Under-15 team. He is one of a handful of promising fullback prospects in the U.S. pipeline, such as U.S. U-17 and New York Red Bulls Academy standout Chris Gloster and U.S. U-16 and LA Galaxy academy fullback John Hilton, but it’s Bello who scouts are already talking about having next-level talent.
OTHERS TO REMEMBER
Jonathan Klinsmann, Zack Steffen, Justen Glad, Chris Gloster, James Sands, Marco Farfan, Chris Durkin, Nick Taitague, Josh Perez, Tyler Adams, Gedion Zelalem, Hadji Wright, Timothy Tillman, Ayo Akinola