USA soccer must find next veteran leader after Tim Ream: An Argentina-born MLS star could be the one

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As the dust begins to settle around what’s next for the United States men’s national team, it’s clear that a different voice is needed to lead the players after crashing out of the Copa America. But looking past that, considering the youth of the side, most of the players who fell to Uruguay 2-1 in Kansas City will still be key for the USMNT during the 2026 World Cup, but one who could see the international chapter of his career closing is 36-year-old Tim Ream.

A late call to make the World Cup roster in 2022, Ream was a breath of fresh air steadying an inconsistent defense with his decision-making and distribution. The defenders playing alongside him have grown during his time with the national team but the USMNT is also no closer to figuring out who will succeed Ream on the left side of the defense. This is as much of a nod to the hard work that Ream has put in as it is also an indictment of the defenders behind him. Miles Robinson, Mark McKenzie, and Cameron Carter-Vickers have all been given chances which they haven’t taken. Joe Scally is an example that a player can bounce back from a poor first impression with the USMNT but one of these defenders will need to step up sooner than later.

There are young defenders like Jalen Neal who could make the jump by 2026 but it’s hard to project. But replacing Ream on the pitch is one issue, there’s also the fact that he needs to be replaced in the locker room where his leadership has been paramount. Following the loss to Uruguay, Ream issued some cautionary words.

“This is a fantastic group as everyone knows but sometimes the intensity falls through the cracks,” Ream said. “If we start to think that we are a finished product then guys are going to stagnate and just stay at the level they are at.”

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Ream was calling out some of his teammates for being complacent during the tournament which is only natural when you’re hailed as a “golden generation” despite not reaching new heights as a team. When you’re told something enough, you begin to believe it even if it’s not true, which can sap drive.

Ream’s comments are something that makes sense considering that he was a late bloomer himself as a soccer player, having one of his best club seasons with Fulham at 35 and breaking into the USMNT to bring together the defense. While not being the captain of the team, he certainly became one of the players looked to for guidance, and if his international career is coming to a close, a veteran, leadership figure must emerge.

Matt Turner is the next oldest regular on the team but as he struggles for playing time at Nottingham Forest, there is a future where he loses the role between the sticks before the 2026 World Cup as well. So, when looking for who can take up that elder leadership mantle at a position of need, it’s something where the USMNT may need to look externally. 

Luckily for them, they may not need to look much further than Major League Soccer depending on how Luciano Acosta’s citizenship process goes. In June, The Athletic reported that the FC Cincinnati midfielder was far along in the path to acquiring United States citizenship which could also offer a path to representing the United States at the international level. Looking back to MLS may bring groans, but when it comes to creating chances out of nothing and scoring with ease, few players have been better than Acosta who also captains Cincinnati. 

The United States struggled to create shooting opportunities against Uruguay and while Acosta may not be someone who would be a starter for the USMNT, there is a clear role that he could fill while bringing much-needed leadership qualities. It’s even something that he has thought about.

“Obviously (I would accept a USMNT call-up), if it came,” Acosta told The Athletic. “It’s one reason I started (the citizenship) process.”

Being able to play meaningful minutes while also linking play from midfield is a key role that the USMNT needs to fill. Malik Tillman could be the long term solution there but even if he is, being in camp with Acosta will only help with that. There is plenty that would need to be done for this to be a reality but there is no one correct path to the USMNT. Ream has shown that no one can be written off at any time and in looking for what’s next after the Fulham man moves on, no stone should be left unturned. 

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