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Game Day: A glimpse of the 2026 World Cup

Orange County Register 1/26/2023 Kevin Modesti, The Orange County Register
Team USA fans look on during the second half of the team’s exhibition match against Serbia on Wednesday night at BMO Stadium. © Keith Birmingham/The Orange County Register/TNS Team USA fans look on during the second half of the team’s exhibition match against Serbia on Wednesday night at BMO Stadium.

Editor’s note: This is the Thursday, January 26, edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

Good morning. Last night I bought a ticket and enjoyed watching the United States men’s team face Serbia in Los Angeles. Because it’s never too early to start getting excited about the World Cup coming to the U.S., Canada and Mexico in June 2026.

Here are the sports headlines:

  • Anthony Davis’ return and Rui Hachimura’s debut helped the Lakers finish their homestand with a win over the Spurs.
  • Eighth-ranked UCLA expects an even tougher test from USC tonight at Galen Center in the rematch of the Bruins’ two-point win earlier this month, and one reason is the return of Trojans 7-footer Vincent Iwuchukwu after a cardiac scare.
  • Irvine resident and UC Riverside alum Brendan Steele is one shot off the lead after the opening round at Torrey Pines.
  • With Flightline a lock to win Horse of the Year, the big battle is Taiba vs. Epicenter for top 3-year-old male at thoroughbred racing’s Eclipse Awards ceremony in Florida.
  • And J.P. Hoornstra explains what made Scott Rolen a Hall of Famer, and why it took a few years for most voters to see it.

The U.S. 11 that lost to Serbia 2-1 at BMO Stadium (formerly Banc of California Stadium) bore little resemblance to the World Cup team that advanced to the round of 16 before losing to the Netherlands in Al Rayyan, Qatar, in December.

Soccer clubs aren’t required to release players for national team duty at this time of year, and in any case this was only a friendly game with nothing officially at stake for a U.S. team that qualifies automatically for the 2026 World Cup as a host nation.

Unlike the 2022 World Cup team, which consisted mostly of established international talent from European top-division cubs, the starting lineup for the first game of the 2026 cycle leaned mostly on young MLS talent and players making their national-team debuts.

Even the coach was new, assistant Anthony Hudson filling in at least while U.S. Soccer investigates a domestic-violence incident involving coach Gregg Berhalter and the weird scandal involving Gio Reyna’s parents.

This was a chance to get noticed for American players as young as 18 – goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina – and 19 – defenders Jalen Neal of the Galaxy and Jonathan Gomez, and forward Cade Cowell.

Cowell certainly got noticed in making his second U.S. appearance, creating scoring chances from the left side of the U.S. attack early and often and hitting the goalposts with consecutive shots in the second half.

The San Jose Earthquakes player deserved a goal, and maybe he’ll get it when the U.S. faces Colombia in the second and last friendly of this January camp Saturday night at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson.

Two players making their U.S. debuts linked up to produce the game’s first goal, defender Julian Gressel delivering a pinpoint pass and forward Brandon Vazquez heading it home in the 29th minute.

Slonina had a good game despite the final score, braving an inadvertent kick in the head after one save in the first half and having little responsibility for Serbian goals that were the fault of a gap in the U.S. wall and a giveaway by Neal.

The many Serbian fans in the stands had a lot to cheer about nearly two months after their team was knocked out of the World Cup in the group stage.

So did U.S. fans.

This wasn’t the U.S. team of Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Sergiño Dest. The only players from the last World Cup appearing for the U.S. were defenders Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long (LAFC), who replaced Zimmerman at halftime.

But it’s likely that some of the young Americans who showed off at BMO Stadium will join the more familiar national-team players on the squad for the next World Cup.

That could depend not only on performance in games like last night’s but on decisions by players like the Chula Vista-born Vazquez, who is also eligible to play for Mexico, about which country’s uniform to wear.

It’s too early to know what the U.S. team will look like in 2026, but it’s not too early to wonder.


  • Clippers go for a season-high fourth win in a row when they host the Spurs (7:30 p.m., BSSC). Clippers update.
  • Ducks visit streaking Colorado, their first meeting of the season with a team that swept them last year (6 p.m., BSW). Ducks update.
  • The UCLA men’s basketball team, beaten by Arizona on Saturday, tries to start a new winning streak at USC (6 p.m., ESPN2).
  • The UC Irvine men, 13-6, 6-1 in the Big West, goes to Cal State Fullerton, 10-11, 4-5 (7 p.m., SPSN).


How is your optimism about the Angels affected by Arte Moreno canceling plans to sell the team?

Reader Dan Husband emailed to say: “I was having such a great day until I received a depressing text from a friend. I had to re-read it for the message tosink in. Say it ain’t so! Arte, please leave us long-suffering Angels fans be, for goodness sakes! Just go away. Please?”


How much will the trade for forward Rui Hachimura help the Lakers? Share your opinion by email ( or on Twitter (@KevinModesti).


“A GREAT friend to high school sports.” – Dan Albano (@ocvarsityguy) praising Fred Roggin after the sports anchor announced he’s retiring from Channel 4 news.

1,000 WORDS

Head of the class: Brandon Vazquez, right, celebrates with Alejandro Zendejas as goalkeeper Dorde Petrovic looks beaten after Vazquez scored with a header in his U.S. national team debut last night in Los Angeles. Serbia came from behind to win the friendly 2-1. Photo is by Keith Birmingham of the Pasadena Star-News and SCNG.


Thanks for reading the newsletter. Send suggestions, comments and questions by email at and via Twitter @KevinModesti.

Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

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