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Complete USMNT history at the FIFA World Cup

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The FIFA World Cup is the pinnacle of international football and the USA has begun to make their presence felt on the biggest stage with some impressive recent showings at the tournament.

The World Cup winners list is dominated by nations from Europe and South America with no country outside of those two continents recording a title win.

Despite decades in the World Cup wilderness, the USA’s hosting of the 1994 tournament triggered a period of real consistency, with 2018 the only World Cup they have failed to qualify for since.

Here is a complete overview of the full history for the United States at the World Cup.

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The World Cup returns to the USA in 2026 as part of a co-hosting project with Canada and Mexico, and the USA receive an automatic spot as hosts, alongside their neighbours.

The final details of which 48 teams have sealed qualification will not be confirmed until March 2026, after the final round of FIFA intercontinental playoffs, but the USA are assured of their spot.

Technically, the best finish for the USA at a men’s FIFA World Cup came way back in 1930 in the inaugural event. However, that event only featured a four-team knockout bracket, meaning there was no Round of 16 or quarterfinals.

Since the World Cup expanded to 16 teams for the 1934 event and then 32 teams in 1998, the USA has failed to progress past the quarterfinals, reaching that stage once, in 2002. That tournament featured the only knockout stage win for the USA ever, against CONCACAF rivals Mexico.

* 1930 tournament only featured 13 teams

While the USA participated in the inaugural World Cup in 1930, and then progressed to the Round of 16 in 1934, there was a big gap between 1950-1990 where the they failed to qualify for the tournament.

One of the big reasons the USA regularly failed to reach the marquee event was that Mexico stood in its way. El Tri consistently dominated the qualifying group, leaving the USA and Canada on the outside looking in.

Even as the regional body, CONCACAF, began using a different competition (the CONCACAF Championship) as its main avenue of qualification, the USA still came up head-to-head against Mexico and Canada, and regularly fell short.

As the qualification format changed over the years, and the USA began to compete more regularly with Mexico, and they finally returned to World Cup contention in the 1990s.

Despite missing out on the 2018 tournament in Russia, the USA are now regular World Cup participants, thanks to the upcoming expansion of the tournament. The next obstacle to overcome is the knockout rounds of the tournament, where they have tripped up on several occasions after escaping their group.

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