Wednesday morning saw the announcement that the FIFA 2026 World Cup would be held across North America, with the United Bid from Canada, Mexico and the United States securing the right to host what is currently set to be the biggest World Cup in the tournament’s history with 48 teams part of the biggest sporting event in the world.
While that’s eight years away, it’s never too early to start thinking about the players that will be either entering or in their prime when the tournament comes around. Here are five players with USL experience that could be key figures for their country in 2026.
Tyler Adams was the first signing in New York Red Bulls II history prior to the 2015 USL season, and after making 33 appearances for the side – including winning the 2016 USL Cup – he has gone on to become a key figure for the Red Bulls in Major League Soccer and his first full international appearances for the United States. Linked with a move overseas – potentially to Red Bull Leipzig in the Bundesliga – the dynamic midfielder will be potentially at the peak of his powers at 27 years old when the 2026 World Cup arrives, which could offer the chance to produce something special on home turf.
There have been few players that have grabbed the spotlight this season in the USL in the way that Efrain Alvarez has for the LA Galaxy II, having become the youngest player to score a hat trick in the league’s history while scoring at a rate of a goal every 65.7 minutes. Signed to an MLS Homegrown contract this preseason, Alvarez hasn’t yet made his debut in the top flight, and there’s also a question of which country his future might lie in. A dual national, Alvarez has previously played in the U.S. Youth National system but is currently part of Mexico’s U17 National Team squad. Whichever country he selects at the senior level, though, it’s likely that at the age of 23, Alvarez will have a chance to shine when the World Cup arrives on these shores.
Just 15 years old when he became the youngest goal-scorer in the USL’s history on May 15, 2016 for Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, Alphonso Davies has gone on to claim the Young Player of the Tournament award for Canada at the 2017 Concacaf Gold Cup and at just 17 years old has cemented himself as one of the bright young players set to help Canada rise on prominence within North America. One of the three playing representatives for the United Bid when it presented to the FIFA Congress on Wednesday, Davies will be 25 when the 2026 edition of the tournament arrives and could be primed for a big opportunity in his adopted home country.
Mark-Anthony Kaye made 79 appearances in the USL, including the past two seasons with Louisville City FC where he helped the club claim the 2017 USL Cup, performances that put him on Canada’s national team radar as he was named to the country’s 2017 Concacaf Gold Cup squad. With six appearances now to his credit on the international stage, Kaye has taken his game to a new level this year after joining first-year MLS club Los Angeles FC. Under the tutelage of former U.S. Men’s National Team Coach Bob Bradley, Kaye has made 14 appearances for LAFC, recorded his first goal and two assists for the club. While he’ll be 31 when the 2026 tournament comes around, Kaye’s star seems to be consistently rising for club and country.
Zack Steffen arrived on loan with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC from Columbus late in the 2016 season looking for the chance to re-sharpen his skills after returning to Major League Soccer from a stint in Europe and made nine appearances for the Hounds that saw him post a 75.5 save percentage. Since then, Steffen has decisively made the No. 1 spot for Crew SC his own, recently claiming the MLS Player of the Month award for May and has moved strongly into the picture for the United States, backstopping the side in its 1-1 draw against France earlier this month. Steffen will be 31 when the 2026 World Cup arrives, firmly in the prime for a goalkeeper that appears to have everything required to succeed at the top level.