Tears for Ronaldo, fears for Berhalter after USMNT Copa America exit

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Hello! Pass Cristiano Ronaldo a tissue. And get the USMNT a stretcher…

🇺🇸 U.S. crash out of Copa

🥹 Ronaldo’s bizarre breakdown

👕 Inside Man Utd shirt deal

💸 Mbappe’s PSG wage dispute

Copa Corner: USMNT ‘must do better’

(Getty Images; graphic: Eamonn Dalton)

Suddenly, for the USMNT, the 2026 World Cup is extremely distant. Two years to go. As co-hosts, no qualifying campaign to distract themselves with in the meantime. Endless hours to think and reflect.

And boy, do they have lots to reflect on. Their Copa America bid, such as it was, is over. Christian Pulisic wanted the performance of their lives last night, but what transpired was a fairly lifeless 1-0 defeat to Uruguay, in which the great escape was on for the best part of six minutes before Mathias Olivera bundled home the winner in the 66th minute (below).

The U.S. are out before the knockouts and all bets are off. A “comprehensive review” of their group-stage exit by U.S. Soccer is under way. Point one on the agenda will be the fate of head coach Gregg Berhalter. It wasn’t supposed to go like this at the Copa. And it cannot go like this at the World Cup.

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Berhalter says he’s the right man for the job – coaches don’t tend to invite the sack – but an all-or-nothing clash with Uruguay boiled down to complaints about the referee, complaints about TV camera angles, and the clutching of straws for a favour from Bolivia. To quote U.S. Soccer itself: “Must do better.”

Comfort zone?

At this point, some home truths might not go amiss. Let’s use Uruguay as a comparison. They have a more elite coach than Berhalter and it shows. Pound for pound, they have more talent in their squad, too. They don’t hype themselves. They just get to it.

The USMNT’s players are giving the impression of having Berhalter’s back. Goalkeeper Matt Turner said he had “no issue with the direction we’re heading”. Weston McKennie said the squad “all have a comfort with Gregg”. Is that a good thing? Or would a Marcelo Bielsa-style, crack-the-whip routine give the U.S. a healthy jolt?

Berhalter has come through a sticky situation before. For the second major tournament running, he finds himself in another. And in the empty space that follows the Copa, the debate about his future is all that will fill the vacuum.

Where’s Neymar?

Brazil should avoid the same hand-wringing later, although a tricky Group D game against Colombia awaits. Oddly, the story of Brazil’s Copa so far has concerned a man who isn’t fit to play — Neymar.

At 32, is he winding down? Not a bit of it. He’s in the stand kicking every ball, the Selecao’s 12th man and box-office to the end. Nice shirts, too.

Catch a match

(Times ET/UK): Group D — Brazil vs Colombia (9pm/2am) — Fox Sports 1, Fubo, Premier Sports; Costa Rica vs Paraguay (9pm/2am) — Fox Sports 2, Fubo, Premier Sports 2.

DealSheet 📝

It’s DealSheet day at The Athletic. This is what’s rumbling on the transfer front:

Euros Zone: The Ronaldo Show

Famously, there’s no ‘i’ in ‘team’. But there’s definitely an ‘i’ in ‘Cristiano Ronaldo’ and no fewer than four in ‘dignified decline’.

Ronaldo would have been tailor-made for The Truman Show: at his happiest when every light, camera and pair of eyes is trained on him. If you watched him coach Portugal from the touchline during the Euro 2016 final — I mean, if you’ve watched him at all — then you won’t be under the illusion that low profile is his bag.

But in these Euros, he’s taking the all-about-me routine to a new level: rage, performative strops, the insistence on wasting every free kick and chance Portugal get (see visual GIF, below). Last night was truly something: Ronaldo in tears halfway through extra time on account of missing a penalty, even though Jan Oblak kept it out brilliantly. And even though the game was still there to be won.

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Portugal did win, knocking Slovenia out on penalties, so all’s well that ends well and no point in crying over spilt milk. But there’s more to Ronaldo’s demeanour than a kick from 12 yards. What we’re seeing is a player who was once untouchable diminished to the point of almost being a hindrance. That aura he had? It’s gone. He knows it and so do Portugal. But nobody is brave enough to say it out loud.


The evening should have been Diogo Costa’s after three top saves in the shootout. True to form, Ronaldo stole the narrative anyway. On, then, to a quarter-final against France: Cristiano versus Kylian Mbappe. France’s 1-0 win over Belgium yesterday was a bit of a stinker, but no doubt at all that they need Mbappe. Portugal and Ronaldo? Not so much. Or not like they once did.

Inside Italy’s implosion

Monday’s TAFC touched on the end of Italy’s reign as European champions, but I wouldn’t want you to miss the inside track on how their camp descended into paranoia central.

They limped through a weak defence of their title and by the day of their elimination at the hands of Switzerland, coach Luciano Spalletti was ready to fight everybody. He was spiky and rather unhinged.

Grounds for dismissal? Seemingly not. Spalletti will stay on in his post, which is manna from heaven for writers and rubber-neckers alike.

Catch a match

(Times ET/UK): Last 16 — Romania vs The Netherlands (12pm/5pm) — Fox Sports 1, Fubo, BBC One, live blog; Austria vs Turkey (3pm/8pm) — Fox, Fubo, ITV 1

Money-Spinning Sponsor: Man Utd cash in with new $225m deal

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It’s a stretch to say no publicity is bad publicity. Some publicity is bad. The worst publicity can be terminal.

A better way of putting it would be to say certain brands are incredibly resilient. Take Manchester United. They’ve been drifting and floundering. Competitively, they’ve been left behind. But it hasn’t stopped them picking up a new shirt sponsorship deal worth $225m (£178m) over three years.

That’s $75m a season and, for this type of sponsor, as lucrative as it gets. The deal is with U.S. tech firm Qualcomm — the company’s subsidiary Snapdragon will be the name appearing on United’s kit — and the money is guaranteed in full irrespective of things such as Champions League qualification. Qualcomm just wants to be in on the act.

Adam Crafton interviewed Qualcomm’s chief marketing officer Don McGuire and his comments about reach and profile, not least in China, serve to demonstrate that no matter how poor United are on the pitch, their commercial appeal is forever rock solid.

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(Top picture: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

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