USMNTer Malik Tillman is in action for Rangers on Friday, plus way-too-early 2026 World Cup Power Rankings

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Merry Christmas to all, and to all a fond farewell to the World Cup season. With Carabao Cup action picking up in England this week, it’s well and truly time to move on from the World Cup. But don’t worry, the women’s edition is only seven months away, and for the men, 2026 will be here before you know it.

I’m Mike Goodman, and welcome to a holly jolly Golazo Starting XI newsletter. With Christmas spirit in full swing, there’s a limited slate of games to speak of, but we’ve still got you covered and if you’re jonesing for some of that live action. We’ve got American Malik Tillman playing for Rangers today.

Friday’s soccer schedule on CBS Sports Network:

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Way-too-early look at the 2026 World Cup

As the men’s World Cup expands from 32 to 48 teams, we don’t know whether the group stage will consist of groups of three or groups of four and whether they’ll move into a round of 16 or a round of 32 once the knockout stages begin. We’ve got plenty of time to figure it out. Besides, when has FIFA ever made a mess of planning anything before? It’ll be fine, I’m sure. 

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Regardless, we can absolutely look at who we expect the best teams to be at this early date. Obviously, some things will change between now and then; this tournament featured a bevy of breakout performances from 19 and 20-year-old kids who were completely unknown at this time four years ago. Spain’s Gavi was only 14 when the 2018 version kicked off. But that doesn’t mean we don’t know anything. James Benge has some surprises in his way-too-early Power Rankings. Make sure you check it out:

Argentina surprisingly clock in at No. 8

  • Benge: “To put the holders so low is not to disparage the talent they do have, but it is worth remembering that in 2026 they will be a team that no longer have the greatest footballer of all time. At the very least, it will be an almighty challenge to adapt to life post-Lionel Messi even if there is an opportunity to build an attack that is more collegiate, less about getting the ball to one man and trusting him to do the rest. This nation will doubtless be a contender in the next World Cup but may not go all the way.”

The USMNT make the top 10

  • Benge: “They will definitely be there (at least that’s what Gianni Infantino said of all three hosts), something which puts them ahead of a great many other teams on their list. Crucially as well, the outstanding midfield triumvirate of Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah have time to develop into their peak together and there is young talent such as Chris Richards and (in goalkeeper terms) Matt Turner to anchor a defense around. It would really, really help if Gregg Berhalter and the U.S. Soccer Federation could rustle up a striker from somewhere though.”  

Make sure to check out the complete list from Benge to see who’s at No. 1 and discover which sides that missed out on the 2022 edition are sneaking up around the edges of the top 10 for 2026.

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January transfer window looms

Cristiano Ronaldo seems set to dominate the transfer headlines as he nears a deal to start plying his trade in Saudi Arabia. But, as the January window approaches, there are plenty of other names flying high in everybody’s mind, especially coming off of the first winter World Cup. We’ve never really had a situation like this before, where players got to flaunt their stuff in the biggest international tournament in the world right before the January transfer window. Even the African Cup of Nations, the biggest international tournament to take place during the European season happens in January, so players are gone and playing during the window, not back after having shown off what they can do.  

Let’s get to some transfer links, and the rest of the pre-Christmas news.

Best bet

Club soccer is back, so let’s take a look at the biggest game of the day. All odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.

  • Ross Country vs. Rangers, Friday, 2:30 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
    💰 THE PICK: Rangers (-390). Bet Rangers to win, but watch to see young American attacker Malik Tillman boss games in attack. He’s only 20 and he’s on loan from Bayern Munich, but he’s already put up three goals and four assists in 15 games in Scotland. He’s yet another reason American soccer is on the upswing heading into 2026.

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