When the United States men’s national team takes the field next week against Serbia, with the squad to be announced at noon ET on Wednesday, it will officially open the 2026 World Cup cycle. Call it a soft launch.

The roster won’t look anything like the version that advanced from the group stage at the World Cup less than two months ago. It likely won’t resemble the team that gathers again in March for CONCACAF Nations League — or at any point ever again. As usual, this January gathering will serve as more of a glorified talent identification gathering.

In the past, though, the redeeming value for this camp has been for the head coach to get an up-close look at some players in the pool that he wouldn’t otherwise get to see during FIFA international breaks. Take January 2020, for example. Matt Turner, Brenden Aaronson and Jesus Ferreira all got called in without having previously made their international debut. The trio all made the World Cup team and featured, to varying degrees, in Qatar.

This time, it’s different. With an interim head coach, Anthony Hudson, at the wheel after Gregg Berhalter’s contract expired on Dec. 31, two friendly matches in Southern California — Serbia (Jan. 25), Colombia (Jan. 28) — will net very little for the direction of the program. It’s a holding pattern that will only end when a permanent head coach is hired.

Until that happens, not much else related to the team carries much relative intrigue. It’s even hard to undersell the importance of this hire. With the United States co-hosting the 2026 World Cup alongside Canada and Mexico and a clear expectation to field the most talented American team ever, it’s as pivotal a decision the U.S. Soccer Federation has ever been entrusted with.

So, when will that new hire come? That depends on several factors, starting with the calendar.

In a perfect world, the permanent coach would have been in place Jan. 1, but there’s a balance that’s important to navigate here. This camp doesn’t really matter — not in the broader picture. And neither does the CONCACAF Nations League in March, when the U.S. plays Grenada and El Salvador. It’s easy to defend the idea that it’s not mandatory to have the coach in place by this summer’s Gold Cup, either, but that seems like a good target to shoot for.

It comes after the European club season ends in May, which allows for a natural transition for a sitting coach at a club team there. That’s important because the little information available about the state of the coaching search indicates the federation has ambitious plans.

Two weeks ago, ESPN’s Julien Laurens reported Zinedine Zidane, the French legend who coached Real Madrid to three Champions League titles and won a World Cup as a player with France in 1998, was approached through his agent about the opening.