USMNT hopeful John Tolkin on his point to prove in Paris ahead of 2026 World Cup, the Americans’ return to the Olympic stage… and why Louis Vuitton plays a role in his success

The Olympics are now just seven weeks away, and Mail Sport is looking ahead to the Paris Games with a series of interviews, flashbacks and deep dives. 

There is little wiggle room for John Tolkin to be a major player in American soccer over the next two years, especially as someone whose first cap with the senior United States men’s national team came last year. 

Tolkin is still young and he’ll turn 22 during this summer’s Paris Olympics, where he hopes to be one of the 18 members of the United States men’s soccer team competing at the event. 

The limited roster space makes every single one of the 18 valuable, as only seven players can come off the bench. Although Tolkin looks likely to be in France after being called up to the Olympic training camp this month, nothing is for certain.  

And it has never been more important to be in the room where it happens for ‘JMi’, with the World Cup on the horizon. 

The United States will host more games in the 2026 World Cup than Mexico or Canada, with the final in Tolkin’s New Jersey backyard of MetLife Stadium. And Tolkin’s stance on the next two years is clear: ‘I’m gonna do everything I can to be a part of it.’

With only 18 spots available on the US Olympic roster, Tolkin’s has a small window for error

Tolkin has made four appearances for the US senior national team heading into Paris

Tolkin has made four appearances for the US senior national team heading into Paris

But the biggest bump in Tolkin’s road to the 2026 World Cup is a good problem for America. The country has never had a greater and more-engaged talent pool than right now, with its depth only growing in prestige over the next 24 months.  

On top of that logjam, the United States can call into its Olympic squad three players over the age of 23 for the Under-23 competition. And because US Soccer is keen to win a Gold medal, it’ll use all three spots. 

That harsh cut is not expected to affect Tolkin, who will not be on the plane without cologne. It’s the one thing the New York Red Bulls star says he could not go to France without.

Tolkin’s favorite colognes? A Baccarat red bottle and Louis Vuitton. 

‘It’s huge for me,’ Tolkin said of wearing cologne. ‘My girlfriend also always seems to be smelling things, so I need to be smelling good. It’s really important to me.’

And yes, Tolkin wears it when he plays. It’s even part of his mantra. 

‘I actually do. This is actually the first year I started doing it,’ Tolkin continued. ‘I can’t be caught in the locker room spraying myself before we walk out. So maybe I sneak to the bathroom before? But it’s for me as well. You know the saying “look good, feel good, smell good… play good.”‘

Tolkin said he wears the Louis Vuitton cologne specifically on game days. ‘It’s just clean!’ Tolkin added. 

His nose for other players who wear Louis Vuitton cologne, and therefore the ones who are ‘really smelly’ during games has also perked up. Tolkin has smelled it on opposing players but no one has asked him about his smell yet. 

Tolkin, who owns around 20 bottles of cologne, thinks it’s not his Chatham, New Jersey roots coming out by wearing cologne during games, and some from the Garden State might think he is ‘soft’ for doing so.  

Tolkin was called in for the American's last under-23 in March against France and Guinea

Tolkin was called in for the American’s last under-23 in March against France and Guinea

The US men’s soccer Olympic team kicks off play against the host country, Thierry Henry’s France, which it held to a 2-2 draw in March, up first on July 24. 

The Americans round out Group A play with games against New Zealand and Guinea. The likely prize for winning their group will be avoiding Argentina in the quarterfinals and drawing Morocco, Iran, or Ukraine instead. 

Should the US get out of Group A, only three wins separate them it from Olympic Gold. Not bad for a country making their first appearance at the event since 2008. 

Under the current under-23 format, the Americans have advanced out of the group stage just once in 2000. 

‘That’s something nobody can take away from you, if you win a medal. And I think that’s on everybody’s mind,’ Tolkin said. ‘And that’s the motivation. Everybody’s working very hard every day to do that.’

Tolkin could not choose which would mean more to him, representing the United States at the Olympics or a World Cup, as he reasoned both would be wearing the US crest on a global stage and that’s ‘every player’s dream’.

The direct connection between the major tournaments cannot be overstated to those involved. 

Even bringing up how realizing stardom in Paris could lead America to a deep run on a World Cup on home soil is an almost-unfathomable thought to Tolkin. Almost.

‘I think that’s a great opportunity for players to really showcase themselves and it’s definitely something in my mind,’ Tolkin said. 

Tolkin recently resigned with the Red Bulls, but has been linked with a move to Europe

Tolkin recently resigned with the Red Bulls, but has been linked with a move to Europe

On May 23, Tolkin signed a new contract with the Red Bulls, keeping him in the Tri-State area through at least 2027.

Tolkin admitted a month prior that he’s ‘happy’ in New York, but Europe was ‘definitely on his mind’ and was the ‘next step for development’.

No doubt part of that thinking was current USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter calling in a heavy majority of European-based players to his squads. In reality, it appears he is calling in the best players, who just happen to be playing for European teams. 

His new contract does not guarantee a move will not happen for Tolkin, as a Premier League club could swoop in with an offer the Red Bulls could not refuse. And a new contract only raises that asking price. 

A star-making performance at the Olympics, as teams from around the world will be watching, could be the exact ingredients Tolkin needs to vault himself into being undeniable for US Soccer.

‘Playing for the national team, I’ve got to experience that a little bit and it’s like a whole new level,’ Tolkin said. ‘There’s so many people you’re representing, so many athletes and fans.’

‘I wish I could describe it. I really can’t, like when the national anthem comes on, I can’t find the words to how it feels,’ Tolkin continued. ‘It’s like it’s just an overload of emotions.’