DOHA, Qatar — The USMNT lost to the Netherlands 3-1 in the World Cup Round of 16 on Saturday. The U.S. exits the tournament, while the Netherlands advances to the quarterfinals to meet Argentina or Australia. Here are my three thoughts on the game:
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• The U.S. looked like an exhausted team, and the Netherlands took advantage of it. It’s a shame Christian Pulisic didn’t convert on a golden scoring chance in the third minute of the game. Had he done so, the U.S. would have gotten off to the perfect start, a start that would have put something tangible behind the possession advantage the U.S. had the entire first half. But goalkeeper Andries Noppert made the stop—in a play reminiscent of Oliver Kahn on Landon Donovan early in the 2002 quarterfinal against Germany—and the Dutch scored two very similar-looking first-half goals in which Memphis Depay and Daley Blind ran into the box uncovered to put away identical passes from Denzel Dumfries. (The third Dutch goal, by Dumfries, came together differently but was similar in that Dumfries was wide open in the box.) Why were the Dutch scorers uncovered? Because the U.S.’s collective defense, which had been so good in this tournament, was exhausted both physically and mentally. Nine U.S. players started all four games of this compact-schedule World Cup, and you wish there might have been some more use of depth there, because a toll was taken. Tyler Adams, who almost never looks tired, looked that way today. On the first goal, he lost track of Memphis and wasn’t able to catch up, and Yunus Musah didn’t slip over to cover. On the second Dutch goal, Sergiño Dest didn’t mark Blind closely enough. With these games coming so fast and furious, coach Gregg Berhalter has been asking a lot of his midfield trio (Adams, Musah, Weston McKennie) in this World Cup, and Adams and Musah finally lost their edge tonight. The Dutch are a good team, and they made the U.S. pay for it.
• I will never figure out the use of Gio Reyna in this World Cup. The 20-year-old American has started three of Borussia Dortmund’s six Champions League games so far this season. He makes an attacking impact in the Champions League at the highest level of the sport. He has been healthy here. And yet Berhalter did not use Reyna at all against Wales and Iran, brought him on for just seven minutes against England and didn’t start him against the Netherlands. Only when the U.S. was down 2-0 at halftime and desperate for goals did Berhalter sub Reyna in for Jesús Ferreira at the No. 9 spot. Look, Berhalter has been pretty good with his tactics overall in this tournament. But it has also been a running talking point that it would have been preferable to have your best attacking players on the field and put, say, Weah at centerforward to give yourself a chance to use Reyna or Brenden Aaronson from the start out wide. There’s no real chance that Reyna could have gone 90 or 120 minutes tonight, but he could have started and given 75 minutes, and I just don’t understand why Berhalter wouldn’t have done that prior to being forced to after 45 minutes today. Berhalter’s use of Reyna will one of the talking points that always defines World Cup 2022 for the USMNT.
• This World Cup exit hurts tremendously, but it will lead to increased excitement around a young USMNT heading into co-hosting the World Cup in 2026. We’ll have plenty more to say about this in the postmortems over the coming days, but an extremely young U.S. team here—it had the youngest average starting lineup of any team in the World Cup—should only get better in the coming four years as it gains experience and (one hopes) new emerging stars on it. Being a host country in 2026 will increase the expectations that the U.S. should be able to make a deep run in that World Cup and help take the sport to the next level in America. Will Berhalter be the coach? That remains to be seen. My read on Berhalter’s boss, Earnie Stewart, is that he hired Berhalter in the first place and will look at a run to the knockout rounds here as enough evidence to stick with Berhalter for the next four years. But Stewart won’t be the only one making that decision. U.S. Soccer’s board will have an influence, too. My own research has suggested that World Cup coaches tend not to do better in their second cycles than they do in their first. Whoever the coach ends up being, though, this U.S. team has a ton of potential. There is talent there. They need a better No. 9 (so do a lot of countries, including Germany), more goal-scoring threats and a deeper base of reliable talent that includes every sub coming into a game. We didn’t totally see that here. But there’s also a decent chance that historically this U.S. World Cup will be seen as a key building block for what happens in 2026.
What are your thoughts? You can join the discussion in the comments below.
Thanks for your coverage of the team, and the Cup as a whole, Grant!
This was a worst case scenario outcome. The Dutch outplayed and out-coached the US comprehensively. By 15 minutes into the game, the Dutch looked like they had sorted the US tactics. Both the Dutch goals exploited US weak points. And I think Grant is completely on target when he notes that the team just looked tired, physically and mentally.
I think this is hard lesson for these players, that there's a big difference between what it takes to get out of a group and what it takes to progress in this tournament. I think it'll make them more competitive in the next cycle.