U.S. outclassed, eliminated in 3-1 loss to Netherlands

DOHA, Qatar — The devastating strike that knocked the US men’s national team out of the 2022 World Cup was a Dutch 21-pass masterpiece. She was the embodiment of class and ruthlessness, orange from front to back to front. It crushed the American optimism that had swelled throughout two weeks in Qatar, and ultimately sent the American team walking towards their traditional exit.

Netherlands 3, USA 1 here at Khalifa International Stadium on Saturday, led to a match during which the USMNT crashed squarely into its current roof. It resulted in slumped shoulders and languid vocals, the product of a very abrupt ending.

The Americans were ready to take on the Dutch challenge, and were able to trade punches with a European heavyweight in what sometimes felt like even fighting. “We were right on the game,” said a devastated Christian Pulisic later.

But it elapsed in moments, in fractions of seconds separating the haves and have-nots.

“This is what good teams do,” Pulisic said. “They punish you.”

They recovered from a two-goal deficit in the first half, and pulled one back with 15 minutes left in the game. Haji Wright’s sinister finishing touches woke 44,846 fans from their slumber, momentarily reviving dreams.

But Denzel Dumfries hit back a few minutes later. Fighting was not enough. In the end, it was Dutch quality.

Confident and eager, the Yanks seemed to have the lead for a full eight minutes. Then they were put to sleep by the Football Kings. Holland lulled them into ecstasy, then pounced on a talent unlike any the United States had seen at this World Cup. Messing with them Frenkie de Jong. Memphis Depay picked them up in midfield, then punished Tyler Adams and his midfield teammates for falling behind.

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“The three goals come from moments when we might have slept a bit,” Adams admitted.

At the end of the first half, Daley Blind scored the second goal by sneaking inside a slow half-step American defense. And with that, even though there were still 45 minutes to play, a World Cup campaign that had offered so much hope seemed to end in fiasco.

“It was brutal. Giving up that extra goal was brutal,” said goalkeeper Matt Turner. “There’s no real excuse for that. Everything that could go wrong in that play did.”

The United States had several notable opportunities and one great opportunity to write a different script. A ping-pong ball rebounded to Pulisic alone in the penalty area after just three minutes.

“I thought I was offside when it happened,” Pulisic said, but he wasn’t. “I still shot it,” he said, but the Netherlands goalkeeper Andries Nobert made a good save.

When asked if he wanted the opportunity back, Pulisic said: “Of course, man. It hurts.”

A goal there would have changed the game. A goal changed the game six minutes later. The Dutch swung the ball from side to side on their defensive third, then slammed it in and out of midfield, with a rhythmic motion and four consecutive one-touch passes that made Adams and Weston McKinney giddy. Then Adams lost track of Depay, who scored the first goal of open play against the United States in all tournaments.

But two more would come, with Dumfries the main danger on the Dutch right flank.

And it was the players themselves who caused so much optimism, for the present and for the future, who made very expensive mistakes. Their legs may have gone after three grueling attempts at the group stage. Perhaps they were paralyzed in the moment. Perhaps the Dutch, the godfathers of many tactics and methods that characterize modern football, were just a step forward.

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“We had no less chances than they did,” argued US midfielder Brenden Aronson. expected target models support it. “But…they were more clinical than us.”

They, the Dutch, were also a well-drilled unit that did not lose under Louis van Gaal. They also had forwards who had played or would play in the biggest clubs in the world, while the USA had 21-year-old FC Dallas forward Jesús Ferreira. It seemed that he was overwhelmed by the stage and position of the opponent, and Gio Reina replaced him in the first half.

But the defeat was not about individuals. Maybe it was fatigue. It was mostly about the level that the Netherlands had gone up to, that the United States had not yet reached.

On paper, the USMNT leaves exactly where it was in 2010 and 2014, with one World Cup win and a round of 16 exit. The optimistic view is that this was accomplished with the youngest team in the tournament. This race has been driven by Progressive Football, a reformed youth development system that has only improved over the decade since it produced the team’s current stars.

Meanwhile, these stars will be in the prime of their lives when the Men’s World Cup comes home less than four years from now. Pulisic, McKinney and Adams will be 27. Tim Weh will be 26 years old. Brendan Aronson and Serginho Dest will be 25 years old. Rina and Younes Moussa will be 23 years old.

But that’s after. Here and now, at the caliph, Adams bent, then fell to his knee, then sank into the stoop, then to his ass, crouching, defeated.

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As the orange-clad players flung their arms around each other and jumped with glee inside the central circle, zombie-like gazes from the American players permeated the Doha air.

Christian Pulisic of the USA reacts after the World Cup Round of 16 loss to the Netherlands at Khalifa International Stadium on December 3, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.  (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)

American Christian Pulisic’s reaction came after losing the World Cup round of 16 against the Netherlands at Khalifa International Stadium on December 3, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)

Minutes later, inside the All-American locker room, “Silence [was] Turner said. “Everyone is down, everyone is in a gloomy mood.”

“I mean, the future is bright. There’s a lot of young people and a lot to look forward to,” Aronson said. “But, I’m not really thinking about it right now.”

They were thinking about the present and living intensely in the moment. They were listening to the “grandfather” of their group, Tim Ream, who was preaching to young men in their twenties: Treat each training session as if it were [it’s your] Finally, every match is as if [it’s your] the last.”

He knew many of them would have more World Cups to chase. “But as for me, it’s not going to happen,” he said at the age of 35.

So, as he stood motionless in the field, he thought about his journey. As the 26th of the 26 players through the post-match interview area, he was filled with emotion. He was frustrated, just like the rest.

But also grateful for the opportunity of a group of kin children who fought on his behalf and on behalf of each other.

“I’ve tried to convey to the players: You can’t guarantee anything in this game,” he said. “I’ve seen them take that advice in these three weeks that we’ve been together. So, yeah, I just hope they keep doing it.”

Dutchman Memphis Depay celebrates with his teammates after scoring the team's first goal against the United States in the World Cup Round of 16 match at Khalifa International Stadium on December 3, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Dutchman Memphis Depay celebrates with his teammates after scoring the team’s first goal against the United States in the World Cup Round of 16 match at Khalifa International Stadium on December 3, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)


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