Analysis: The USMNT bows out of Qatar with 3-1 loss to the Netherlands
December 03, 2022
THE UNITED STATES national team bowed out of the 2022 World Cup following a 3-1 loss to a powerful Netherlands team on Saturday in Qatar. The Dutch scored two first half goals before the U.S. cut the deficit in half, but a late Dutch goal sealed the U.S. team’s fate to conclude the cycle.
The U.S. team opened with a similar starting lineup to the one it opened against Wales with the lone exception is that Jesus Ferreira got the start in place of the injured Josh Sargent.
The U.S. team started well, with Christian Pulisic forcing a big save from Andries Noppert in the opening minutes. But it was the Netherlands who struck first in the 10th minute when Denzel Dumfries struck down the right wing and hit a cross that was back towards the top of the box. It found a streaking Memphis Depay in the middle who beat Matt Turner.
As the U.S. team was beginning to pick it up, the Dutch stomped on the U.S. momentum with a second goal just before the break. On this play. Daley Blind cut in past Sergino Dest from the left side and beat Turner.
In the second half, Gregg Berhalter made a string of changes and the U.S team fought back. In the 76th minute, the U.S. team pulled a goal back when they forced a turnover and DeAndre Yedlin played Pulisic into the right side of the box. Pulisic’s hard cross hit Haji Wright’s heel and past Noppert.
The U.S. team looked as if it would be aggressive the rest of the way, but the Dutch put the game out of reach in the 81st minute when Dumfries capped his big day off when he was completely wide open and got on the end of a cross from Blind to send it past turner. It was a blown defensive assignment from the U.S. team and the Netherlands moved ahead for good.
Here are some thoughts on it all.
Dutch Masterclass in Maturity
While the average age of the entire roster put the U.S. team as the third youngest team in Qatar, in terms of functionality of minutes on the field, the U.S. was the youngest. When looking at the midfielders and the forwards (the front six), none of the players who started for the U.S. team in these positions had yet to turn 25.
The Dutch had an edge in talent but the bigger difference in this game was in the edge of maturity. The Netherlands made better decisions, they knew how to change the pace of the game, and they scouted the U.S. team well. Most importantly, however, they knew how to respond to adversity better than the U.S. team.
The U.S. team played well for stretches in each of its four World Cup games. But note the difference when faced with adversity. When Wales found a stretch where it was playing well, the U.S. team was on its heels and couldn’t get into a better fun until after Wales equalized. Then against Iran, the U.S. played very well for the first 60 minutes. Then when Iran started to play better, the U.S. team again was on its heels – this time they were able to see the game out.
The Netherlands put on a masterclass about how to respond. When the U.S. team was playing well, the Dutch doubled down on their approach and found a way to be better. Each of the three Dutch goals came at a period when the U.S. had been playing well and was creating dangerous chances.
The U.S. was the better team the first nine minutes, but the Netherlands scored in the 10th minute. The U.S. team was pressing for an equalizer late in the first half, but it was the Netherlands who scored just before halftime – beating Dest on the goal after it was Dest who was the U.S. team’s best player for long stretches that half. Then the final Dutch goal came just minutes after the U.S. team pulled one back.
The Dutch team didn’t retreat in the face of adversity. They knew how to raise their game. That is the mark of a talented team, but also a smart and confident team through experience.
There were also several other extremely positive traits the Netherlands displayed that the U.S. team didn’t have an answer. The Netherlands knew that the U.S. team liked to play the game at a frantic pace full of energy.
Dutch manager Louis van Gaal and his players knew how to slow the pace of the game down and turn it into a slog. They would turn up the tempo occasionally on counters and when they had the chance to be dangerous, but the mix of tempos threw the U.S. team off.
Tactically, the Dutch also scouted the U.S. team very well. They knew the U.S. team had dangerous wingers but had been struggling with crosses. They were also aware that the Weston Mckennie-Tyler-Adams-Yunus Musah midfield was at the heart of whatever the U.S. team wanted to do. The Dutch man-marked the midfield with precision and forced the game out wide – knowing the U.S. team isn’t crossing well and doesn’t have great targets in the box either.
The good news is that the U.S. team will certainly learn from this. The Dutch are very good but have a very mature team. The U.S. team needs to grow up a little and this was a step in that direction.
Fatigue: mental and physical
The U.S. team looked fatigued in this game – both mentally and physically. First touches were off and there were positional mistakes. The U.S. team was at a disadvantage in the timing of this tournament where so much of form was dictated by club play as opposed to the traditional four-week camps that national teams normally spend together prior to a World Cup.
The U.S. team had too many players coming into this tournament uneven form. McKennie and Dest hadn’t played much leading up to the tournament due to injuries. Gio Reyna and Tim Weah had been in and out of the rosters at their club due to injuries. Jesus Ferreira and Walker Zimmerman hadn’t played in a month before the start of the tournament. Things weren’t that much better for the bench options either.
Then when the team must shift into four games that are extremely intense in quick succession, it was extremely draining – both mentally and physically. The physical exhaustion was easy to see. There were tired legs late in the first half. But mentally, the team was making mistakes it did not make in the group stages.
Yes, there were heavy touches earlier in the game than in the group stages. But there was
Throughout the group stages, one of the best attributes was the team’s defense in the midfield. Adams, McKennie, and Musah were all key to the U.S. team’s group stage success because of their commitment to defense. They helped shield the U.S. team’s backline and force turnovers in the midfield.
In this game, it was a different story. There were stretches where the U.S. team was winning the ball back in the midfield but were also caught napping at other times.
The first goal from the Netherlands was on the midfield. With the defense picking up the front attacking runners, the midfield is responsible to pick up the trailing runners.
A positive World Cup
After any exit from a major tournament, there is always disappointment. For American players, coaches, and fans, this was no exception. But when we talk about whether this was a successful World Cup, the answer is, without a doubt, yes.
In each of the four games, the U.S. team played long stretches of playing well. Even in the lone loss of the tournament against the Netherlands, the U.S. played well for significant periods. This wasn’t a case where the U.S. team was pinned back and tried to bunker out a result. The chances were there for the U.S. team to score more goals.
Sure the U.S. team needs to improve in areas and in some areas of the field, the options weren’t there for most of the cycle. But the foundation is there. This team has both technical ability as well as speed and athleticism in key areas. While it would be nice to have Tim Ream be 10 years younger, the entire front six will be 24-27 years old in 2026. On top of that, there will be others emerging to push these players to prevent complacency.
In every game, there were periods where the U.S. team was right there even with some very good teams. Putting it together for a complete performance still wasn’t there, and that will be the job of whoever coaches the next cycle. But for where the U.S. team was four years ago to where it is now, it is very encouraging. This is not the end of a cycle where the team needs to cut dead weight and rebuild, this is the end of a cycle that sets up the next cycle.
Overall, it was a good past two years for Gregg Berhalter. He built the “MMA” midfield which has a lot of chemistry. He also did well to establish the two fullbacks. He also leaves with accomplishments – Nations League, Gold Cup, and advancing to the knockout stages of the World Cup all while trying to build a young team.
Most importlantly, people have begun to feel better about soccer in this country after a tough run. That is the best thing to happen
Whether or not Berhalter returns to the program as his contract is up, he got a lot done this cycle.
Moving forward, the U.S. team needs to build up depth. A big thing for the federation will be the continued production of good players from the youth national teams. These teams draw heavily on improved MLS academies and that has been a huge source of the team’s improved player pool.
The U-20 World Cup next summer is important but the biggest opportunity for the U.S. program will come in 2024 for the Olympics. If the U.S. can get its top players released, it will be an important hybrid team of key U.S. players (Reyna and Musah), full national team backups (Ricardo Pepi, Joe Scally, Gianluca Busio), and some very promising up and comers (Jack McGlynn, Gaga Slonina, John Tolken, etc).
A big challenge, however, for the national team will be getting meaningful games. There won’t be any World Cup qualifying next cycle and in future cycles World Cup qualifying will be watered down with a 48-team World Cup. That leaves the U.S. team with two Nations Leagues and two Gold Cups every four-year cycle. That’s a lot of CONCACAF and pushing for something outside this federation beyond friendlies. The standard Copa America is nearly impossible for the U.S. team to get involved (like they used to) as they are a guest team and clubs are never required to release players for guest teams at tournaments.
The U.S. team needs more Confederations Cup or Copa American Centenario-type tournaments (which were on the international calendar). But the Olympics, while a youth tournament, does help.
For now, these are big picture things moving forward. For now, the U.S. federation needs to made decisions on its head coach and if Berhalter does not come back (and he might not want to), U.S. Soccer needs to get that hire right and then figure out an Olympic coach. While the U.S. has friendlies set for January, it can go with an interim head coach into 2023 to see what options open up moving forward.
The U.S. is in a much better position now than it was after any World Cup. It doesn’t need to go back to the drawing board and rework things. The number of players who need to get phased out of the pool is small. The team has confidence, momentum, and the lessons it needs to learn are obvious. The player development path is as strong as ever in this country, and this cycle did well to set up the next.
The 2026 cycle starts off in a good place.