AL RAYYAN, Qatar — America gamers doubled over on the last whistle, their white jerseys drenched in sweat, their faces twisted with exhaustion. They hung their heads and left them there.
The People had arrived in Qatar final month fresh-faced and with modest expectations. They had been the second-youngest workforce on the match, representing a rustic returning to the World Cup for the primary time in eight years. Qualifying for the match had been trigger sufficient for celebration.
However the grandeur of the World Cup, with all of the spirit and fanfare on the bottom, has a means of creating a bunch of gamers need extra, of creating them consider they will have it.
The Netherlands dashed these desires — that little feeling of what if — in scientific style on Saturday night time, exposing all of the People’ deficiencies in a 3-1 loss earlier than 44,846 followers at Khalifa Worldwide Stadium.
“This can be a powerful one clearly to swallow for us,” Coach Gregg Berhalter mentioned. “The blokes put all the pieces they’d into it. It’s such group of men, such a close-knit group of men, you simply need extra for them, and tonight we simply got here up brief.”
The U.S. workforce will return house having achieved one small purpose: vanquishing no matter lingering disgrace this system may need felt since 2017, when a earlier workforce’s failure to qualify for the final World Cup triggered a yearslong interval of rebuilding and soul looking. It could really feel prefer it might have gone additional.
Nevertheless it was a satisfying end result for the Netherlands, a workforce whose ambitions for this World Cup had been made clear when its coach declared earlier than the beginning of the spherical of 16 that his squad had 4 matches left to play. The Netherlands will play once more on Friday night time in opposition to the winner of Saturday’s late match between Argentina and Australia.
Ambition, for an American males’s soccer workforce, generally is a trickier factor to articulate.
In 2014, the final time the USA participated within the World Cup, Jürgen Klinsmann, the workforce’s coach on the time, mused earlier than a ball was even kicked that his group had no probability of successful the match. He mentioned he was being lifelike. Some followers in the USA responded by suggesting Klinsmann, a local of Germany, depart the nation. (The workforce was eradicated that yr within the spherical of 16.)
Heading into this yr’s match, Berhalter assumed a safer, savvier stance. Every time the topic of ambitions arose, he would say that he seen the World Cup as two smaller tournaments. The primary was the group stage the place every of the 32 groups performed three video games. Berhalter mentioned his solely goal was to make it to the second, the knockout stage the place 16 groups would finally produce a champion and in idea something might occur. It was a helpful little bit of rhetoric, a type of verbal step-over dribble. Nevertheless it was not laborious to learn between the strains. For his younger U.S. workforce, something after the group stage can be gravy.
In that sense, the USA and plenty of of its followers shall be typically happy with the physique of labor the workforce produced in Qatar.
America largely outplayed Wales, its first opponent, solely to let victory slip from its grasp with the concession of a late penalty kick, leading to a 1-1 tie. It stood toe to toe with England, one of many match favorites, sparring to a scoreless draw that was celebrated like a win. It confronted Iran in a pressure-packed, win-or-go-home last group-stage match soaked in geopolitics and, regardless of a nervous few moments within the dying minutes of the night, delivered a 1-0 victory.
The gamers in these three video games moved with cohesion. They ran laborious and labored for each other. They performed with a collective composure that belied their years.
“The potential could be very clear on this group,” goalkeeper Matt Turner mentioned.
All of that interconnectedness appeared to dissolve on Saturday.
The Netherlands, having been content material to soak up stress within the early moments of the sport, opened the scoring within the tenth minute, capping a sweeping, full-field transfer — one which concerned almost two dozen passes — with a strike from Memphis Depay that whizzed into the decrease left nook of the purpose. Depay had been left huge open on the play, escaping the eye of the American defensive and midfield strains merely by loitering within the house between them.
Denzel Dumfries, who assisted Depay on the purpose, equipped an nearly similar go for the Netherlands’ second purpose simply earlier than halftime. As soon as once more the American protection was caught flat-footed as Dumfries zipped the ball towards the entrance of the purpose from the appropriate wing. This time it was Daley Blind, the Dutch wingback, who slipped free from a defender to satisfy the go and rating.
America’ solely purpose got here within the 76th minute and appeared to defy the legal guidelines of physics. Christian Pulisic drilled a cross into the field, and Haji Wright might solely graze it by reaching again with the skin of his proper foot, which was dealing with away from the purpose. The ball jumped off Wright’s foot, looped parabolically into the air and curled someway contained in the left put up.
Wright had given the People a lifeline at 2-1, however Dumfries pulled it away 5 minutes later when he completed from shut vary after he was left unmarked, once more, by the U.S. protection.
“Prior to now three video games, I’d say we defended actually, very well,” midfielder Tyler Adams mentioned. “And right now, the three objectives come from moments the place we had been most likely sleeping a bit bit.”
Within the basic American consciousness, which appears to turn into attuned to the doings of its nationwide soccer squad solely as soon as each 4 years, the workforce might now enter a interval of suspended animation. Different video games and competitions will return as soon as once more to the foreground of the nation’s sports activities panorama.
However behind the scenes the gears will maintain turning. Berhalter is nearing the tip of a four-year contract, and a choice will quickly need to be made, by the coach and workforce, about whether or not he ought to keep on for one more four-year time period to nurture and form the squad earlier than the 2026 World Cup.
“Within the subsequent couple weeks, I’ll clear my head, sit down and take into consideration what’s subsequent,” Berhalter mentioned.
That match — for which the USA, Canada and Mexico will function joint hosts — has loomed giant over this present workforce. It would mark the return of the world’s most-watched sporting occasion to North America because the 1994 World Cup. It would even be seen because the second when the core of this younger workforce ought to collectively enter its prime.
The present match might, by then, be dismissed by some as a costume rehearsal, an opportunity for the gamers, gifted however nonetheless very inexperienced, to moist their toes. In that regard, it was successful. Pulisic, Tim Weah and Wright fulfilled childhood desires by scoring their first World Cup objectives. Adams, handed full-time captain duties for the match, established himself because the heartbeat of the workforce, the individual turning their emotional dial from the middle of midfield.
However after a match when so many issues went proper, and an evening when so many issues went mistaken, there might linger a niggling feeling that they may have had extra.