AL RAYYAN, Qatar -- The US men's national team are out of the 2022 World Cup after falling 3-1 to the Netherlands in a round-of-16 matchup.
First-half goals from Memphis Depay and Daley Blind -- both assisted by Denzel Dumfries -- staked the Dutch to a lead they would never relinquish. The US pulled a goal back in the 76th minute through Haji Wright, and piled on the pressure, but Dumfries added the clincher in the 81st minute to give the Netherlands some needed breathing room.
For the US, it was a disappointing performance given the team's success in getting out of the group stage, and the talented-though-young group of players at manager Gregg Berhalter's disposal.
Now the US will look to 2026 when they will co-host the World Cup alongside Canada and Mexico.
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1. Dumfries on fire as Dutch execute near-perfect tactical plan
The US entered this game brimming with confidence, having reached the knockout stages with the second-youngest team in the tournament. That confidence was enhanced by the perception that this Netherlands side was maybe not up to the standards set by their predecessors who had reached three World Cup finals, most recently in 2010.
But the Dutch showed the gap in quality that still exists between the sides.
Dutch manager Louis van Gaal's tactical game plan was ruthlessly effective. The Dutch were content to let the US have possession and then attack in transition once possession was gained. It had the effect of asking the US to do things they weren't good at, namely breaking down an organized defense. It also accentuated some of the Netherlands' strengths, that of using their technical ability to play through the US press and create transition opportunities.
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Dumfries was the biggest beneficiary, and the quality from the Netherlands was evident on Depay's goal in the 10th minute. The Oranje played through the US press to find Dumfries on the wing, and his low cross found Depay in too much space, allowing him to finish with authority.
The Netherlands then delivered a killer in first-half stoppage time, and it was Dumfries who delivered yet again with a similar cutback pass that Blind hammered home. The US threw everything forward in a bid to get back in the match and gained a lifeline through Wright's goal. But it was left to Dumfries to provide the capper, hammering home Blind's lofted ball.
2. US lacked sharpness all over the field
It all could have been so different. With the game in just the third minute, Tyler Adams' pass over the Dutch defense found Christian Pulisic in the clear, but his left-footed shot was saved by goalkeeper Andries Noppert.
We'll never know what would have happened if the US had gotten their nose in front. Perhaps it only delayed the inevitable, but Depay's subsequent goal seven minutes later forced the US into an unfamiliar position -- that of playing from behind.
There were other chances too. Sergiño Dest made some promising forays from the right wing, but couldn't get that last crucial touch to get a clear look at goal. And Pulisic had another opportunity to run in space, only for his centering feed to be too far behind two runners in the box.
The problems weren't just on the attacking end.
The US defense had been rock solid up to this point, but it was riddled with problems on this night, the biggest of which was an inability to sniff out danger. Adams started out the Dutch's first goal-scoring sequence in a position ahead of Depay, but failed to see Depay's run and was several yards behind when he rifled his shot home. Dest was one of several culprits on the second goal, failing to notice Daley Blind ghosting into the box.
The subpar play from practically the entire team counts as a major disappointment for the US. This was widely viewed as the most talented American team in history. Now the US will have to wait until 2026.
Will Berhalter be the one to lead them? That is up for debate. While he did well to get the US out of the group stage, the lack of playing time for Gio Reyna remains puzzling. The Americans' recent history in terms of giving managers a second cycle doesn't look promising either, with both Bob Bradley and Jurgen Klinsmann both failing to make it to a second World Cup.
3. USA's lack of a striker comes back to bite them
There are some things a team can't run from, and the US had two big concerns entering this tournament. One was concern about the center-backs, and while the distribution wasn't to the level of previous games, Tim Ream, Walker Zimmerman and Cameron Carter-Vickers held up well overall.
But the other concern, the lack of a No. 9 who can reliably score goals, never did get solved. Jesus Ferreira was given the start in this match, and never looked comfortable with the tempo of the game. It was, after all, the FC Dallas player's first match since Oct. 24.
Ferreira was replaced at half-time by Reyna who took turns with Pulisic in playing as a false nine role -- but that tactical maneuver lasted only about 20 minutes, as Haji Wright entered the match in the 65th minute. Wright's lone goal for the Americans in the 76th minute appeared to be purely accidental.
The sight of Reyna playing in that spot will no doubt stick in the craw of many US fans, as it's a move that they've been clamoring for since the start of the tournament.
In some respects, Berhalter's hand was forced given that Josh Sargent wasn't available to play because of the ankle injury he picked up against Iran. But it seemed like Reyna should have had more minutes, and trying him as a false nine should've been tried earlier.
The hole at the striker position was illustrated even further with Wright's introduction. He squandered a glorious opportunity in the 75th minute when picked off an errant back pass, only for a heavy touch to let him down so that his eventual shot was cleared off the line. Even his goal seemed borne more of luck, when his deflection of Pulisic's cross somehow looped into the net.
Finding a solution at that position remains a priority for the next cycle, regardless of whom the manager is.
USA: Matt Turner 6, Antonee Robinson 4, Tim Ream 5, Walker Zimmerman 6, Sergino Dest 4, Yunus Musah 5, Tyler Adams 4, Weston McKennie 5, Christian Pulisic 5, Jesus Ferreira 3, Tim Weah 5.
Subs: Gio Reyna 6, Haji Wright 5, Brenden Aaronson 5, DeAndre Yedlin 5, Jordan Morris 5
Netherlands: Andries Noppert 7, Nathan Aké 6, Virgil van Dijk 6, Jurriën Timber 7, Daley Blind 7, Frenkie de Jong 7, Marten de Roon 6, Denzel Dumfries 9, Klaassen 6, Cody Gakpo 7, Memphis Depay 7
Subs: Teun Koopmeiners 5, Steven Bergwijn 5, Xavi Simons 5, Matthijs de Ligt 5, Wout Weghorst 5
Best and worst performers
BEST: Denzel Dumfries, Netherlands
There was space to be had on the right wing, and Dumfries exploited it to the tune of a goal and two assists. The US would have killed for this kind of precision wide, and his goal was just reward for an outstanding performance.
WORST: Jesus Ferreira, United States
There were plenty of candidates. Antonee Robinson couldn't contain Dumfries and Tyler Adams was well off his game. But Ferreira made little to no contribution to the US cause, and was deservedly subbed off at half-time for Gio Reyna.
Highlights and notable moments
It took less than 10 minutes for the Netherlands to take the lead.
In transition and racing up the field, Denzel Dumfries crossed a ball into the box for Memphis Depay's late-arriving run, and it was a routine finish: His one-time strike was well-placed away from goalkeeper Matt Turner.
Netherlands takes the lead! 🇳🇱— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 3, 2022
Memphis Depay gets things started for Oranje pic.twitter.com/qu4cljENCn
As the first half stretched on at 1-0 and the break neared, the Americans were surely eager to get to half-time down by one goal so they could regroup and prepare to wage a comeback in the second half.
But in the stoppage time of the first half, the Netherlands doubled their lead and gave the US a deeper hole to try to climb out of as Blind fired a one-time strike past Turner.
Here is another look at the second goal for the Netherlands 🇳🇱 pic.twitter.com/rR1CsfvFJa— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 3, 2022
The US pulled one back in the 76th minute, but it looked to be a fluke of a goal, with the ball popping off the foot of an unaware Haji Wright.
The US poured pressure on, but they couldn't deliberately make use of the chances they had created.
🇺🇸 G⚽️⚽️⚽️L DEL #TEAMUSA— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) December 3, 2022
💪 Despierta @USMNT y van por un milagro gracias al remate de Haji Wright en un pase de Christian Pulisic 🇺🇸 #NED 2-1 #USA #MundialTelemundo #ElMundialLoEsTodo #NEDvsUSA #Qatar2022 pic.twitter.com/zyLYzqFxx9
The dreams of an American comeback were soon dashed as Dumfries scored the Dutch side's third in the 81st minute for the final 3-1 score.
The USA's World Cup was over.
After the match: What the players and managers said
USA manager Gregg Berhalter on the result: "This is a difficult one to handle, it's such a good group of guys, such a close group of guys and we came up short today but not for a lack of trying, not for a lack of effort. I think the guys poured everything they had into this game and unfortunately we lost it."
USA captain Tyler Adams: "A game like that comes down to the margins, obviously, and when you play a team with so much quality like that and you give them three, four chances, they're going to put three or four away. And for us, I'm super proud of the boys today. We could show that we can hang with some of the best teams in the world, some of the best players in the world, and that's a lot of progress for US soccer. We're moving in the right direction for sure, but we need to keep pushing 'cause we're not there yet but we're close."
Adams on this young team having years together before the 2026 World Cup: "It's exciting, the more time together the more growth we should have. But having said that, we still need to develop individually to more mature players for moments like this so we can come out on top. Like I said, it comes down to the moments and today you can see a little bit more experienced team got the better of us. But our youth, our potential that we have, we need to maximize that moving forward in the time we have between now and 2026."
Adams on what Berhalter said to him after the final whistle: "He just patted me on the back and told me to keep my head high. The effort we put into this game today we need to walk off the pitch with our heads held high."
USA midfielder Weston McKennie: "We wanted to change the way the world views American soccer, and I think in this tournament with the performances that we put in, we accomplished that. Obviously, we know that this game could have gone either way. We could have won this game we believed it. Obviously soccer is a very unpredictable sport, there's highs, there's lows, but I think we're going to just use this other part of the story and have another four years to get prepared."
USA goalkeeper Matt Turner on positive moments: "I think it is hard to go there only because looking around the locker room, the silence is deafening. We know what we put out was not our best stuff, so it is disappointing, not our best performance -- tonight was not one of those nights, unfortunately. When you have top opportunities against opponents on the world stage, you want to put your best foot forward and unfortunately we weren't able to do that."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
With the result, the Netherlands improve to 14-0-5 (W-L-D) under manager Louis van Gaal since he took over the team for the third time last year. Van Gaal is 8-0-3 with the Netherlands in World Cup games.
The starting lineup for the Americans was the youngest starting XI for a World Cup knockout game in the USMNT's history.
Denzel Dumfries is the first Netherlands player with two assists in a World Cup knockout match since our records begin in 1966.
The USA conceded their most goals in a World Cup since 2006, when they lost 3-0 to the Czech Republic.
Christian Pulisic, with his second assist, joined Graham Zusi and Tab Ramos as the only USMNT players with multiple World Cup assists since 1966. Pulisic and Zusi are the only USMNT players to record multiple assists in the same World Cup -- Pulisic in 2022 and Zusi in 2014.
United States: The World Cup is over for the Americans. Their next fixture is a friendly against Serbia on Jan. 25 in Los Angeles, followed by a friendly against Colombia on Jan. 28, outside of Los Angeles.
Netherlands: The Netherlands advance to the World Cup quarterfinals against the winner of the Argentina vs. Australia match later Saturday.