As his gamers slumped to the bottom after full-time at Khalifa International Stadium, their World Cup desires in items, US head trainer Gregg Berhalter took to the pitch brandishing his Moleskine pocket book. As he moved throughout the throng – wrapping his arm round a weeping Tim Weah, providing phrases of comfort to Christian Pulisic, applauding the American enthusiasts – the pocket book stayed with him, held aloft apparently as an emblem of the duty that lies forward if america are to growth any longer than this at their house World Cup in 2026. A supervisor able to get again to paintings on the very second of defeat sends a powerful message, however in reality the technical and tactical deficiencies on show right through america’s defeat to a The ruthless Dutch outfit counsel that extra paintings used to be wanted prior to Berhalter’s squad touched down in Doha. What this staff has maximum ignored right through the World Cup is elementary soccer intelligence, the type of smarts that the Dutch displayed in spades. Like Gio Reyna, Berhalter’s moleskine made its cameo in Qatar too overdue.
A spherical of 16 go out seems like a par rating for america, and there may be after all no indignity in taking place to some of the international’s nice footballing countries; America can really feel some pride in counting itself a few of the international’s best 16 aspects; and so forth. But cliches and formality expressions of satisfaction cannot conceal that the way of USA’s go out right here used to be in particular disappointing. A rustic of America’s measurement, wealth, and ambition – to not point out one during which football is such an enduringly common participation recreation – will have to aspire to extra on the World Cup.
“This is a difficult one to handle,” Berhalter mirrored when interviewed at the pitch after full-time. “We came up short today, but not for a lack of effort.” Effort won’t had been missing, however many different qualities crucial to footballing good fortune have been: dedication off the ball, defensive nous, ruthlessness in entrance of function. Despite the precision of the opposition’s completing, america weren’t undone by means of moments of person brilliance, quirks of era, or different acts of semi-divine footballing intervention; as a substitute their loss of life used to be nearly solely self-inflicted. The US screw ups have been in protection and assault, elementary spaces of core technical competence. Truly, this used to be a staff who stored their worst for final.
Coming into the spherical of 16 america again 4 – a space that many recognized within the run-up to this World Cup as a weak spot – had confirmed remarkably resilient, snuffing out England’s starry frontline, conserving Iran at bay within the ultimate workforce fit, and conceding only one function (the results of Walker Zimmerman’s agricultural lunge on Gareth Bale of their match opener in opposition to Wales). The tale right here used to be a disheartening reversal. All 3 of the Netherlands’ targets resulted from a failure to trace and shut gamers down, a breakdown within the Berhalter press. Despite their glaring prowess and thrust going ahead, america’s extensive gamers all too regularly switched off when the Dutch had the ball; the entire marauding on the earth may not topic if you happen to drop off in protection and make allowance opposition attackers to fulfill balls into the penalty space uncontested. Antonee Robinson’s failure to mark Denzel Dumfries for the 3rd function – leaving the Dutchman totally open on the a ways publish with apparently sufficient time prior to he rifled his volley previous Matt Turner to compose and publish a thanks letter to Robinson at his house cope with – used to be in particular deficient, reflecting now not nerves or a loss of health however one of those witlessness. Other lapses have been of a equivalent personality: conceding proper prior to half-time – soccer’s canonical threat zone – is a failure of focus, of sport control.
At the opposite finish of the pitch issues have been hardly ever higher, in spite of the openings created by means of Weah, Pulisic, and Sergiño Dest. Having tinkered first with Josh Sargent, then Haji Wright, then Sargent once more as his beginning striker all over the gang degree, Berhalter right here most well-liked Jesus Ferreira, however the FC Dallas ahead struggled to get at the ball. Pulisic will rue the golden likelihood he spurned within the 3rd minute, however the actual brand of America’s labors in entrance of function used to be Wright, who come on overdue as america used to be chasing the sport, took an interesting first contact when he used to be transparent on function with best Dutch keeper Andries Noppert to overcome, then scored by chance a couple of mins later, the ball flicking off the again of his heel from a low move then looping over Noppert’s head. The symbol of an American striker losing a possibility when he will have to have scored then scoring when he did not imply to introduced a distressingly neat abstract of the USMNT’s difficulties in entrance of function at this World Cup. In reality none of Wright, Sargent, or Ferreira have satisfied in Qatar, and in opposition to the Dutch Berhalter held off on unleashing Reyna, his one true wildcard off the bench, till it used to be too overdue.
Ultimately this fit, like USA’s World Cup extra in most cases, used to be outlined by means of shortage: a loss of high quality up entrance, and a loss of utility in defence. For the USMNT this has been a match of fine halves adopted right away by means of unhealthy halves, first rate ownership and blunt completing – a real curate’s egg. With the imaginable exception of the come upon with England, at no level has the staff proven themselves able to in reality controlling a fit from starting to finish. Iran may just and most likely will have to have scored in the second one half of of the overall workforce fit, the overdue concession to a mediocre Welsh aspect used to be a sensible personal function, and the entire US’s early brightness in ownership got here to not anything in opposition to the Dutch. The USMNT have now been totally atoned for the debacle of 2017, and even though this staff do not rather but have the sense of “identity” that Berhalter claimed they do after full-time in opposition to the Dutch, there is a minimum of a transparent define of who their maximum vital gamers are: Tyler Adams, Pulisic, and Weah. There has been no scarcity of breakout stars, gamers to encourage authentic optimism because the staff marches against 2026. Yunus Musah brings a splash of Iberian magnificence to the midfield, permitting this staff to play in a mode that is way more cultured than used to be the case for earlier vintages of the USMNT. Though disappointing within the spherical of 16, each Dest and Robinson have introduced a darting exhilaration to America’s forays down the flanks. And Tim Ream has been ruggedly composed on the again, regardless that it is unclear whether or not the Fulham veteran’s late-career coming of age can lengthen to 2026, when he’s going to be at the doorstep of his 40s.
No doubt the legit narrative from this match might be about hope, child steps, growth off and on the pitch, and all that there’s to sit up for in 2026. Immediately after the fit Adams expressed his hope that america staff “gave the fans something to be excited about moving forward”, including: “We’re not there yet, but we’re close.” But are they? Much has been fabricated from this squad’s adolescence – because the Fox commentators ceaselessly reminded American audience right through the fit, america has the second one youngest squad on the World Cup – however those gamers are not youngsters. They’re mature execs: Pulisic is 24, Robinson is 25, Turner is 28, Adams is 23.
As Arsène Wenger as soon as mentioned about his then-promising younger striker Emmanuel Adebayor, “At 23, it’s time to play.” Despite USA’s valiant appearing in Qatar, it is controversial whether or not the so-called golden era has the skill or consistency had to put in combination a run of performances that can take them additional than this at a World Cup. On the only hand, this can be a growing squad with transparent room for growth. On the opposite hand, scoring and protecting have a tendency to be two quite vital portions of the game. If the USMNT cannot get it in combination now, will they ever?