U.S. takes solace in earning respect despite World Cup exit

The US national team started the World Cup two weeks ago with two goals.

“We went into this World Cup with the goal of winning it,” said defenseman Walker Zimmerman.

OK, that was probably a bit unrealistic.

But the second goal was arguably the more important one, especially with the World Cup returning to the US in four years. And that, the players argued, they achieved.

Christian Pulisic fights for the ball with Jurrien Timber and Frenkie de Jong from the Netherlands during a World Cup match

American Christian Pulisic (right) battles for the ball with Dutchmen Jurrien Timber (left) and Frenkie de Jong during a World Cup match at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar on Saturday.

(Francisco Seco/Associated Press)

“We had a common goal four years ago, a mission that we set out to do, which was to change the way the world views American football,” said midfielder Weston McKennie. “I think this tournament has really restored a lot of trust and respect. I think we showed that we can be giants.

“Maybe we’re not there yet. But I think we’re definitely on our way.”

“They have a great talent and bring a lot of energy to the game. You can look forward to a great future. They can certainly grow into an elite team.”

– Dutch defender Denzel Dumfries on USA

In this way, this World Cup was a big step forward, even if it ended like any other World Cup for the USA, namely in defeat – this time with a 3-1 decision against the Netherlands in the round of 16. But it also ended up with the players looking forward, not back; This time the last game was a beginning, not an end.

“We wanted to show the rest of the world that we can play football,” said coach Gregg Berhalter. “I think we partially succeeded. We’ve made progress. I feel like when you look at our team there’s a very clear identity of what we’re trying to do.

“Can we win against top teams? Can we do well enough against top teams to win? I think this group is close. The American public should be optimistic.”

Perhaps the biggest change has come within the team itself. With a program that has only made it to the quarter-finals once in modern times, the goal has always been the round of 16. Just leave the group and everything after that is gravy.

That mindset is gone.

“That part is changing,” said goaltender Matt Turner, who played a stellar tournament and became the first American to score two shutouts at a World Cup in 92 years. “The expectation of our fans is changing, the expectation of the players. We don’t feel like we want a trophy just because we’re in the round of 16.

“We want to be able to keep up with teams like the Netherlands or Argentina. We want to be able to play those games, play those big moments and generate more excitement.”

USA goalkeeper Matt Turner collects the ball while Steven Bergwijn of the Netherlands covers his face after failing to score

US goalkeeper Matt Turner collects the ball as Dutchman Steven Bergwijn covers his face after failing to score during a World Cup match at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar on Saturday.

(Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press)

The loss to the Netherlands, who are ranked eighth in the world, showed that the USA are not there yet. Louis van Gaal, who was 11 World Cup unbeaten as Netherlands coach, found a weakness in the US defense and exploited it, asking his wingers to wait an extra shot or two before sending crosses into the box delivered. And that little bit of patience made a big difference. Despite conceding possession, the Netherlands capitalized on their chances, with Inter Milan winger Denzel Dumfries finishing with one goal and two assists, becoming the first Dutch player since 1978 to contribute three goals in a World Cup match.

Still, it wasn’t exactly a game the Netherlands wanted to play again.

“They’re really tough,” said Dutch goalkeeper Andries Noppert, who was called up for five saves, about the Americans. “They play like crazy, like hell. They work together, they don’t give up.”

“They have great talent and bring a lot of energy to the game,” added Dumfries. “You can look forward to a great future. They can certainly grow into an elite team.”

They can – but they are not there yet.

A win, two draws and a loss isn’t a great World Cup, but it’s a start. It’s also better than Mexico, Uruguay, Belgium and Germany here.

The performance was also telling because, despite all the talent and energy and youth in the US squad, that can’t make up for the lack of consistent goalscorers. USA scored just three goals in the tournament and they all came from different players – although Christian Pulisic scored one and assisted on the other two.

The USA were the second youngest team in the tournament and showed their age on Saturday. The MMA midfield of McKennie (24), Yunus Musah (20) and Tyler Adams (23) that was so good in the group stage was mediocre against the Dutch. The defense, so strong in the first three games that they didn’t concede a goal from open play, made two big mistakes and gave up three goals on Saturday.

Turner was perhaps the only American to start strong and finish stronger. His four saves kept a one-sided game from becoming even more of a blowout. But despite the loss, there is a lot of fuss about this team.

American Tyler Adams chases the ball under pressure from Dutchman Memphis Depay during a World Cup match

America’s Tyler Adams (centre) chases the ball under pressure from Dutchman Memphis Depay during a World Cup match at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar on Saturday.

(Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press)

“I think it’s probably the first time in a long time that people are like, ‘Wow, there’s something special about this team,'” Adams said. “There have been so many ups and downs over the last three years and then when you put four performances like this on the pitch it really gives people something to be happy about.

“Potential is just potential, but when we maximize it in the right way, you see it can be something.”

The next World Cup is in the USA and the home team will be four years older – and a major tournament wiser. By then, McKennie said, a final-day win no longer seems so unrealistic.

“We went out and it sucks,” he said. “But at the same time, a lot of us will use that as a chip on our shoulder over the next four years to try and prove what we can do.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/soccer/story/2022-12-03/world-cup-analysis U.S. takes solace in earning respect despite World Cup exit

Emma Bowman

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