It started fittingly with a goal scored by a player named after the American city that gave birth to the blues.
Netherlands forward Memphis Depay needed just 10 minutes to start the United States on its inevitable trudge to yet another World Cup round of 16 exit.
By the end of Netherland’s convincing 3-1 victory Saturday at Khalifa International Stadium in the Doha suburb of Al Rayyan, despite all the promise of youth, the nonstop cheerleading on Fox, the endless fawning over Christian Pulisic, despite vow after vow after vow of progress, Team USA ended this World Cup right where it started it.
As a mid-major.
The U.S. is the Akron of the world’s game.
“I think we made some progress,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said after the defeat. “When people look at our team, they see a clear identity. They see guys that go out and fight for each other. They see the talent on the field. We made progress, but on this particular night we came up short.”
Only when measured against the low bar of the debacle of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup can the U.S. performance in Qatar be considered progress.
A Netherlands team that was dogged by a flu outbreak in recent days – and will never be mistaken for the Dutch sides that reached the 1974, 1978 and 2010 World Cup finals or the 1998 semis – exposed the Americans for 90 minutes, revealing a team that was outclassed and outcoached. Were it not for the goalkeeping of Matt Turner, the match would have been even more embarrassing and the Dutch would be justified in thinking they could have easily won 5-1.
So begins another given that accompanies the U.S. home after each World Cup:
How can a nation with more than 24 million players, and a U.S. Soccer federation with a $138 million budget and annually spends $97 million on national teams, continue to underachieve?
Since returning to the World Cup in 1990 after a 40-year absence, Team USA is 1-12-7 against European teams, getting outscored 34-16. Even in CONCACAF, you almost have to be a Clinton-esque scholar in semantics to identify “progress.” The U.S. was third in World Cup qualifying for a region that in Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 is a combined 4-12-5 and has been outscored 47-17.
Progress? Maybe on Fox’s bottom line.
In the coming days and weeks, there will be a lot of talk about the youth of this American side and how this sets up Team USA for a breakthrough in the 2028 World Cup hosted by the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The starting 11 on Saturday averaged 25 years, 86 days, the youngest U.S. lineup in the tournament’s knockout phase since the inaugural World Cup in 1930.
The youth argument falls apart when you take a look around the rest of the World Cup field.
The face of the current U.S. generation is 24-year-old Christian Pulisic, largely reduced to warming the Chelsea bench for most of the Premier League season, who further cemented his status as American soccer’s chosen one with a memorable goal that was the difference in Team USA’s second-round clinching victory against Iran on Tuesday. The collision Pulisic experienced in scoring the goal landed him in the hospital, only adding to his hero status.
Pulisic was back on the pitch at the opening whistle Saturday, blowing a sitter that should have given the U.S. an early lead and then botching a promising cross in the 15th minute.
While Pulisic’s injuries no doubt impacted his performance, the fact remains that Pulisic is not the world-class player the U.S. desperately needs. And if he was to become one, he would have done so by now.
Pulisic has made 13 Premier League appearances this season, only three of them starts, scoring but a single goal.
By comparison, Mason Mount, Pulisic’s Chelsea teammate and a starter for England, is 23, two years younger than the American, and has already made 119 appearances for the club while scoring 28 goals.
Another rising England star, Phil Foden, has already made 111 appearances for a Manchester City side that has dominated the world’s top league for more than a decade. Foden is 21.
So is England forward Bukayo Saka, who has scored two goals in this World Cup and is a big reason Arsenal sits atop the Premier League. England midfield star Jude Bellingham is 19, five years younger than Pulisic.
Moving forward the focus shouldn’t be on Pulisic and Co. but on the men who run an organization that has failed to develop a Foden or Bellingham among those 24 million players.
U.S. Soccer needs a massive overhaul, starting with Berhalter, who was so clearly outmatched by the Dutch master Louis van Gaal.
It was telling that when the teams left the pitch at halftime Saturday, one of the coach’s described his side performance in the first 45 minutes as “unacceptable.”
It wasn’t Berhalter.
It should have been.File source