Mistakes cost the young US, eliminated by the Netherlands at the World Cup

The United States has proudly trumpeted its World Cup youth, and rightly so. A bright bunch of young people over 20, full of talent and fresh in body, ready to be uncorked.

Yes, all that youthful intent and courageous desire is great and all – until it’s not anymore.

History has taught us, and Saturday’s result in the US served as a cruel reminder, that experience in the moments of high pressure and high-level tactical know-how certainly count as well.

The Dutch had more of the critical things that carry the day in the World Cup elimination stage.

Much more, it turns out, progressing to the quarter-finals of the tournament with a comprehensive, fairly comfortable 3-1 victory over Gregg Berhalter’s United States.

Clinical Dutch

The Dutch team was clinical in the attacking penalty area, generally unconcerned in defense and almost always numerically in favor in midfield.

Louis van Gaal’s composite pair never looked seriously stretched against the less experienced Americans, who had their chances but who simply couldn’t muster the same level of composure near goal.

The United States and all its youth can certainly be proud of the steps taken in Qatar. Prior to his role as co-host at the next World Cup, Berhalter’s team had already answered the most pressing question; Yes, it was “good enough”, talented and vibrant enough to come out of group play, which has always been the line that defined US success in Qatar.

But once in the elimination game, it takes more than “good enough.” And it means absolutely not making basic mistakes: allowing unchallenged crosses, not following runners out of midfield, not marking faithfully close to goal and not converting chances within the opposition 18.

Early opportunities squandered for Pulisic, Weah

The first 10 minutes brought great American hope. Christian Pulisic, playing through pain, would certainly like to have his early chance again, unable to convert one-on-one against Dutch goalkeeper Andries Noppert.

Timothy Weah got the next good American chance (and there weren’t many against Virgil van Dijk and Nathan Ake, the best Dutch defenders on Saturday) much later in the first half.

Here, too, we saw the lack of ruthless intent, that calm determination, which Dutch attackers so skillfully displayed twice before the break.

Memphis Depay’s 10e A minute-long goal left the United States team behind in Qatar for the first time, the Barcelona attacker’s finish culminating in a superb passing streak through midfield.

Also, for the first time in Qatar, we saw a bad moment from midfielder Tyler Adams, the eloquent American captain and undoubtedly the best player of the team during the tournament.

He stood behind the game, unable to recover from being caught out of position.

He was by no means the only American player to make costly mistakes. On two occasions, left back Antonee Robinson was unable to prevent crosses from Denzel Dumfries that resulted in well-taken Dutch goals.

Ferreira and Zimmerman begin

Of course, we can nitpick about Berhalter’s starting picks. But would anything else have really mattered?

The selection of Jesus Ferreira was indeed a surprise. Unused in the World Cup up to that point and six weeks after his last kick in a competitive match, he missed out on a lead.

On the other hand, Ferreira was certainly not alone; while he was sometimes guilty of sloppy handling of the ball, so was Tim Ream. The same goes for Yunus Musah, Robinson and others.

Along the backline, Walker Zimmerman reclaimed his spot from Cameron Carter-Vickers. He was solid and probably the least of the American problems in the back.

Robinson was unable to prevent either cross from his side that led to goals in the first half for the Orange. In the other outside back spot, Sergino Dest fell asleep at the worst moment, allowing Daley Blind to ghost a good firing spot in front of goal on his way to the easy finish on the last kick of the first half.

That was one of the moments that demonstrated all that individual naivety. So was Haji Wright’s miss in the second half, when a terrible Dutch pass put him on target – only to get a heavy touch and lose the moment.

He made up for it somewhat with the 76e minute of luck that turned into his team’s lone goal.

Van Gaal wins the tactical battle

Aside from Pulisic’s early chance, the Dutch game plan was good, set up to neutralize the best part of the US roster: the highly mobile midfield.

Van Gaal had his team defend with two in front and three along the back line. That put five men in midfield, as those two Dutch forwards funneled the US right into the heart of a man-by-man midfield blockade.

It reduced American midfield time on the ball and therefore its effectiveness. Centre-backs Ream and Zimmerman were forced to provide the entry balls.

Speaking of Ream, his scrambling from close range was taken off the line in the second half, one of the few times in four games in Qatar that the United States managed to be effective on set pieces.

That’s certainly one of the real disappointments of this whole run. (Pulisic is a great player. Of course he is. But the United States just needs to find someone better for delivering set pieces.)

Wright’s goal gave the US a momentary hope, which was mercilessly extinguished with another terrible moment for the US. Robinson didn’t even check his shoulder once in a few seconds.

With no pressure on the cross (first foul) and Dumphries completely unmarked on the back post (second foul), that was that.

“Positive points” will be taken and mistakes will be regretted. But this Pulisic-led group is undeniably talented. Berhalter did well in building a solid esprit de corps.

But best of all: experience gained when the pressure is highest in international football. We’ll see in the future if they put it to good use.

Photo credit: IMAGO / ANP

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