Coming into this World Cup, no one expected much out of this young USA squad. Getting out of the group at all was seen as a tall order, with England and Wales becoming the early favorites to advance. Despite the doubters, they’ve beaten the odds.
An impressive showing in the group stage has put the USA in position to make some noise. Four games stand between them and World Cup glory. Considering the grit they’ve already shown, who knows what they’re capable of?
Highlights of the Group Stage
The USMNT’s performance in Group B was, quite frankly, inspiring. Though fans complained about coaching decisions early on, the team seemed to know exactly what they were trying to accomplish at all times. The commitment and tireless workrate shown by these young men has pushed them through to the knockout rounds and earned them the respect of the soccer world.
One win and two draws gave the USA a total of five well-earned points in the group. Despite not being the favorites to advance, they outplayed all three of their opponents, including the English. The first half against Wales was probably the most complete 45 minutes they put together, but the composure they showed against England was superb as well. When the time came for the group to step up and win, a dominant 70 minutes against Iran showed that the USA belongs on this stage.
Through 270 minutes of play — plus inordinate amounts of stoppage time — the USMNT have not given up a goal from open play. The only goal they conceded was Gareth Bale’s penalty kick, a shot that goalkeeper Matt Turner got a hand to. This marks the only time since the first-ever World Cup in 1930 that the USA have kept multiple clean sheets in a single world championship. A third-place finish that year is still the USMNT’s best result.
While scoring goals has been an issue, our stars are shining when they need to. Christian Pulisic notched the assist on Tim Weah’s goal in the Wales match, later adding the goal against Iran that sent his team through to the next round. Captain Tyler Adams has been everywhere, cleaning up loose balls, winning tackles, and connecting the field. With these two taking the lead, this squad has all the tools necessary to make a run in this tournament.
A Giant is Waiting
When the USA steps onto the pitch Saturday, they’ll be sharing it with one of soccer’s most storied nations: the Netherlands. The Flying Dutchmen have produced some of this sport’s most famous names, including Robin Van Persie, Clarence Seedorf, and Ruud Gullit. They play the game their own way; dubbed “Total Football,” their style was developed by legendary player and coach Johan Cruyff. Positions are merely suggestions and momentum is the priority in this high-octane approach to the beautiful game.
In years past, Holland have finished as high as runners-up on three occasions. This time around, a run to the final seems unlikely.
Despite recording two wins and a draw, Holland have failed to really impress at this World Cup. The 2-0 scoreline against Senegal was flattering for the Dutch; the match could have easily gone either way. Likewise, their draw against Ecuador saw the Oranje narrowly escape with a point. Though they handled Qatar with relative ease, the host nation has proven to be out of their depth on the world’s stage.
In three matches, the Netherlands have scored five and conceded just one. A relatively solid defense boasts superstars like Virgil Van Dijk and Matthijs De Ligt, while the attack is powered by breakout star Cody Gakpo. Gakpo has three goals in three games so far, leading the Dutch while Memphis Depay gets back up to speed.
Both the USA and the Netherlands missed out on the 2018 World Cup and will be looking to make a statement in their return to the big stage. A berth in the quarterfinals would be the perfect way to get back on track, but it’s going to be a tough ask. The youthful spirit of the USMNT gives them a chance against any team, while the timeless class of the Dutch does the same.
If Tim Ream and the rest of the backline can keep Gakpo quiet, the Oranje will struggle to produce quality chances. With the day-to-day status of Christian Pulisic, the US attack may need a new leader to spur them on. Many storylines and questions surround this matchup, but one thing is for sure; only one squad can keep their dreams of lifting the Jules Rimet trophy alive.