Tyler Adams, the diminutive USA midfielder had covered the most ground of any player in this World Cup having run 24 miles in the three group games. In the tenth minute, against the run of play, the Dutch started a counter and Adams found himself trailing Memphis Dupay in the opponent’s half. Dupay continued his run all of the way into the USA 18 yard box and Adams never caught up. Memphis struck a cut-back cross from Denzel Dumfries cleanly past Matt Turner for a 1-0 lead. It was one of the few mistakes that Adams committed during this tournament, and unfortunately, it costs the Americans dearly.
Up until that point, the US enjoyed Spain like possession (72%). It created a clear opportunity for goal when McKinney’s looping pass found Pulisic alone on the left but Pulisic’s left footed shot went directly at the Dutch keeper.
After their goal, the Dutch enjoyed a bit more possession as the US looked flustered but by the 30th minute the US had recovered their mojo and continued their attack. That return of momentum was wiped out by another defensive lapse towards the end of the half that led to another Dutch goal, this time Danny Blind banging another cut-back across past stunned Turner. Goals at the stroke of half-time are momentum killers and this one wasn’t any different.
Even though everyone knows that a 2-0 lead is tenuous (often called the most dangerous lead in soccer), the US is a young team. At the half, they got younger as Gio Reyna was brought in as a substitute for the ineffective Jesus Ferreira.
I’m a huge Reyna fan. Even though he had only played 7 minutes in this World Cup, I thought he deserved more time on the pitch. He is a capable dribbler, but more importantly he knows how to slow the game down and knows how to use those pauses well to create chances for others.
The Americans controlled possession after the half and finally got a goal from Haji Wright in the 76th minute, when Pulisic’s cross after a corner somehow deflected off of Haji’s right foot and into the goal. When a team trails 2-0, that first goal is the most important. It turns momentum on its head. The team that’s behind feels energized like never before and begins to believe that it can turn it around completely, score 2 more and win the game. Statistically it doesn’t actually happen that much but what’s more important is the belief that it can.
Unfortunately for the US, the Dutch struck back just 5 minutes later when Blind made a run down the left flank and crossed all the way to the back post, where an unmarked Dumfries made no mistake to volley the ball into the back of the net. Game, set, and match as they say in tennis.
Three obvious, and some say, correctable defensive mistakes cost the US this game. Other than that they dominated possession, had more initiative, but just couldn’t get the early lead that would have changed the complexion of the game.
Back to the Adams play early on. One cannot fault this young man for that defensive lapse. He rebounded to play a solid game, but it was evident early on that he may have been trying to manage his energy given everything he had output during the group phase. The one thing the US lacks sorely is depth. Had the US had more of that, maybe Adams gets a bit of a break in group phase. Maybe McKinney isn’t as wore out and has to come out in the 60th minute.
The other thing that the US lack is a true #9 who can flat out score (for that matter that’s what a lot of other teams in this World Cup also lack). Once they can find that, this group will be back in four years stronger and more experienced than ever. They will, I believe, be in a position to make a strong run for the title when the Cup is played on home soil.