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USA World Cup loss to Netherlands shows need for more depth if they want to go further as cohosts in 2026

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This may well have immediate repercussions, but a clear look at USMNT’s performance at the 2022 World Championships suggests they have reached what was roughly the realistic limit of their collective talent. Gregg Berhalter’s team finished second in a tough but not overwhelming group, had an impressive showing against one European powerhouse in England, and then fizzled out when asked to repeat the stunt.

Now they have less than four years to go a very long way. No one would have expected the tournament hosts to win everything if they had only reached the bottom eight once in their history, but if they got that far again, it would be a crushing disappointment on home soil. There is a lot of work to be done, but equally there is reason for hope. They may never have talked about it until this tournament, but 2026 has always looked like a more realistic path to a deep run for a team that has been 24, 23 and 20 years old starting midfield. Only one player from the Netherlands – Fulham centre-back Tim Ream – can be excluded from the next tournament due to age.

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As Yunus Musa put it before the tournament“Now we are at a good level and in four years we should be even better, playing in big clubs, being important players in big clubs, which most people already are. If the team is good now, imagine four years from now.” He was almost right. They were good players whose talent, honed at the highest level of European play, came to the fore in the best moments of their 0-0 draw against England. They were just it wasn’t enough and it also showed up when they finished their run.

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Tyler Adams finishes the tournament with a full 360 minutes plus gaudy stoppage time. It was easy to see why Anthony Robinson’s muscles might have turned nasal after the hard yards he put in, no wonder Christian Pulisic disappeared as he shook off what was absolutely no groin punch to be in the side. In four games in 13 days, Berhalter used 15 starters; nine players have ever been present in the XI that started the games.

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Giovanni Reyna’s thirst rather overshadowed the team’s lack of serious depth, especially outside of the wide forward zones where the US talent pool seems to be the largest. For reasons of age and injury, neither Musa nor McKenny could compete for the full 90 against the Netherlands, but when they left the system had to change, there was simply no suitable alternative for them.

The Netherlands played as a team that knew the minutes at the opponent’s feet. They faced a tedious side whose X-factor is the energy with which they press and attack, and they took advantage of it. They invited the American press in a build-up of 21 passes to their first, waiting for the American midfield trident to advance in front of the ball and then slide down the right flank. The faster Mousa could have come back when the ball was passed to Memphis Depay for the No. 1 pass. 16, his captain Adams failed to catch up in time as the Dutch roundhouse striker hit the bottom left corner. It was a mentally exhausted defense that forgot there was such a thing as a back post when Daley Blind landed a peach cross on Denzel Dumfries, who volleyed for the first time since his weaker foot.

The goals marked the difference in class between the two. One team had a clean shot on the ball by Depay and his full-backs when the ball was in the penalty area. The other had Jesús Ferreira and Hadji Wright, the last person in the Khalifa International Stadium who knew he had scored the tournament’s most stunningly brilliant goal. Stryker is, of course, the yawning chasm on this team heading into 2026, though the USMNT is hardly alone in this regard. This tournament raised a much more existential question: Are modern academic coaches, with their emphasis on selfless, technically confident players, failing to produce players with the selfish gene that seems to be inherent in every top striker? Josh Sargent has been pressuring and taking every punch that comes his way, but no one imagines a killer with a clear eye.

“From my point of view, it all came down to what happened in both free throws,” said goaltender Matt Turner, the only American to score in both free throws. “They had some ideas in the last third and they were able to implement them. And when we went into the last third, their defenders played. And that was the biggest difference.”

This was not the only case. Even when Reina was brought in, there was no player on that team to make the finishing pass, and no system that would create overloads in dangerous positions. No one in white could easily set the pace for the competition like Frenkie De Jong, whose velvet orange shirt would go perfectly with a tuxedo. In possession, the USA seemed to be constantly active, playing Scrappy Doo with manic intensity in front of the bad guy. They were nervous, constantly looking for a passing combination through the center that would break the Dutch rearguard. Instead, Virgil van Dijk and company just kept them at arm’s length, letting them get tired. They had complete faith in their game plan, no wonder it was designed by the great Louis van Gaal.

I wonder when the US will face such a formidable adversary again. Along with the US, Canada and Costa Rica have provided some evidence that CONCACAF standards have risen, but clearly not to the point where their teams can make a major impact on the biggest stage. Without any qualifications for the pre-2026 build, the Gold Cup and Nations League will have to fit Berhalter in terms of competitive setup. The US is battle-hardened when it comes to playing in sub-zero temperatures or on fields that could pass for farmland. What they didn’t get were plenty of opportunities to test themselves against tactically versatile opponents made up almost entirely of Europe’s top seven leagues.

Berhalter can’t change that, but no one will take it as an excuse for the poor performance of the co-hosts in 2026. The last two weeks have shown that the US has a young team with some flaws, but more than enough promise. They have less than four years to complete it.



Source: www.cbssports.com

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