DOHA (Reuters) – United States coach Gregg Berhalter said their World Cup last-16 exit after a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands on Saturday was difficult to accept but he took heart from the progress made by his young squad after their baptism of fire on the big stage.
The Americans made a bright start to the match and almost took an early lead through Christian Pulisic, who was brilliantly denied by goalkeeper Andries Noppert before the Dutch punished them with their first attack.
Memphis Depay and Daley Blind scored almost identical goals, finishing off precise and free-flowing team moves, to deliver a sucker punch and although Haji Wright pulled one back for the Americans, Denzel Dumfries swiftly extinguished any hopes of a comeback by restoring the two-goal cushion.
“This is a tough one to swallow for us. The guys put everything they had into it and tonight we came up short but it wasn’t for lack of trying or a lack of effort,” Berhalter told reporters.
“The first half was a great indication of the game being about moments. We were on top for a lot of the first half and two moments come and all of a sudden we’re 2-0 down. The message was soccer can be cruel sometimes.
“It’s just moments that the players were (switched) off a little bit here and there and it ends up in the back of the net. When you play at this level, against high quality opponents, that’s what happens. It’s unfortunate that it happens in the knockout game, but it did and we’ve got to learn from it.”
In a performance that encapsulated both the positives and weaknesses of the Americans’ World Cup campaign, they did not lack chances but struggled to finish them off and were made to pay for their complacency by a clinical Netherlands side.
Berhalter recognised it as a clear weakness of his young and inexperienced side and highlighted the gulf in quality between them and the Netherlands, but said he believed they were not too far off from competing with the world’s best.
“I think this group is close,” Berhalter said. “When you look at the difference of the two teams there’s some quality offensive finishing that Holland had that were lacking.
“But we’ve made progress. When you look at our team, there’s a very clear identity of what we’re trying to do. You have a group that’s extremely committed to each other in what they’re trying to accomplish.
“We have a very young group, we have players that are beginning in their careers and they’re going to catch up to that. It’s not to make an excuse for this group, they’re still very resilient. That stuff will come.”
The U.S. will co-host the next World Cup in 2026.
(Reporting by Hritika Sharma; Editing by Ken Ferris)