Weston McKennie and his USMNT teammates will need to play a near perfect game to defeat the Dutch. (Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
In this, one of the most surprising and topsy-turvy World Cups, it seems that anything is possible.
There have been upsets galore.
Just a few examples:
Japan and Korea reached the Round of 16 at the expense of Germany and Uruguay, respectively.
Australia won two consecutive games for the first time and qualified for the next round, but Denmark, which reached the semifinals of Euro 2020 did not.
Morocco won the Group F title while Belgium, which finished third at the 2018 competition, exited early.
And that doesn’t count several shockers that helped make this one unique World Cup. Remember Saudi Arabia’s surprise win over Argentina? Yeah, it seems like weeks ago, doesn’t it?
And the USA is the lone team out of four Concacaf sides that started in the competition. Yep, Mexico failed to get out of the group stage for the first time since 1978. And Canada, which led confederation qualifying, went three and out.
The U.S. will take on the Netherlands, the Group A winner in the Round of 16 (FOX, Telemundo, 2 p.m. ET).
The Americans have gone deep in the World Cup twice – at the very first World Cup in 1930, when there were only 13 teams and sides had a much easier path to the semifinals, and in 2002, when they upended Mexico in the most classic dos a cero result ever.
So, can the USA beat the Dutch?
The team sure can, but it will have to play a near perfect game. What I mean by that, it cannot afford to concede any goals and find a way to solve the Netherlands defense, especially with Cody Gakpo in the lineup. Not only has he tallied a goal in each of the Netherlands’ three group stage matches, but he has also struck for the first score in each contest.
The USMNT also needs to come out and get off to a dominating starts as it did in its first three matches and not take its foot off the pedal.
Yes, that’s easier said than done.
The X-factor is how healthy Pulisic is and how many minutes he will be able to give after injuring his pelvic bone.
The possible Dutch weakness? Perhaps at goalkeeper.
Andries Noppert didn’t just make his World Cup debut this tournament, he played in his first international matches, which is astounding and a rare feat for any netminder. The 6-8 Noppert, who has allowed one goal in three games, has less experience at this level and we wonder if he can be had.
The game of soccer might be 100 or even 110 minutes, thanks to a mandated expanded stoppage time, but one moment, one mistake can doom a team or change the course of the match.
And here’s something to think about: The USA can advance without scoring a goal. The Americans would have to survive a probably nail-biting scoreless draw over at least 120 minutes (probably closer to 140 the way things are going) and won the penalty-kick tie-breaker.
That might be easier said than done.
This is a good, solid Dutch side, but nowhere imposing as the legendary squads of the 1970s when the Netherlands finished second in the 1974 and 1978 World Cups.
For some reason, they don’t scare me.
The gut feeling here is they are for the taking. By the way, the winner of the match, will take on the victor of Argentina-Australia next week.
Can head coach Gregg Berhalter put together a cohesive game that the U.S. can execute against the Dutch?
We’ll find out tomorrow morning.