The Dutch players were technically strong, physically strong, mentally strong, as they beat the United States, 3-1, Saturday in the World Cup.
In recent years, American players have run into Dutch players, sometimes literally. They know how sound the Dutch are.
Virgil Van Dijk, 6-5, 203 pounds.
Denzel (!) Dumfries 6-2, 174.
Cody Gakpo, 6-4, 172.
Memphis Depay, 5-10, 168, and solid.
And that keeper, Andries Noppert, all 6-8, 205 pounds of him.
Welcome to the knockout round of the World Cup. Americans may be wringing their hands – looking for scapegoats, blaming the coach--for losing in the Round of 16 but they need to remember: the U.S. produces great athletes in so many sports, and the progress in recent decades is encouraging, but this time the U.S. ran into a top-ten soccer nation.
The Americans came out smoking, and Christian Pulisic had an early shot on goal, but it was swatted away. his velocity appearing to be 75 percent of normal. This told me his pelvic injury last Tuesday was still hampering him. Fans may grumble that manager Gregg Berhalter kept Pulisic in for the full match, a tribute to Pulisic’s skill and his drive, but Pulisic was not up to his own level.
(Did Berhalter miss the chance to sub for a subpar Pulisic? Did he not react to the Dutch offense aiming at the flanks? Did he fail to control the huge Welsh sub who dominated the middle in the first match? Fans are making a list.)
The big Dutch people took a lot out of the Americans. The U.S. was trailing, 1-0, in the final minute of the first half, clearly dragging, as they urged themselves to one more attack. I saw Sergiño Dest shaking his wrists, as if trying to prod himself to keep moving, as the Americans pressed for a late goal, but the Dutch scored against the weary Yanks just before the first half ended and the Americans never caught up.
Dest was born to a Dutch mother and American father, and grew up near Amsterdam, but was not funneled into the Dutch academies where prospects are taught.
The Netherlands is known as the best soccer nation to never win a World Cup, even as they modernized soccer with a smart geometric tiktok-passing style. When Dest had to choose whether to play under a Dutch passport or an American passport, he went for the better chance to play for a national team, in a World Cup.
The U.S. is trying to catch up, producing admirable teams that reached the knockout round in 1994, 2002, 2010 and 2014 and now 2022. A musty mom-and-pop organization in the early 1980s, the federation has been seeking U.S.-based Latino players learning the game from their elders, and African-American players who take to the sport.
The best example is DaMarcus Beasley, who could dunk a basketball from his adult height of 5-8. He was teased in his neighborhood in Fort Wayne, Ind., because he preferred soccer, but he became one of the great American players in the past generation.
When the U.S. World Cup team visited the 9-11 memorial in New York City or the DMZ between North and South Korea, Beasley gave the most thoughtful insights. And in the 2010 match with Algeria, he was a sub in the 81st minute, his speed opening up the field for the game-winning fast-break goal.
The U.S. continues to attract players of color – Cobi Jones, with his 164 caps, and Earnie Stewart, another Dutch import, plus Eddie Pope, Tony Sanneh, Oguchi Onyewu, Maurice Edu, just off the top of my head. But other great sports – football, basketball and even baseball, growing more white -- also attract Black athletes.
As American soccer players continue to move to Europe, with its lucrative salaries, and as the World Cup blasts over the tv in the U.S., the point will not be lost: This is a great sport, attracting Tyler Adams and Christian Pulisic and all the other charismatic U.S, athletes.
But for the foreseeable future, the U.S. will have to raise its game to confront world powers like the Netherlands.