AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Christian Pulisic covered his face as he walked away. Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Kellyn Acosta got together for a group hug. Tim Weah, DeAndre Yedlin and Sean Johnson sat on the court in a small circle with their cleats.
“It hurts after a tough loss like that when we feel like we could have had more,” Pulisic said, managing a voice just above a whisper. “We don’t want to feel like this anymore.”
The return of the United States to the World Cup ended with a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands on Saturday in the Round of 16. As the Oranje extended their unbeaten streak to 19 games and qualified for a quarter-final with ArgentinaAmericans have contemplated how far they have come and how far they have fallen.
Defensive lapses gave the Dutch a treat as Memphis Depay scored in the 10th minute and Daley Blind in first-half stoppage time.
American hope was rekindled when Pulisic’s cross hit substitute Haji Wright’s trailing foot in the second half and leaped over keeper Andries Noppert and into the net in the 76th minute. But Denzel Dumfries, named after actor Denzel Washington, scored on a volley in the 81st after assisting on the first two goals.
“The American public should be optimistic,” said Gregg Berhalter, the first person to play and coach the American team at a World Cup. “When you look at the way we wanted to play and have played, that should be positive.”
The United States have not reached the quarter-finals since 2002 and were eliminated in the first knockout round, just like in 2010 and 2014.
After the American failure to qualify for the 2018, Yedlin was the sole survivor of a roster that was the second-youngest in the tournament, averaging just over 25.
“Now they know what it’s like to lose after investing so much,” said the 29-year-old defender, “and the feeling of defeat from the past can only fuel success in the future.”
The United States are winless in 12 games against European opponents at the World Cup since 2002 and have won once and lost seven in the round of 16 since the championship was launched in 1930.
“This tournament has really restored a lot of confidence, restored a lot of respect for American football and football in our country,” McKennie said. “I think we have shown that we can eventually be giants. Maybe we’re not there yet, but I think we’re definitely on the right track.
In front of a crowd of 44,846 at the renovated Khalifa International Stadium, Pulisic had the chance to put the USA ahead in the third minute. McKennie fended off a poor clearance into the penalty area, but Noppert blocked his shot from close range with his left thigh.
“I thought I was offside when it happened, but I hit him anyway and he made a good save,” Pulisic said.
The Dutch took the lead when Cody Gakpo sent the ball to Dumfries on the right flank. Depay sprinted into the penalty area as Adams failed to follow him, and Dumfries punctuated a cross that Depay redirected inside Matt Turner’s far post for the first goal against the United States during the course of the tournament.
Blind scored in the first minute of stoppage time. Following a throw-in, Dumfries got a cross around Adams and Blind beat a Sergiño Dest who arrived late to the ball from the penalty spot for his first international goal in eight years.
Wright entered the 67th and scored his second international goal from an unusual touch from three yards out, raising American hopes. But Dumfries went unmarked by Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson and scored Blind’s cross from six yards out for his sixth goal.
“When you play against a team with that much quality like that and you give them three, four chances, they’re going to get three or four,” Adams said. “We can show that we can hang on to some of the best teams in the world, some of the best players in the world, and that’s a lot of progress for American football.”
The players didn’t want to leave the pitch at the start, wanting more time together.
“Just put it into perspective and think about the journey,” Yedlin said. “I just give thanks to the Earth. After every practice and every match, we try to do something called grounding. It just helps to put in perspective to come, good or bad.
Others absorbed the defeat without words.
“Just looking around that locker room, the silence is deafening,” Turner said. “We all want to create moments for people back home to fall in love with the game and tonight was unfortunately not one of those nights.”
Depay took second place in the Dutch goalscoring list with 43 goals, behind Robin van Persie’s 50.
The Americans begin the 2026 cycle with a match against Serbia on January 25 in Los Angeles.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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