I tuned in when the Netherlands was leading the USA 1-0 in the first half of the World Cup octo-finals (octo-finals is high school debate tournament term for the round before the quarterfinals: the World Cup uses the term Round of 16)). “Wow, this is really boring,” I said as the Americans played a super-methodical game in which about 45% of their passes went backwards.
Granted, the Dutch are famous for the Ajax academy of super-technical skill training and have typically been the intellectual leaders of soccer for the last 60 years. So, it’s hard to score on the Dutch.
But then the U.S. gave up an easy goal to the Dutch right before the half, so down, 2-0, they played more desperately in an exciting second half, and what do you know, they scored a weird goal (3:48 in the highlight reel) to pull within 2-1.
But then the USA gave up a third easy goal to lose 3-1.
As 1990s American star Alexi Lalas said afterward, the really hard thing in soccer is to score goals. The USA has never had a goal-scoring genius of the Pele-Maradona-Ronaldo-Messi ilk. For that, you apparently need a soccer culture in which your boys don’t do much else but play soccer. To score one goal on the Netherlands in a crucial match is pretty good for the US.
But the US has for a long time been decent at collective disciplined defense, at marking your man, which is why the national team has often advanced from group play to the round of 16 and even to to the quarterfinals in 2002.
But to give up three totally non-fluke goals is pretty bad. For instance, on the third goal, the Netherlands scorer was waving his hand to his teammate with the ball to indicate he was ambling along only 30 feet from the goal and nobody was within 20 feet of him. Heck, I might have kicked it in from there, much less a world-class soccer player.
Oh, well, so the U.S. is out of the World Cup after a decent run of one win, one loss, and two ties, highlighted by a 0-0 draw with England. The next World Cup is in the USA-Mexico-Canada in 2026, with the final probably in New Jersey, Dallas, or, L.A.