RAYYAN, Qatar — The U.S. men’s national soccer team reached the knockout stage of the World Cup with a blend of defensive excellence, precocious poise and unflinching confidence. Even though goals were scarce, the formula carried the young squad through group play unbeaten and injected belief that it could take yet another step on the sport’s greatest stage.
But the things that carried the Americans into the round of 16 were missing Saturday, and a World Cup campaign that brought hope and harrowing moments, a courageous winning goal in the group finale while stirring interest back home, came to a close with a 3-1 defeat to the Netherlands at Khalifa International Stadium.
“We set out with a goal to show the rest of the world that we can play soccer, and I think we partially achieved that, although we fell short of our goals,” Coach Gregg Berhalter said.
As they did throughout their first tournament appearance in eight years, the Americans made life difficult for their opponent with their energy and ambition. They also continued to struggle to score, and in an uncommon turnabout their defensive execution betrayed them after they conceded one goal (a penalty kick) in the first three matches.
“We did some great things, but we also did some things that were very uncharacteristic of us overall, especially defensively,” goalkeeper Matt Turner said. “The silence is deafening; everyone’s disappointed.”
The Dutch, ranked eighth and a 2010 finalist, scored twice in the first half, including a backbreaker for the No. 16 United States seconds before intermission. Substitute Haji Wright halved the deficit in the 76th minute, but the victors answered moments later. Denzel Dumfries scored that final goal and had two assists.
The United States has not won a World Cup knockout match since 2002, when it beat regional rival Mexico in the round of 16 in South Korea. All time, it is 1-7 in such situations. It also hasn’t beaten a European team in any round of the World Cup since Portugal in the 2002 opener, an 0-6-4 stretch.
Over almost two weeks, though, a U.S. team with the youngest starting lineup among the 32 nations showed it belonged in the global conversation heading into the 2026 World Cup, jointly hosted by the United States, Mexico and Canada.
“We had a common goal four years ago, a mission we set out on, which was to change the way the world views American soccer,” said midfielder Weston McKennie, whose team outplayed trophy contender England during a 0-0 draw. “This tournament has really restored a lot of belief, a lot of respect. We showed we can be giants. We may not be there yet, but we’re definitely on the way.”
For all the promise the U.S. program possesses, it’s still lacking a level of sophistication, not to mention a world-class goal scorer. It exited with three goals in four matches. Defense, ball possession and chemistry carried it for three games, but on Saturday the defense faltered and the concentration level dipped on the devastating Dutch goal just before intermission.
“We talked about the game being about moments,” Berhalter said. “The first half was a great indication of that, where we’re on top for a lot of it and then two moments come, and all of a sudden were down 2-0.”
Though the Dutch entered as true favorites — they had advantages in pedigree, experience and roster strength — there was a sense among some gathered in Qatar that the United States had a real chance to advance.
In the early moments, it sure looked that way. The Americans set the tone through possession, movement and pressure. Just 2½ minutes after kickoff, Christian Pulisic, who recovered from an injury to start, had a golden chance to put them ahead. Tyler Adams’s header found Pulisic alone and onside inside the penalty area for an angled bid that Andries Noppert kicked aside with a flash of his left leg.
“They go like crazy, like hell,” Noppert said of the U.S. squad. “They’re working together. They don’t give up.”
The Netherlands continued to absorb pressure, waiting for the moment to pounce on the counterattack. It came in the 10th minute. The buildup began in the Dutch end. One-touch passing opened the field. Cody Gakpo picked up speed and sprayed the ball wide to Dumfries on the wing.
Depay made a central run, undetected by the U.S. midfield. Dumfries crossed back to Depay in a pocket of space for a 16-yard one-timer that streaked away from Turner.
The Americans continued to control possession but lacked a killer touch in the final third. Noppert made a fine save on Tim Weah’s 25-yard rocket. Only one minute of additional time was attached to the half — but it was enough for the Dutch to increase the lead.
It began with a throw-in. Jesús Ferreira, starting in place of injured forward Josh Sargent, made a bad touch. Adams failed to close down Dumfries’s cross. Sergiño Dest, the Dutch-born U.S. defender, was slow to react on the back side, allowing Daley Blind, his former club teammate at Ajax Amsterdam, to smash in a one-timer.
“It was brutal,” Turner said. “There’s no real excuse for it. Everything that could have went wrong on that play did.”
Needing a jump-start, Berhalter began the second half by inserting Gio Reyna, the 20-year-old standout whose absence through all but seven minutes of the group stage rankled U.S. supporters. (A minor injury, tactical reasons and match situations kept him in reserve.)
The Americans were on their front foot again, but the lack of menace continued to haunt them. They came close to scoring in the 49th minute when defender Tim Ream’s poke past Noppert was cleared off the line by Gakpo.
“There was some offensive finishing quality that Holland had that we’re lacking a little bit,” Berhalter said. “It’s time. We have a very young group of players. They’re at the beginning of their careers, and they’re going to catch up. We don’t have a Memphis Depay right now.”
Turner made two terrific saves in rapid succession, but with the way things were flowing, the Americans didn’t seem capable of overcoming a one-goal deficit, not to mention a two-goal hole. Wright failed to take advantage of a dreadful Dutch back pass.
Then came a breakthrough. Pulisic pumped in a cross. Making a near-post run, Wright redirected the ball with a no-look flick that floated over Noppert and dropped into the back side of the net.
There was life.
“You can see the momentum switch quickly,” Adams said. “Until they score again.”
Five minutes later, the defense was bunched in the box, unaware Dumfries was on the back side with his arm raised, begging for the ball. The cross found him for a wicked six-yard volley.
The Americans were done.
“When you look at the way we wanted to play and did play, [the tournament assessment] should be positive,” Berhalter said. “The guys should feel they gained confidence about the fact they can play with anyone in the world the way we want to play. That’s the important thing. And now it’s about, how do we keep that up and take it to another level where you can win a knockout game in the World Cup?”
World Cup in Qatar
World champions: Argentina has won the World Cup, defeating France in penalty kicks in a thrilling final in Lusail, Qatar, for its first world championship since 1986. Argentina was led by global soccer star Lionel Messi in what is expected to be his final World Cup appearance. France was bidding to become the first repeat champion since Brazil won consecutive trophies in 1958 and 1962.
Today’s WorldView: In the minds of many critics, especially in the West, Qatar’s World Cup will always be a tournament shrouded in controversy. But Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, wants people to take another view.
Perspective: “America is not a men’s soccer laughingstock right now. It’s onto something, and it’s more attuned to what’s working for the rest of the world rather than stubbornly forcing an American sports culture — without the benefit of best-of-the-best talent — into international competition.” Read Jerry Brewer on the U.S. men’s national team’s future.