Fox Sports’ US World Cup coverage is an unmissable abomination | World Cup 2022

The World Cup! A tournament of frenzied emotion, spectacular goals, heroic upsets, and grand displays of athletic daring and skill. Or, if you’re watching it in the US: four weeks of shouting, relentless commercial promotion, disorienting cuts and changes of channel to make way for the college football game, and segments in which Alexi Lalas does pump-up speeches for the US team that no one in the US team will ever listen to; a global exhibition of Clint Dempsey’s ongoing quest to assemble vowels and consonants into an order that resembles words; a month-long celebration of the festival that is Landon Donovan’s personality.

At a time when things are clicking on the pitch for the US men’s national team and America finally has a generation of footballers with the technical quality to challenge the world’s best, there’s been something faintly reassuring about Fox Sports’ approach to this tournament. Whereas the USMNT is now a cosmopolitan ensemble of feather-fine talents, the Fox team is the equivalent of a farmers’ league XI that hoofs it long and hopes for the best.

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Four years on from the dumbumvirate debacle of its coverage in Russia, Fox is back, and worse than ever. In a world of so much flux, in which so many human connections seem so ephemeral, Fox’s commitment to a losing team – Squeaky Stuey Holden on the match call, Lalas spouting nonsense on set, and Rob Stone holding the whole thing together with the desperate energy of a dad using his daughter’s 18th birthday celebration as a showcase for his own comedic talent – is something we can all get behind.

From the moment that Stone called Doha “Dosa” ahead of the opening match – between the capital of a small oil state on the Gulf and a fermented south Indian pancake, who’s really insisting on the distinction? – then promptly vanished from Fox’s coverage for the next three days, the US host English-language broadcaster of this World Cup has offered up a feast of gaffes, stupidity, and unconquerable on-air awkwardness for American viewers to enjoy. (The official explanation for Stone’s disappearance was that he lost his voice, but it’s possible he’d simply wandered off in search of a snack.) Things are, I’m reliably told, far better over on Telemundo, but those of us without the Spanish skills to appreciate the full vocal exuberance of that channel’s commentators are stuck with Fox. The only solution has been to embrace the misery.

Off-field controversy has clouded this tournament from the day Sepp Blatter pulled Qatar’s name out of the envelope in 2010, but you wouldn’t know anything about that from watching Fox. The BBC relegated the opening ceremony to an online-only stream, preferring instead to air a long report on Qatari human rights abuses. Fox went in completely the opposite direction, airing the whole ceremony and following up with “a look at exploring Qatar, sponsored by the Qatar Foundation”. Many have taken Fox to task for glossing over the rottenness at the heart of this tournament – its legacy of crass commercialization and death. But to be fair, this is not the first time that a group of Americans has blundered into a country in the Middle East without bothering to fully educate itself about the facts on the ground first. The correspondences between American military adventurism and international sports broadcasting may be faint, but the Fox crew has done its best to bring them to the forefront, applying the can-do spirit of Iraq 2003 to its coverage of Qatar 2022.

The acute ambivalence that many throughout the footballing world – including in America – feel about this tournament has been nowhere on display. Nuance, political context, a sense of proportion about a sporting project built on exploitation and influence peddling: all have been lost amid Fox’s non-stop on-air bonfire of jingoism and untroubled uplift. Even by their elevated standards, Rob Stone and co have outdone themselves this World Cup, chuntering and blundering around their Doha base with all the charm and worldliness of a set of Bush administration foreign policy officials.

In these circumstances you might expect Fox’s coverage of the matches, untroubled by politics, to be razor-sharp. You would be mistaken. From its Orientalist redoubt on the Doha Corniche (Arabesque motifs, casino lighting, no actual Arabs unless they’re from the Qatari tourism agency), the Fox team has set about its task with vigor: to beam all the tournament matches into the living rooms of America while being maximally patronizing to the country’s soccer fans. In those rare moments when Fox is not jamming a brand down our throats (“Here’s the player to watch segment, presented by Coca-Cola”, “Your first-half moment, sponsored by Verizon”, “Our player spotlight is hosted by the Volkswagen ID.4”), the network’s hosts, analysts, and match commentators seem determined to mansplain the sport as if we, the soccer-watching public of the United States, have spent the past four decades with our heads in the desert sands surrounding Lusail Iconic Stadium.

Insults to our collective intelligence have come from all angles: the constant, tedious analogies to American sports (stepovers and feints described as “dekes” and “hesis”, corners constantly compared to “pick and rolls”); the neverending quest to “contextualize” the world game by comparing whole countries to American states (“Qatar is the size of Connecticut,” we were told repeatedly on the opening day); the network’s embrace and promotion of the interminable “it’s called soccer” cause (who cares?); the strange extended segment in the run-up to USA v England about how much Harry Kane likes American football (ditto); the employment of Piers Morgan as a special guest pundit (no thanks).

On the field things may be developing nicely, but off it US football – or the version of it that Fox Sports serves up to us every four years – seems destined to remain stuck in a permanent 1994, forever on the brink of becoming America’s next big thing, forever hostage to a cabal of C-suite cable bros intent on translating this exotic, bewildering sport into the language of touchdowns, home runs, and alley oops for what they see as the country’s blinking, insular Yankee Doodle millions. This bizarre cultural parochialism does a disservice to both America’s players, now a sizeable constituency in European club football, and the legions of fans on these shores whose understanding of the sport is every bit as sophisticated as anything you’ll find on the terraces of Camp Nou, Anfield, or La Bombonera.

The Fox Sports crew get ready for their trip to Qatar before the World Cup
The Fox Sports crew get ready for their trip to Qatar before the World Cup. Photograph: Fox

Take a moment to appreciate the full dizzying scope of Fox’s witlessness in Qatar. After Rob Stone noted, in the lead-up to the group match between Brazil and Serbia, that the Brazilians have won the World Cup five times – perhaps the most widely known World Cup statistic of all – a wide-eyed Dempsey exclaimed, “Wow, you really did your research!” During France v Denmark, match commentator JP Dellacamera described Kylian Mbappé as “a kid who’s 23 and already the whole world is talking about him,” an evaluation whose awestruck “already” suggested that JP has watched close to no football over the past half decade. Donovan started the tournament pronouncing Iran “Eye-ran”, witnessed Tyler Adams being corrected by an Iranian journalist for mispronouncing his country’s name – then continued to call the country “Eye-ran”.

Indeed the mispronunciation of foreign names – stadiums, players, whatever – has become a running joke on Fox’s Corniche set. Asked to offer a prediction before the US match against England, Lalas thundered, “I don’t know how they say it in the King’s English but dose a seero my friends to the USA,” helpfully demonstrating that he doesn’t know how to say “dos a cero” in the King’s Spanish either.

In a big tournament you always want your biggest players to show up, and Lalas, who often gives the impression that he’s being paid by the decibel, has not let the Fox team down this Mundial. From his post at the end of the panel, the big man in the Maga-lite suit has delivered his signature rants with all the enthusiasm of someone who’s blown past the discomfort of knowing that no one else on set finds him interesting or funny. Player rating: 10 out of 10. In support, Dempsey has been dim but fundamentally lovable, Dr Joe Machnik has brought all the authority of his credentials as a non-medical doctor (he has a PhD) and member of the Connecticut Soccer Association Hall of Fame to bear on the important task of quoting verbatim from the laws of the game, and Stu Holden still hasn’t stopped talking from America’s opening match.

Donovan, meanwhile, has pulled off the impressive trick of being both exceptionally boring and weirdly aggressive. In a sport that thrives on innovation, Donovan has developed a kind of anti-chemistry in his rapport with English co-commentator Ian Darke – built on dead air, the flat affect of a Benzoed accountant, and negging (sample own from the Spain v Costa Rica match: “Seven nil looks like an NFL score – you wouldn’t know anything about that Ian”) – that feels genuinely fresh.

Meanwhile, all of Fox’s decent commentators have been tucked away on relative World Cup obscurities like the Netherlands v Ecuador or Australia v Tunisia. Bright spots have been sparse. John Strong enjoyably described Cristiano Ronaldo’s attempt to claim a Bruno Fernandes goal as his own in Portugal v Uruguay as “a hairspray goal if anything”. Maurice Edu has been quietly impressive, offering astute mid-match analysis while eschewing the kind of reductive caricatures that often mar Fox’s coverage of encounters involving the less fancied football nations.

A special word, also, must go to Kate Abdo. Abdo is a great enabler of the hijinks and self-deprecating silliness that make CBS’s coverage of the Champions League so enjoyable. Here, however, as host of Fox’s World Cup Tonight show, she has had to contend with the sentient televisual own goal that is “American soccer fan Chad Ochocinco”. Ochocinco, a former wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, has for some reason been asked to document his fan experience for Fox at this World Cup – a brief that has yielded such insights as “I liked the game today”, “Ronaldo is my man”, and the 30 seconds of confused silence that consumed Ochocinco after Abdo made a gentle joke about Carlo Ancelotti’s eyebrows. I haven’t tested this thesis exhaustively, but “get all of Chad Ochocinco’s fan experience by downloading the Fox Sports app” – repeated ad nauseam throughout Fox’s telecast – seems a good candidate for the collection of words in the English language least likely to induce the average American TV viewer to download the Fox Sports app.

There’s something almost religious about the experience of watching Ochocinco front up, night after night, with virtually nothing to say about the World Cup or the wildly popular sport it’s based on. That this man, despite possessing no charisma, sense of humor, or gift for sporting analysis, has managed to land a gig as the resident personality on Fox’s “fun” nightly wrap-up show represents its own kind of miracle, a wine-into-water moment for the Fox casting crew.

And this, perhaps, reveals the true genius of the Murdoch empire’s 4D chess, its dark and accidental power: Fox’s coverage of the World Cup is so bad it’s become unmissable. Almost as much as it is an opportunity to watch Mbappé blitz down the left wing or the Brazilian front-five tear opposition defenses to shreds, this World Cup tempts us with the fascination of Fox’s abomination. Glued to the screen by the promise of another Dellacamera insight that’s dead on arrival or a fresh Donovan dunk on Darke, we simply can’t look away. I’d offer more on this point but Lalas is about to do his World Cup power rankings, and nothing gets between me and my daily appointment with Lexi on the Doha disco tiles.

USA bid farewell to Qatar. Now thoughts turn to a home challenge in 2026 | USA

Whether the United States depart the Middle East having accomplished Gregg Berhalter’s clearly articulated goal of changing the way the world perceives American soccer is an open question.

The overall result following Saturday’s defeat to the Netherlands, which laid bare just how far the Americans have to go before contending with the world’s elite, doesn’t offer a clear answer. After surpassing the tempered expectations of supporters back home by getting out of a tough group but falling short of their own lofty goals, the wholly reconstructed US team made it exactly as far as their previous two appearances at the tournament: to the last 16 and out.

But for all the flaws exposed on Saturday, the United States’ promising core of young players bodes well moving forward. At a time when more American prospects than ever before are spending their teenage years in Europe, more than half of Berhalter’s 26-man squad was drawn from the world’s top five leagues, including Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Sergiño Dest (Milan), Weston McKennie (Juventus) and Tyler Adams (Leeds United). Nineteen of them made their World Cup debuts in Qatar, a record total for a US team.

They started three of the youngest starting XIs in this tournament and four of the youngest five. Eight of Berhalter’s choices for the Netherlands match were 25 or younger – Antonee Robinson (25); McKennie (24), Pulisic (24), Adams (23), Dest (22), Tim Weah (22), Jesús Ferreira (21), Yunus Musah (who turned 20 this week) – and each of them will be highly motivated by the acid memory of Saturday’s heartbreak at the Khalifa International Stadium.

“I do feel like we made some progress,” Berhalter said. “When people look at our team, they see a clear identity. They see guys that go out and fight for each other. They see the talent on the field. We made progress, but on this particular night we came up short.”

What we do know for certain is the next time all those young US players come together for a World Cup match, it will take place on home soil, representing a golden opportunity for what’s been touted as a golden generation of American players who will be in their presumptive primes. Far less clear is whether Berhalter is the correct person to lead them. It’s a decision that will come to a head soon enough with Berhalter’s $1.29m-per-year contract due to expire at the end of the month.

“For the last month-and-a-half, I only focused on the World Cup, only focused on achieving things with this group,” Berhalter said. “Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll clear my head, sit down, and think about what’s next.”

The 47-year-old deserves credit for taking over a program still reeling from the Catastrophe at Couva, ending a string of seven straight World Cup finals appearances, and getting the US back to the sport’s biggest stage.

His 71.1% winning percentage is the highest of any USMNT coach in history, a fact that may surprise even the team’s most dedicated followers. He was instrumental in winning the recruiting battles for Dest and Musah, a pair of dual-nationals who have established themselves as feature players on this journey. He won the inaugural Concacaf Nations League, then the Gold Cup and guided the team through a challenging qualifying campaign for the World Cup, where they got out of the only group in which all four teams ranked in the top 20 of Fifa’s world rankings.

But the brighter spotlight of the World Cup stage brought greater scrutiny of Berhalter’s squad selection, substitutions and in-game adjustments, prompting criticism that he was tactically overwhelmed at this level.

Whoever is chosen to take the United States forward will have plenty on their plate. For all the valid concerns over identifying a goalscoring center forward, squad depth will be a vital issue if reaching the quarter-finals or better is on the cards. A number of key players, including the midfield trio of Adams, McKennie and Musah, were clearly exhausted after leaving it all on the field during the group stage. Not only will the US require more players able to spell them at their standard, but a manager capable of pushing the right buttons.

There’s also a question of keeping the team’s match-toughness sharp during the long four years ahead. The three-week Gold Cup starts at the end of June 2023, with most Europe-based players expected to be in the mix. But the United States’ status as automatic qualifiers for the next World Cup will deprive them of many opportunities for competitive matches. US Soccer should look to play in Copa América as a guest nation and to schedule more friendlies against elite opponents to test themselves, preferably away from home and in hostile environments.

The cycle will start again in January when the United States start running it back with a pair of friendlies against Serbia and Colombia. The Americans have plenty to take pride in after their return to the World Cup after an eight-year absence, but the real work has only just begun.

“We didn’t qualify for the last World Cup and here we are in the round of 16. We’ve definitely come a long way,” Pulisic said on Saturday. “There’s moments that we can be proud of. But we don’t want to feel like this again, and we want to put ourselves in a position to win tournaments like this.”

What did the US lack most at the World Cup? Football intelligence | USA

As his players slumped to the ground after full-time at Khalifa International Stadium, their World Cup dreams in pieces, US head coach Gregg Berhalter took to the pitch brandishing his Moleskine notebook. As he moved through the throng – wrapping his arm around a weeping Tim Weah, offering words of consolation to Christian Pulisic, applauding the American fans – the notebook stayed with him, held aloft seemingly as a symbol of the task that lies ahead if the US are to progress any further than this at their home World Cup in 2026. A manager ready to get back to work at the very moment of defeat sends a strong message, but in truth the technical and tactical deficiencies on display throughout the US’s defeat to a ruthless Dutch outfit suggest that more work was needed before Berhalter’s squad touched down in Doha. What this team has most missed throughout the World Cup is basic football intelligence, the kind of smarts that the Dutch displayed in spades. Like Gio Reyna, Berhalter’s moleskine made its cameo in Qatar too late.

A round of 16 exit feels like a par score for the US, and there is of course no indignity in going down to one of the world’s great footballing nations; America can feel some satisfaction in counting itself among the world’s top 16 sides; and so on. But cliches and ritual expressions of pride can’t hide that the manner of USA’s exit here was particularly disappointing. A country of America’s size, wealth, and ambition – not to mention one in which soccer is such an enduringly popular participation sport – should aspire to more at the World Cup.

“This is a difficult one to handle,” Berhalter reflected when interviewed on the pitch after full-time. “We came up short today, but not for a lack of effort.” Effort may not have been lacking, but many other qualities essential to footballing success were: commitment off the ball, defensive nous, ruthlessness in front of goal. Despite the precision of the opposition’s finishing, the US were not undone by moments of individual brilliance, quirks of technology, or other acts of semi-divine footballing intervention; instead their demise was almost entirely self-inflicted. The US failures were in defense and attack, basic areas of core technical competence. Truly, this was a team who saved their worst for last.

Coming into the round of 16 the US back four – an area that many identified in the run-up to this World Cup as a weakness – had proven remarkably resilient, snuffing out England’s starry frontline, keeping Iran at bay in the final group match, and conceding just one goal (the result of Walker Zimmerman’s agricultural lunge on Gareth Bale in their tournament opener against Wales). The story here was a dispiriting reversal. All three of the Netherlands’ goals resulted from a failure to track and close players down, a breakdown in the Berhalter press. Despite their obvious prowess and thrust going forward, the US’s wide players all too often switched off when the Dutch had the ball; all the marauding in the world won’t matter if you drop off in defense and allow opposition attackers to meet balls into the penalty area uncontested. Antonee Robinson’s failure to mark Denzel Dumfries for the third goal – leaving the Dutchman completely open at the far post with seemingly enough time before he rifled his volley past Matt Turner to compose and post a thank you letter to Robinson at his home address – was particularly poor, reflecting not nerves or a lack of fitness but a kind of witlessness. Other lapses were of a similar character: conceding right before half-time – football’s canonical danger zone – is a failure of concentration, of game management.

At the other end of the pitch things were hardly better, despite the openings created by Weah, Pulisic, and Sergiño Dest. Having tinkered first with Josh Sargent, then Haji Wright, then Sargent again as his starting striker during the group stage, Berhalter here preferred Jesus Ferreira, but the FC Dallas forward struggled to get on the ball. Pulisic will rue the golden chance he spurned in the third minute, but the real emblem of America’s labors in front of goal was Wright, who come on late as the US was chasing the game, took an appalling first touch when he was clear on goal with only Dutch keeper Andries Noppert to beat, then scored by accident a few minutes later, the ball flicking off the back of his heel from a low cross then looping over Noppert’s head. The image of an American striker wasting a chance when he should have scored then scoring when he didn’t mean to offered a distressingly neat summary of the USMNT’s difficulties in front of goal at this World Cup. In truth none of Wright, Sargent, or Ferreira has convinced in Qatar, and against the Dutch Berhalter held off on unleashing Reyna, his one true wildcard off the bench, until it was too late.

Ultimately this match, like USA’s World Cup more generally, was defined by scarcity: a lack of quality up front, and a lack of application in defense. For the USMNT this has been a tournament of good halves followed immediately by bad halves, decent possession and blunt finishing – a true curate’s egg. With the possible exception of the encounter with England, at no point has the team shown themselves capable of truly controlling a match from beginning to end. Iran could and probably should have scored in the second half of the final group match, the late concession to a mediocre Welsh side was a practical own goal, and all the US’s early brightness in possession came to nothing against the Dutch. The USMNT have now thoroughly atoned for the debacle of 2017, and even if this team don’t quite yet have the sense of “identity” that Berhalter claimed they do after full-time against the Dutch, there’s at least a clear outline of who their most important players are: Tyler Adams, Pulisic, and Weah. There has been no shortage of breakout stars, players to inspire genuine optimism as the team marches towards 2026. Yunus Musah brings a dash of Iberian class to the midfield, allowing this team to play in a style that’s far more cultured than was the case for previous vintages of the USMNT. Though disappointing in the round of 16, both Dest and Robinson have brought a darting exhilaration to America’s forays down the flanks. And Tim Ream has been ruggedly composed at the back, though it’s unclear whether the Fulham veteran’s late-career coming of age can extend to 2026, when he will be at the doorstep of his 40s.

No doubt the official narrative from this tournament will be about hope, baby steps, progress on and off the pitch, and all that there is to look forward to in 2026. Immediately after the match Adams expressed his hope that the US team “gave the fans something to be excited about moving forward”, adding: “We’re not there yet, but we’re close.” But are they? Much has been made of this squad’s youth – as the Fox commentators incessantly reminded American viewers throughout the match, the US has the second youngest squad at the World Cup – but these players aren’t children. They’re mature professionals: Pulisic is 24, Robinson is 25, Turner is 28, Adams is 23.

As Arsène Wenger once said about his then-promising young striker Emmanuel Adebayor, “At 23, it’s time to play.” Despite USA’s valiant showing in Qatar, it’s debatable whether the so-called golden generation has the talent or consistency needed to put together a run of performances that will take them further than this at a World Cup. On the one hand, this is a developing squad with clear room for improvement. On the other, scoring and defending tend to be two rather important parts of the sport. If the USMNT can’t get it together now, will they ever?

Netherlands 3-1 USA: World Cup last-16 player ratings | World Cup 2022

Netherlands (3-4-1-2)

Andries Noppert (GK) Was brave to deny Tim Ream three minutes into the second half and made a couple of decent first-half saves. 7/10

Jurriën Timber (CB) A decent night’s work for the 21-year-old Ajax defender. Unruffled but never truly tested. 6

Virgil van Dijk (CB) Arguably started the move for Depay’s slick opener inside his own 18-yard box. Will surely face a tougher test in the quarter-finals. 6

Nathan Aké (CB) Made a couple of typically smart interventions, including a sprawling headed clearance when under the cosh early on. 7

Denzel Dumfries (RWB) The most dangerous player on the pitch. Was alert to sniff danger and set up two goals before volleying in. 9

Marten De Roon (CM) Quietly efficient without doing anything remarkable as the Netherlands coasted into a two-goal lead. Withdrawn at the break. 7

Frenkie De Jong (CM) His poise calmed things down after a nervy start and his class soon told. Was at the heart of everything for the Dutch. 8

Daley Blind (LWB) The 32-year-old arrived on cue at the penalty spot to convert Dumfries’s cross and register his first Netherlands goal since 2014. 7

Davy Klaassen (AM) Involved in the first two goals; in the intricate passing for Depay’s opener and slipped in Dumfries in buildup to the second. 7

Cody Gakpo (ST) Showed a couple of neat touches and slid the ball through Ream’s legs in search of Depay. Is having a superb tournament. 7

Memphis Depay (ST) Fine first-time finish to sweep home Dumfries’s cross was his first goal in Qatar and 43rd for his country. Only Robin van Persie has more. 8

Substitutes: Steven Bergwijn Missed chance to open up a three-goal advantage; 6. Teun Koopmeiners Booked for chopping down Pulisic; 5. Xavi Simons PSV teenager entered for his World Cup debut; 5. Wout Weghorst On too late to make a difference; 5. Matthijs de Ligt Another late replacement; 5.

Christian Pulisic of the USA plays a pass during the match against the Netherlands
Christian Pulisic recovered from an injury sustained during the final group game to direct all the best play from the USA. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

USA (4-3-3)

Matt Turner (GK) Had no chance with the goals but twice superbly denied Depay. More than creditable display by Arsenal’s backup goalkeeper. 7

Sergiño Dest (RB) Born in the Netherlands, the full-back was busy down the flank. Roamed into the opposition box but his shot lacked conviction. 6

Walker Zimmerman (CB) It had all been going so well. These goals were the first USA had conceded from open play at the tournament. 5

Tim Ream (CB) Had a rare sight of goal at a corner but at the other end was fortunate a trio of stray passes went unpunished. 5

Antonee Robinson (LB) Spent a lot of time in the Dutch half when marauding forward but Dumfries had plenty of joy up against him. 5

Tyler Adams (CM) The captain was bypassed for Depay’s 10th-minute opener and never stamped his authority on the game. Disappointing. 5

Weston McKennie (CM) Powered a shot over the bar in the second half but was outclassed by a superior Dutch midfield. Replaced by goalscorer. 5

Yunus Musah (CM) Perhaps the brightest of the USA’s midfield three, the 20-year-old was positive and industrious without much reward. 6

Timothy Weah (RW) Quiet until stinging the palms of Noppert with a smacked shot from outside of the box. Replaced in the second half. 5

Jesús Ferreira (CF) Given his World Cup debut as a false nine, the 21-year-old Major League Soccer young player of the year failed to shine. 5

Christian Pulisic (LW) All of the USA’s good work went through the Chelsea forward. Failed to beat Noppert one-on-one after three minutes. 7

Substitutes: Gio Reyna Failed to make a meaningful impact; 5. Brenden Aaronson Provided a welcome thrust; 5. Haji Wright Fortuitous finish earned USA an unlikely lifeline on 76 minutes; 5. DeAndre Yedlin Unable to help find an equaliser; 5. Jordan Morris On too late to make a difference; 5.

Louis van Gaal talks up Netherlands’ ‘big chances’ of winning World Cup | World Cup 2022

Louis van Gaal claimed the Netherlands have “big chances” of winning the World Cup after swatting aside the USA to advance to the quarter-finals. Van Gaal, who led his country to the semi-finals of the tournament in Brazil in 2014, must now prepare his team to face the winners of Saturday night’s Argentina v Australia game on Friday.

“I think we have big chances here,” said the 71-year-old, in his third spell in charge of his country. “We still have three matches to go. I’ve been talking about this for a year. We can become world champions – not that we will – but we can. I am talking about team-bonding, how we can build the strongest possible team and I derive pleasure from the group of players and, of course, performances and results.”

Denzel Dumfries, who set up the first two goals for Memphis Depay and Daley Blind then capped the scoring with a fine volley, was named the man of the match. When Van Gaal, sitting alongside Dumfries, was asked how highly he regards the 26-year-old, the Netherlands manager proceeded to kiss his defender on the cheek. “Denzel knows that full well,” Van Gaal said. “Yesterday or the day before yesterday, I gave him a big fat kiss. I’m going to give him another big fat kiss [now] so that everyone can see.”

Gregg Berhalter, the USA head coach since 2018, sent on Haji Wright with a quarter of the game to go and saw him pull a goal back via a freak deflection in the 76th minute after meeting Christian Pulisic’s cross, five minutes before Dumfries restored the Dutch’s two-goal margin. Pulisic had missed a chance to give the USA a third-minute lead.Berhalter, out of contract at the end of the year, was noncommittal about his future but said the tournament was a partial success. “I do feel that we have made progress,” he said. “We set out with a goal to show the rest of the world we can play soccer and I think we partially achieved that, although we fell short of our goals.”

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Berhalter added: “We are a very young group at the beginning of their careers. We are going to catch up to that. We don’t have a Memphis Depay right now who is scoring in the Champions League and playing for Barcelona. That stuff is going to come. Regarding me personally, for the last month and a half I’ve been only focused on the World Cup and achieving things with this group, and in the next couple of weeks I’ll sit down and think about what is next.”

USA’s familiar shortcomings exposed against clinical Dutch at World Cup | USA

Argentinian television is calling it La Copa de Batacazos: a World Cup of bumps, surprises and the unforeseeable. They’ve come thick and fast on this tiny Gulf peninsula over the past two weeks, with a record seven teams ranked in the top 20 of Fifa’s world rankings, including Germany, crashing out at the group stage.

The United States entered Saturday night’s knockout match with the Netherlands confident they could deliver the latest plot twist in a competition where outsiders have consistently punched above their weight. Instead, their dream is over in disappointingly predictable fashion thanks to shortcomings that have become all too familiar.

It was the same old story for the Americans, who finished with more shots (17 to 11), more shots on target (eight to six), more passes (564 to 412) and a greater share of possession (58% to 42%), but lacked the ruthlessness and professional edge of the Dutch, who improved to 19 matches unbeaten since Louis van Gaal took over after last year’s European Championship.

The Americans’ profligacy from promising attacking positions, their imprecision in building chances from possession and their consistently poor set-pieces all came under a harsh glare on the world stage after persisting through an often-rocky World Cup qualifying campaign. For three matches in Qatar they were able to make up the difference with closely knit team play fueled by boundless energy in midfield. But when the reserves ran dry on Saturday night, their defects finally caught up with them.

The controlled and efficient presence of the Tyler Adams-Weston McKennie-Yunus Musah midfield that embodied the Americans’ biggest strength and source of optimism against the favored Dutch was badly misfiring. Any concerns that they had left it all on the field during the group stage were confirmed in the first quarter-hour. Adams was nowhere near Memphis Depay on the first goal, McKennie was replaced before the hour mark and Musah looked spent from the word go, making poor giveaways that led to a number of Dutch chances. Physical and mental fatigue were working hand in hand.

Memphis Depay provided that kind of cutting edge that the US lacked
Memphis Depay provided that kind of cutting edge that the US lacked. Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP

That troubling collaboration was in full view early on, when the Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong dropped in between two center-backs to collect the ball before starting a sequence of 20 uninterrupted passes over 114 seconds, leaving the American press in ribbons before Depay finished crisply from a Denzel Dumfries cross to punctuate a pass-and-move masterclass.

Suddenly the only team to not concede from open play in the group stage was trailing for the first time in their tournament. At times they looked tactically overwhelmed against a Dutch side pressing insanely high, daring the Americans to make them pay.

“When you look at the difference between the two teams, to me, there was some offensive finishing quality that Holland had that we’re lacking a little bit,” Berhalter said. “We have a very young group. We have players that are beginning their careers and they’re going to catch up to that. They’re going to get the same thing.”

The Americans did well to get their feet under them. But when Daley Blind found acres of space at the post after eluding Sergiño Dest, the Ajax midfielder scored to effectively close the show against opponents who have wanted mightily for goals against world-class sides. The US didn’t make a whole lot of mistakes on Saturday. But when they did, the Netherlands punished them.

“The first half was a great indication of the game being about moments. We were on top for a lot of the first half and two moments come and all of a sudden we’re 2-0 down. The message was soccer can be cruel sometimes,” said Berhalter. “It’s just moments that the players were [switched] off a little bit here and there and it ends up in the back of the net. When you play at this level, against high quality opponents, that’s what happens. It’s unfortunate that it happens in the knockout game, but it did and we’ve got to learn from it.”

Now for the good news. At a time when more young US players than ever before are spending their teenage years in Europe, more than half of Berhalter’s 26-man squad compete in the world’s top five leagues, including Pulisic (Chelsea), Dest (Milan), McKennie (Juventus) and Adams (Leeds United), who departs as one of the revelations of the tournament. Nineteen of them made their World Cup debuts over the past fortnight – a record for a US team by some distance – and all of them got a taste of the knockout cauldron.

They started three of the youngest starting XIs in this tournament and four of the youngest five. Eight of Berhalter’s choices for the Netherlands match were 25 or younger.

For once the breathless chatter over an American golden generation doesn’t feel like promotional bluster. And the next time they play a World Cup match will be on home soil.

Even though Berhalter resisted the notion that his youth movement was designed at least in part with 2026 in mind, the fact remains that today’s core players will be in their presumptive primes when the US will be co-hosts.

“I think this group is closer,” Berhalter said. “Can we win against top teams? Can we perform well against top teams well enough to win? Today is a strange type of outcome in a game like this when we perform really well, especially in the first half. But to be fielding the youngest lineups in the World Cup four times in a row and still be able to play the way we are, the American public should be optimistic.”

Gregg Berhalter bemoans lack of world-class striker as USA exit World Cup | USA

Gregg Berhalter bemoaned his team’s lack of a world-class finisher as the United States were knocked out of the World Cup by the Netherlands on Saturday.

The US failed to finishing off promising attacks in all four of their games at the World Cup, and many have pointed to the team’s lack of a clinical striker as the reason they failed to progress. Jesus Ferreira, Haji Wright and Josh Sargent led the line at different times for the US in Qatar but none of them posed any real threat to opposing defenders.

“What I would say is, when you look at the difference, to me there was offensive quality that the Netherlands had that we’re lacking a little bit,” said Berhalter after the match.

“It’s normal. We have a young group, players beginning their careers and we’ll catch up to that, but we don’t have a Memphis Depay right now, who plays at Barcelona and has played in the Champions League for years. Those are not excuses, that stuff is going to come.”

The Dutch, on the other hand, were ruthless when presented with chances during their 3-1 victory. The US defence had been solid this World Cup but they were less robust on Saturday. Berhalter said lapses cost the US.

“It’s just moments that the players were [switched] off a little bit here and there and it ends up in the back of the net,” he said. “When you play at this level, against high quality opponents, that’s what happens. It’s unfortunate that it happens in the knockout game, but it did and we’ve got to learn from it.”

Despite the team’s defeat the USA coach said he was pleased with his team’s progress.

“When you look at our team, there’s a very clear identity of what we’re trying to do. You have a group that’s extremely committed to each other in what they’re trying to accomplish,” he said. “We have a very young group, we have players that are beginning in their careers and they’re going to catch up to that. It’s not to make an excuse for this group, they’re still very resilient. That stuff will come.”

The US will co-host the World Cup in 2026 and Berhalter said there are good things to come with players such as Tyler Adams, Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie making up a strong young core for the Americans.

“I think this group is close,” he said. “To be fielding the youngest starting XIs in the World Cup four times in a row, to still play the way we are, the American public should be optimistic.”

Berhalter would not be drawn on whether he would coach the US in 2026.

“I’ve only been focused on the World Cup, achieving things with this group,” he said. “In the next couple of weeks, I’ll clear my head and think about what’s next.”

Netherlands into quarter-finals after Dumfries volley caps win against USA | World Cup 2022

If this is boring football then give Louis van Gaal more. The Netherlands’ head coach has bristled at claims he has created a tedious team but they had far too much class and intelligence for the USA as they comfortably advanced into the quarter-finals in Qatar.

The Internazionale defender Denzel Dumfries was the architect of the US’ demise with two assists and a fine third goal that extinguished any chance of a comeback by Gregg Berhalter’s side. The Netherlands now have five days’ rest before facing the winner of Argentina v Australia on Friday, while the co-hosts of the 2026 World Cup have four years to digest the painful lesson they were handed at the Khalifa International Stadium.

The Netherlands’ formation offered the US the opportunity to get behind their wing-backs and stretch a three-man central defence. In theory, at least. In practice, the Netherlands gave their opponents nothing to exploit. Van Gaal’s team were content to let the US bring the ball out from the back before compressing the space in midfield, seizing possession and striking on the counter. The ploy worked to perfection when they took an early lead from their first meaningful attack.

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It was a beautifully worked breakthrough that started in their own half and prised the US apart in seven pristine passes. Memphis Depay was involved at the outset and at the conclusion. Having carved open the US midfield with a series of one-touch passes Cody Gakpo surged forward and released Dumfries on the right. The defender pulled back an intelligent cross towards the penalty spot where the unmarked Depay converted into the bottom corner. So much for the boring football that Van Gaal’s team have been accused of playing: they lured the US into a trap and punished them in flowing, polished style.

The complexion of the first knockout tie could have been so much different had Christian Pulisic converted a one-on-one after three minutes. Pulisic, cleared to play after sustaining a pelvic injury when scoring the crucial winner against Iran on Tuesday, found himself free inside the area from a Tyler Adams flick. He was denied by the outstretched leg of Andries Noppert and Berhalter’s team rarely troubled the goalkeeper again for the remainder of the first half. The US were too safe, too pedestrian. They looked short of ideas on how to recover from falling behind for first time at this tournament. On the few occasions they did find gaps in the Dutch defence, hopes of an equaliser were invariably ruined by a poor final touch.

Daley Blind is congratulated by Memphis Depay for doubling the Netherlands’ lead.
Daley Blind is congratulated by Memphis Depay for doubling the Netherlands’ lead. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

All hope appeared lost for the US when the Netherlands doubled their lead in first-half stoppage time. It was almost a carbon copy of the opener. Dumfries escaped down the right once again, latching on to a deft touch from Davy Klaassen, and played an identical cross to the first goal. This time Daley Blind arrived in space to tuck away a neat finish into the same corner that Depay found. Blind, who had earlier skied a similar invitation from Dumfries, sprinted over to the Netherlands’ technical area to celebrate with his father, Danny, who is also Van Gaal’s assistant.

The US, to their credit, did not let the deficit or the timing of the second goal deflate them. A much-improved second half display almost brought an early response when Pulisic’s corner dropped to Tim Ream, whose awkward touch took the ball beyond Noppert. Gakpo was perfectly placed to clear off the line, however.

The substitute Haji Wright injected much-needed menace into the US attack and he was also denied on the goalline after pouncing on a careless back-pass from Depay and rounding the Netherlands keeper. Dumfries came to his team’s rescue on that occasion. But a minute later Wright had his goal and the US had a route back. Depay was culpable again with a loose touch that DeAndre Yedlin turned on to Pulisic. The Chelsea forward crossed low from the right and Wright, falling in front of Virgil van Dijk, somehow managed to flick the ball over Noppert with his heel. Dumfries was unable to intervene at the back post this time, but the hugely influential defender had another part to play in the US’s downfall.

Five minutes after the US were back in the game, they were out again. Blind delivered an inch-perfect cross to the back post for his fellow wing-back to steer an unstoppable left-footed volley into the far corner, ensuring the Netherlands comfortably booked their place in the last eight.

Thorns coach Wilkinson resigns after concerns over relationship with player | NWSL

Portland Thorns head coach Rhian Wilkinson has resigned from her post after an investigation into her conduct.

The former Canada international said she had reported herself to the Thorns last season, and the club then passed the information on to the National Women’s Soccer League. Wilkinson said that she and one of her players had developed “feelings for one another” but the relationship went no further. The NSWL and the league’s Players’ Association then investigated the matter.

“In an effort to follow NWSL and NWSLPA processes to protect player safety, and to be as transparent as possible, the player and I immediately stopped spending time outside of training together, and soon after stopped all communication outside of work,” Wilkinson wrote in a statement. “In less than a week, I reported myself to human resources to make sure I had not crossed any ethical lines.”

The investigation exonerated Wilkinson of any wrongdoing but she has still chosen to step down.

“The Portland Thorns and Coach Wilkinson followed all League processes and policies and fully cooperated with this investigation,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said in a statement. “The joint investigative team conducted a thorough investigation that resulted in a finding of no violation of League policies.”

However, Wilkinson said that her players had lost faith in her. “Once you’ve lost the locker room, which I have, there’s no return,” she told The Athletic.

Wilkinson’s resignation comes at a tumultuous time for the NWSL after a report found that sexual and emotional abuse was widespread across the league. Former Thorns coach Paul Riley was accused of sexual misconduct by several players. On Thursday, Thorns owner Merritt Paulson said he is putting the club up for sale.

Wilkinson was a successful coach on the field: she led the Thorns to the NWSL title in October. She won 181 caps and two Olympic bronze medals as a player with Canada.

“I would like to thank the Portland Thorns organization, the fans, the staff and most importantly the players for a remarkable year,” Wilkinson wrote in her statement on Friday. “During my time in Portland I have met some incredible people and been fortunate enough to coach some of the best players in the game.”

Pulisic clear to play for USA against Netherlands as Berhalter faces familiar foes | USA

Louis van Gaal says he doesn’t recall the last time he faced Gregg Berhalter in a competitive match.

Berhalter, whose United States team will play Van Gaal’s Netherlands on Saturday in the last 16 of the World Cup, doesn’t believe him for a second.

The date was 4 May 1997. Berhalter was a fresh-faced 23-year-old center-back for a mid-table Sparta Rotterdam side that beat Van Gaal’s Ajax team – who had played in the Champions League semi-finals only 11 days earlier – thanks to an 88th-minute winner.

“I think he remembers,” Berhalter said on Friday with a smile. “Being that competitive, he has to remember that game.”

Twenty-five years later, the US manager will take on the underdog role once again when the Americans meet a favored Dutch side that have yet to taste defeat in 18 matches since Van Gaal took over after last year’s European Championship, conceding only 14 times in that span. Should they buck the odds against the Oranje, the Americans would go through to the last eight of a World Cup for the first time since 2002, when Berhalter’s left foot nearly sent the US into the semi-finals at Germany’s expense.

That the biggest game of his three-and-a-half-year tenure will come against the Netherlands carries added meaning for Berhalter, who has become the first man to play for and manage an American side at a World Cup. After leaving the University of North Carolina after his junior season, he cut his teeth with a number of Dutch clubs at the outset of a decade-and-a-half playing career in Europe, signing with Zwolle in 1994, then with Sparta in 1996 and Cambuur Leeuwarden in 1998.

It’s no surprise that Dutch football has deeply informed his coaching philosophy.

“I learned so much in Holland,” Berhalter said. “It’s almost like, what concepts haven’t I taken from Dutch football? It was a great experience being there.

“After every training session, you have a debate with your players about it. After every game, you have a talk with people about the game. People love to discuss soccer and you really learn a lot.

“I went to Holland just out of university, totally unprepared for professional-level soccer. If I wasn’t in Holland, I don’t think I would have had that background that really helped shape my ideas.”

Gregg Berhalter spent six years in the Netherlands during his playing career
Gregg Berhalter spent six years in the Netherlands during his playing career. Photograph: Ashley Landis/AP

Berhalter described how his experience in the Netherlands was an awakening to the nuances of the game that weren’t a part of his development back home.

“Just about spacing and the positional game, third man, triangles,” he said. “There was a striker, an old striker that I played with when I first got there. His name was Remco Boere. He would yell at me for giving him the ball with too much spin. He wanted balls that came at him straight that I had to hit with my laces. And I wasn’t good enough hitting with my laces, so I had to practice, practice, practice so I could play him a ball that he wanted.

“If you ever laid a ball off to someone and you put it to their wrong foot, they would start yelling at you. How crisp you play passes. There were a lot of details that I was missing that I learned in Holland.”

Berhalter is not the only figure in the US camp with deep ties to the Netherlands. US Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart, who captained the national team in the famous win over Portugal that launched their 2002 World Cup run, was born in the southern Dutch town of Veghel.

Meanwhile US right-back Sergiño Dest, the son of a Dutch mother and Surinamese-American father, grew up in Almere and came up through Ajax’s vaunted youth academy. When he was deciding whether to represent the US or the Netherlands at the international level, it was Berhalter’s connection with Dest defender that helped tip the balance.

“As he transitioned to the professional level, there came some attention from the Dutch side and our side,” Berhalter said. “And basically it was about me just making a connection with him, talking to him about what we thought his role could be for us, what the plans are for this group over the next eight years, and then introducing him to his teammates and getting him into our environment.”

Said the 22-year-old Dest: “It’s going to be a pretty fun one, playing against the country I was born in. I know almost every single guy over there.”

The most pressing question in the US camp ahead of Saturday’s match surrounded the fitness of Christian Pulisic, who suffered a pelvic contusion while scoring the winner in Tuesday’s win-or-go-home match with Iran that sealed the Americans’ progress to the knockouts for the fifth time since 1994.

One day after the Chelsea winger said he was taking it day-to-day with the injury before a training session at the team’s Al Rayyan headquarters but “doing everything in my power to be able to be out there on the field Saturday”, Berhalter offered a slightly rosier assessment.

“We’re going to see him on the training field today,” the manager said. “What I think is it looks pretty good, so we’ll have to see him today on the pitch to get confirmation of that.”

US Soccer later confirmed Pulisic has been cleared to play against the Dutch.

Berhalter was less optimistic about the availability of Josh Sargent, the Norwich City striker who went off with a right ankle injury in the 77th minute of the Iran match.

“He’s another one we’re going to test in training, to see where he’s at,” Berhalter said. “… He’s going to test. At this stage, it’s go time. If you can push through it, you do.”

The United States’ have done little to assuage long-running concerns over their ability to produce goals during their time in Qatar, scoring just twice in three matches so far. But they have yet to concede from open play – and Berhalter is confident the closely knit team play that has seen the Americans go this far will be enough to close what’s an undeniable gap in individual skill.

“It’s tough,” he said. “[The Dutch] have talent. I can see them playing with two strikers, one behind the striker. It could be any combination of who they’ve been playing, but they have some real top-end talent with Memphis Depay and [Cody] Gakpo and if [Steven] Bergwijn plays.

“But for us it’s about the collective. The back four has done a great job. The goalkeeper has done a great job. It’s about team defending, working as a unit, moving collectively. And when we do that, we put the opponent in difficult positions where they can’t access the spaces they want to access. And I think that’s been what we’ve been good at in this tournament so far.”