Gregg Berhalter, head coach of the U.S. men’s national team, described feeling “bitterly disappointed” over his team’s 3-1 eliminating loss to the Netherlands on Saturday.
The U.S. conceded two first half goals in demoralizing fashion -- one in the opening 10 minutes and another in the final seconds of stoppage time. In the second half, Haji Wright awkwardly bobbled the ball into the back of the net to cut the U.S. deficit to one, only for the Dutch to storm back and stop the American momentum in its tracks with another crushing goal to seal the win.
“Just looking around that locker room, the silence is deafening,” starting goalkeeper Matt Turner said following the loss. “I think we all know what we put out there tonight wasn’t our best stuff.”
Turner said from his perspective on the back line, the outcome of Saturday’s matchup came down to “what happened between both boxes.”
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“They had some ideas in the final third and they were able to execute them and when we got into the final third, you know their defenders made plays,” he said. “That was the biggest difference. And unfortunately, for us we fought hard to get back into the game and then conceded another goal late and that kind of put the steam out.”
All three of the Netherlands goals came by unmarked men running into the box and capitalizing on well-placed crosses.
“When you let good teams with World Cup players run freely to a ball, it can make things pretty difficult for us,” Turner said. “We didn’t block shots. It was just a tough night overall defensively and one that probably we will lose some sleep over.”
Captain and midfielder Tyler Adams echoed Turner’s observations.
“Games like that, it comes down to the margins obviously,” Adams said. “When you play a team with so much quality like that, and you give them three, four chances they’re gonna put three or four away.”
Forward Christian Pulisic said it "hurts a lot right now" but wants to channel that hurt into growth in the years to come.
"We thought that we could advance and done a lot more this time around, but I love these guys and it's a really special group that we have," he said. "Never want to experience this feeling again, and hopefully have a lot of good things to come."
Despite the round of 16 exit, Berhalter repeatedly touched on how proud he was of this team, the second-youngest at the World Cup.
“When you think about this group and how they’ve come together over the last three and half years, it’s really special to see,” he said. “You don’t often get a bond like that between teammates and the staff and everyone.”
Much of the narrative surrounding the USMNT heading into this World Cup was about the team’s effort to establish itself as a serious contender to fans internationally at home.
Adams said their performance on Saturday proved they can hang with some of the best teams in the world.
“We’re moving in the right direction for sure, but we need to keep pushing because we’re not there yet but we’re close," the 23-year-old captain -- the youngest of the 32 teams at the World Cup -- said.
Berhalter also said he thinks their performance in Qatar indicates progress.
“When people look at our team they see a clear identity, they see guys that fight for each other, they see the talent on the field, you know,” he said. “We made progress but on this particular night we came up short.”
Pulisic spoke directly to the fans back in the U.S. who joined this team on its tournament run.
"We wanted it so bad and I hope that we gave you some kind of excitement and showed you a little bit of what this country is about, what this team is about," he said.
Looking ahead, the U.S. will set their sights on 2026 when they lead a joint hosting bid with Canada and Mexico.
With the exception of Turner, who is 28, and defenders Walker Zimmerman and Tim Ream, who are 29 and 35, respectively, none of the starters in Qatar are older than 25. With a number of players such as Tim Weah, Yunus Musah, Gio Reyna, Sergino Dest and Brenden Aaronson all 22 or younger, it’s fair to assume much of this team will be back in the mix for the 2026 roster.
“Obviously, the more time together the more growth we should have. But that being said, we still need to develop individually to more mature players for moments like this where we can come out on top,” Adams said. "Today you can see a little more experienced team got the better of us, but our youth -- our potential that we have -- we need to maximize that looking forward to the time we have between now and obviously 2026.”
While the MLS season wrapped earlier this month, many players in European leagues will return to the seasons following the tournament. Weston McKennie, who plays midfielder for Juventus, said that club season will be a key part of developing the national team.
“We can take the positive out of a game like this. Americans, we’re used to trying to bounce back. We have four years to focus,” McKennie added. “… There’s no other guys I’d rather go to battle with.”
Turner said part of the sting of Saturday’s defeat is feeling like they missed out on an opportunity to increase soccer’s popularity back home.
“We want to inspire another generation and I think that’s the clear message within our locker room and when you have opportunities against top opponents on the world stage, you want to put your best foot forward and be able to do that. Unfortunately, tonight we weren't up for it.”