DOMINIC KING: The American dream died once again with World Cup defeat by Holland but this is not the end of the road… by the time they host in 2026, this young team will be even stronger – and they’re only a striker away from being brilliant
The American dream had failed to come true once again and Christian Pulisic couldn’t contain his emotions, wrenching up his shirt and burying his face.
It had been the ambition of this high-energy and youthful United States squad to emulate – and, possibly, better – the class of 2002, who had reached the last eight in Japan and South Korea. Had Pulisic kept his cool in the second minute, they might have done that, too.
Every second, every touch, every pass and every shot counts at a World Cup. One stutter, one hesitation and it all comes tumbling down, particularly when the pressure is as intense as it is in the ‘win or go home’ fixtures that follow the group stages.
Christian Pulisic missed a huge chance in the first few minutes of America’s defeat by Holland
Pulisic was the hero against Iran, but the enigmatic forward could not repeat his heroics
Pulisic, the enigmatic Chelsea forward, had a glorious opportunity to shape the narrative in the United States’ favor in the second minute, when he found himself onside and all alone in the Holland penalty area. One clean strike and he would have given his team the lead.
He had been the hero of the hour against Iran – scoring the goal that enabled his team to qualify with England from Group B – but Pulisic could not repeat the feat, his shot bobbled up and Andries Noppert, Heerenveen’s goalkeeper, stuck out his left leg to save. It was a huge moment.
You could tell it was on his mind at the final whistle, as he began to wince. Pulisic, whose season at Stamford Bridge has been pockmarked with inconsistency, opened up about it a couple of hours later. Being asked to revisit the scene of a trauma was, evidently, painful.
Gio Reyna will be among the stars hitting their peak by the time 2026 World Cup comes around
Brenden Aaronson takes on Jurrien Timber during the Round of 16 game in Doha, Qatar
‘It hurts,’ Pulisic sighed. ‘I thought I was way offside when it happened. He made a good save so of course it is going to hurt for a while. We don’t want to feel like this again. It was an honor to represent our country but, right now, it is tough.’
Even more descriptive was Arsenal’s goalkeeper Matt Turner, who said: ‘We did something that was not like us. The silence in the dressing room is deafening. The mood is somber. Contesting a game of this nature and losing doesn’t make anyone feel any better.’
This, though, is not the end of the road for Gregg Berhalter’s squad by any means and it will be fascinating to see how, when they are joint hosts in the summer of 2026, this group will progress as they are only a top striker away from being a fine side.
Matt Turner (left) was honest in his post-match assessment, admitting the mood was ‘somber’
It is as yet unclear whether Gregg Berhalter will continue to lead the US national team forward
When they played England, Gareth Southgate’s squad were taken aback by how much running the United States did and how intense it was; they have some excellent talents, such as the Leeds pair Brenden Aaronsen and Tyler Adams, to go with Pulisic and Gio Reyna of Borussia Dortmund.
A 3-1 defeat to Holland brings this journey in the Middle East to a close but you wouldn’t be in a hurry to dismiss them in four years.
Put it another way, when they last staged the World Cup in 1994, the United States won one of their four games. This squad will do better.
‘It is another experience for all these guys,’ said Pulisic. ‘We didn’t qualify for the last World Cup and here we are in the Round of 16. There’s for sure moments we can be really proud of. We don’t want to feel like this again and we want to put ourselves in a position to win tournaments like this.’