USMNT celebrates beating Iran. Photo: Stefan Matzke – sampics/Corbis via Getty Images
At 10 a.m. on Saturday, the United States men’s national soccer team will face the Netherlands in a World Cup Round of 16 match. Any bar worth its salt will open early for the fans to scream at the top of their voices. But you’re going to want to sound smart between shouting. So if the Men’s and Women’s World Cup (and Ted Lasso) are the only times you pay attention to football, here’s an FAQ that will hopefully provide you with everything you need to know before heading into 90 minutes.
Okay, so who are we playing against? And are they any good?
The Netherlands, and yes. They won Group A in impressive fashion, beating Qatar and Senegal 2-0 and drawing Ecuador 1-1. They have scored five goals so far, three more than the USA, and their powerful attack will be a test for the strong USMNT defence, which has allowed just one goal (from a penalty) throughout the tournament. They are currently No. 9 in the FIFA World Rankings, seven places ahead of the United States. And they’re hungry: like the United States, they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, a shocking turn because the Dutch had enjoyed their best run since the total football era of the 1970s: they were runners-up in 2010 and finished third in 2014.
Oh, man, are we screwed?
Not necessarily. The Netherlands may have reached the round of 16, but Group A was widely considered the weakest group in the tournament. And the Dutch have actually been outplayed by their opponents so far, indicating real weakness. (If you’re in advanced analysis, their expected goals for the tournament are at 2.3, less than their expected goals abandoned, 2.7 another bad sign.) Specifically: the United States was one of the best stories of this entire tournament. , outperforming their three opponents so far, including England, who are one of the tournament favourites, and who are far better than the Netherlands. It’s a very winnable game.
Does this one carry the swirling geopolitical conflict and intrigue of the Iran game?
Hopefully not. In 1982, at an event welcoming Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands to the United States, President Ronald Reagan said, “The ties between our two peoples represent the longest unbroken peaceful relationship we have had with any other nation. . This unbroken peaceful relationship has not been broken unless I have missed a war in the last 40 years. Perhaps the closest thing to a conflict between the two countries is the long-standing jealousy of progressive Americans towards the Netherlands, an eminently sensible town-planner.
How is Christian Pulisic?
The best and most charismatic USMNT player finally scored his first-ever World Cup goal against Iran, but paid for it with a pelvic contusion that sidelined him for the rest of the game and finally sent him to the hospital. (On Thursday, Pulisic clarified a question on the minds of many by clarifying that I wasn’t hit in every bullet.)
American fans held their collective breath over Pulisics’ status until the team announced on Friday that he would be available to take the field on Saturday:
UPDATE: Christian Pulisic has been cleared to play tomorrow’s match against the Netherlands. pic.twitter.com/ANg2baaJez
— United States Men’s National Soccer Team (@USMNT) December 2, 2022
It’s not yet confirmed if the hell is actually playing, but it seems very likely. USA, who have scored just two goals throughout this tournament, both created by Pulisic, desperately need him, so that’s great news.
What kind of vibe does this team have?
Good vibrations, very good vibrations.
the hotel was ROWDY when we returned pic.twitter.com/xa5lBnDWO2
— United States Men’s National Soccer Team (@USMNT) November 30, 2022
What must the USMNT do to win?
A big question is whether the United States will abandon the semi-attacking style they used against Iran, a team they had to score against to advance. Anchored by Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner, the United showed how well they could defend during the group stage, and despite being younger and theoretically able to run more than the Oranje, the coach of USMNT’s Gregg Berhalter was hesitant to make substitutions, which could mean heavy legs on Saturday. (Berhalter’s reluctance to take on Gio Reyna, who could have been the best American player in Europe this year, remains a bit disconcerting.) It will be fascinating to see which option Berhalter chooses: parking the bus like they did during previous tournaments, or aggressively controlling the pace of play as they did against England, in what was arguably the best match they have played in Qatar.
What if it goes to penalties?
World Cup penalty shootouts are the most nerve-wracking thing on Earth. If the game comes to that, the rest of your day will essentially be over, regardless of the outcome.
What if they win?
A victory would take the USMNT to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002, and only the third time (the first was in 1930). They would face the winner of the Argentina-Australia Saturday game on Friday, December 9 at 2 p.m. ET, which means you will absolutely have to stop working lunch that day, at a minimum. This game would instantly become the biggest game for USA in Men’s World Cup history. And unless Australia somehow upsets Argentina, the United States would be a huge underdog.
How devastated should we be if they lose?
Not very. It’s important to remember that the USMNT is by far the youngest team in the tournament, which means most of these guys will be back, with more experience, in four years and they’ll have home-court advantage. next time, as the United States is hosting the 2026 World Cup (along with Mexico and Canada). Getting this far was a major achievement for such an inexperienced team: everything else is just gravy.
But, you know: the sauce is really good! Which means you have to go out Saturday morning and lose your mind. You might find yourself in one of these videos one day:
Seriously: there’s nothing quite like being in a crowded bar when the USMNT (or USWNT) scores; it’s one of America’s greatest sports fan experiences. The Women’s World Cup is next year, so you can do it then. But for men, if you miss this time, you’ll have to wait four years to start again. Do you realize how old you are going to be in four years? Really old!
So come out and cheer on our boys. This is the fun part. It’s the right thing.
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