When it comes to generating nationwide soccer interest across the United States, nothing inspires fan support and engagement quite like the FIFA World Cup.
Given that fact, the US men’s national team know they let an opportunity slip through their fingers Saturday in the Round of 16 by suffering a 3-1 defeat to the Netherlands. Their Qatar 2022 experience is over.
Starting goalkeeper Matt Turner summed up that tension when speaking postgame with FOX sideline reporter Jenny Taft.
“Looking around that locker room, the silence is deafening,” said Turner, who made four saves to keep the USMNT in it. “We all know what we put out there tonight wasn’t our best stuff. There were some great moments, but front to back it wasn’t our best performance.
“That’s the disappointing part because we all want to create moments for people back home to fall in love with the game and tonight was not one of those nights, unfortunately. We want to inspire another generation and I think that’s the clear message within our locker room. 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.”
Turner also said the US defensive performance is one they’ll “probably lose some sleep over”; they were the only nation to not allow an open-play goal during the group stage, then couldn’t contain the Netherlands. It boiled down to “what happened in both boxes,” Turner said, as the Dutch showed their quality in key moments.
The USMNT got a lifeline via Haji Wright’s 76th-minute goal from Christian Pulisic’s low cross, giving the star attacker one goal and two assists during the tournament. But Pulisic, who recovered from a pelvic contusion injury he suffered in the must-win Group B finale vs. Iran, knows it wasn’t enough against the Oranje.
“We’re sorry, we wanted it so bad,” Pulisic said of his message to fans. “I hope we gave you some kind of excitement and showed you a little bit of what this country is about, what this team is about.”
The good news, perhaps? The USMNT were the second-youngest group in Qatar and core players should develop into their prime/peak levels for North America 2026, when the World Cup is hosted by Canada, Mexico and the US.
USMNT captain Tyler Adams feels they’re on a positive trajectory, though recognized the difference world-class players can make on this stage.
“We showed that we can hang with some of the best teams in the world, some of the best players in the world,” said Adams. “That’s a lot of progress for US soccer. 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.”
It was a similar message from midfielder Weston McKennie, who knows hard work awaits arguably the most talented USMNT generation.
“We have four years where we’re all going to be on our own journeys,” McKennie said. “There’s going to be ups and downs in our careers, but hopefully a lot of the guys fight and keep performing in their individual clubs to get back, because there’s no other guys I’d rather go to battle with. I can’t wait.”
The USMNT will inevitably integrate new faces for 2026 as established professionals, prospects and academy talents all develop in the years ahead. They may even have a new coach, as post-tournament questions swirl around Gregg Berhalter’s future.
The US program is at a far improved place than 2018, when they failed to qualify for the Russia-hosted World Cup. But there’s a lingering sense of what could have been, that a quarterfinal bout with Lionel Messi’s Argentina was there for the taking.
“I’m really proud of this team, how far we’ve come,” said Pulisic. “I hope we showed a lot of people what we can do. It really is a shame. I thought we deserved more from this tournament.”
Added McKennie: “We’re going to use this as another part of the story and have another four years to get prepared.”