After a devastating loss to Trinidad and Tobago back on Oct. 17, 2017, the U.S. men’s national team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. This marked the first time the team didn’t qualify since 1986. Yet this time around, the young team showed no sign of hesitation as they went head-to-head with some of the world’s best. It’s clear the heartbreak of 2018 only propelled this squad. Led by the youngest U.S. captain ever, Tyler Adams, the squad earned five points during the group stage matches. Standout performances from Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie had the offense moving along. After holding off England in the group stage, the U.S. team, who arguably had the better opportunities against the Three Lions, were hopeful for their matchup against the Netherlands.

Unfortunately, the inexperience of the youthful U.S. squad was shown very clearly in their matchup against the veteran Dutchmen. The U.S. dominated in the beginning minutes with an early chance on net, but the Dutch killed any momentum with their goal in the 10th minute. The Netherlands’ skill on the counterattack and ability to find the switch to Denzel Dumfries overwhelmed the hesitant U.S. defenders. Netherlands player Memphis Depay found the low left corner to give the Dutch the early lead. Despite having a strong lineup offensively, the U.S. failed to build up and finish in the final third of the field. The game-deciding goal came in the lone minute of stoppage time for the first half when Dumfries found his teammate Daley Blind on a beautiful pass through the middle to give the Dutch a 2-0 lead heading into the second half. 

The second half had multiple players coming off the bench fighting hard for the red, white, and blue; Brendan Aaronson, Gio Reyna, and Haji Wright made their impact on the field clear. Wright, in the 74th minute, had his opportunity to put away a goal when a defensive mistake gave him the ball in front of the goal. Unfortunately, a heavy touch would set him up for failure, and he was unable to correct his mistake. The U.S. was able to find the back of the net in the second half, briefly filling players and fans with a feeling of optimism. In the 76th minute, Pulisic was able to cross the ball in from the right wing. Wright caught the ball with the back of his foot, and it spun off into the far post of the Dutch goal to pull the gap closer. Yet, the U.S.’s inexperience was shown yet again when an unmarked Dumfries would score five minutes after the U.S. did. 

The lack of a clinical finisher for the U.S. meant threatening passes and crosses lacked a receiver. That, combined with an alarming number of unmarked players, gave way for the deserving Netherlands to qualify and continue to play third-ranked Argentina this Friday at 2 p.m. The Netherlands played excellent defense; veteran center back Virgil van Dijk played a major role throughout the game, thwarting countless U.S. opportunities. Yet, all in all, it’s important to take away the positives from this tournament as the U.S. looks forward to the 2026 World Cup. Although players like 35-year-old defender Tim Ream will most likely not be returning, the beauty of the young squad will be seen in the familiar faces come four years. There are plenty of big names that weren’t selected, from 19-year-old Ricardo Pepi to 25-year-old defender Miles Robinson. The US has the potential to develop and nurture its young talent, perhaps emerging as a true threat when the 2026 World Cup travels to North America.