How big is the sport now in the US?
Dave Hanratty: “Greetings from Ireland – I’ve always enjoyed cheering on USA in World Cups, likely because of USA ‘94 being the first proper World Cup I experienced and Ireland’s exciting run in it. That, and I do get a kick out of ostentatious American football/soccer commentary and so on. I was wondering if you could shed some light on just how respected the beautiful game is or isn’t in the US in 2022? For a long time it seemed like it was dismissed as a ‘girl’s game’ or some other sexist nonsense, but there seems to be, year on year, a notable uptick in football being taken more seriously over there? Same time, it’s never ever going to eclipse baseball, basketball, or American football, right? Just looking to take the overall temperature, really. Best of luck today!”
I’m a substitute teacher in local schools because I’m a freelance journalist and therefore someone who needs side hustles (and because I enjoy it). I’ve been amazed this year to see how much excitement there is. I walked by a classroom and heard USA-Iran emanating from their big screen. Kids are walking around in Pulisic shirts.
At the very least, the hostility toward soccer is dying out. But I literally wrote the book on why the US has a low ceiling in this sport. No gratuitous plug here (Google the book if you like). But to sum up: We have a great fan base, and we always manage to get in our own way with things like lawsuits. Story on one of those coming up soon, maybe in a week or two.
But forget the pessimism for now. There has never been a better time to be a soccer fan here. We used to be underground. Now we rule.
Douglas Gibson guesses wrong: “Greetings from a UNC alum! You went to NC State, I take it? Anyway, thanks to you and the rest at the Guardian team for great safe-for-work World Cup coverage. I wouldn’t go anywhere else.”
No, I went to UNC’s biggest rival in UNC’s biggest sport other than women’s soccer. (And occasionally victorious over UNC in that sport, too. Apologies to my fellow National Soccer Hall of Fame veterans committee member Anson Dorrance.)
Lineup talk …
First, a simple text version by request:
Goalkeeper: Matt Turner
Defenders: Antonee Robinson, Tim Ream, Walker Zimmerman, Sergiño Dest
Midfield: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah
Forward: Christian Pulisic, Jesus Ferreira, Tim Weah
Goalkeeper: Andries Hoppert
Defenders: Jurrien Timber, Virgil van Dyck, Nathan Ake
Midfield: Daley Blind, Frenkie de Jong, Marten de Roon, Denzel Dumfries, Davy Klassen
Forward: Memphis Dupay, Cody Gakpo
The graphic is a little odd anyway, says Nick White: “Regarding the US Lineup tweet…Do they always blow up player’s heads like that and I haven’t ever realized, or is that photoshop job of Dest uniquely terrible. His head is frightfully out of proportion with his body.”
Now a question from Rahul Vanamali: “Surely there’s something going on behind the scenes between Berhalter and Reyna – can’t imagine why a player of Reyna’s skill has seen such limited game time with no obvious injury concerns, unless I missed something…Does anyone have anything?”
Berhalter has been treading a line between brilliance and consternation. Bringing back Tim Ream was clearly a stroke of genius. The substitutions have been … odd. Surely the US would’ve been better off with Reyna holding the ball at the end of the Iran game instead of Haji Wright.
I’m also a fan of the music YouTuber Todd in the Shadows, who contributes this:
Yeah, but Arby’s got rid of their potato cakes, so …
David Walls disagrees with my assessment of the US national anthem: “It might not be quite up there with the Marseillaise (the obvious winner in the World Cup of Anthems) but I think the Star Spangled Banner is a contender to make the last eight at least (especially in the absence of Russia and Italy this time). It would even be in with a chance for the semi-finals if they could get Enrico Pallazzo to perform it.”
That may indeed be my favorite rendition of the anthem.
Colin Young needs musical advice: “Hi Beau, like many others I suspect, I’m finding it hard to call this one. So instead I’m taking requests. I was born stateside but have lived most of my life in the UK.. Even so, nothing brings out the Stars n Stripes in me more than a USMNT game. I’m dj’ing this evening in Brixton.. Should they prevail, what tune shall I play to celebrate? And what if they lose…? And no, it won’t be ‘Born In The USA’. Any ideas out there? :)”
You’ve come to the right place, Colin. I could talk music all day. It might clear the dance floor, but may I suggest a bit of Ray Charles either way?
First question for me from the inbox is … who are you?
Well, not quite phrased like that. From Steve Wiles: “I’m not as up to date with the MBM as I used to be, so maybe you’ve been around a while. Don’t recognize the name though. Just wanted to say: ‘This should be fun. Let’s talk for a bit and then watch, shall we?’ I like your style!”
Why, thanks, though I’m sorry you weren’t with me when I was up until all hours live-blogging the US Open this summer. I have an eclectic resume of MBM or lap-by-lap or game-by-game or skateboarding run-by-skateboarding run commentary.
Fun story: When I was at USA Today in the 2000s, I did our online Olympic sports and soccer coverage, and I blatantly ripped off The Guardian’s MBM style. And now they let me do it here.
The other quick note: I am the co-coordinator of the Saturday Morning Breakfast Extravaganza at Potomac Curling Club. I have had to hand over the ice to our other volunteers today.
Yes, I’m missing curling to do this. (In the Canadian games, I did work in a lot of curling references.) This is a Very Big Deal.
And please email my editors to get them to let me do end-by-end curling commentary sometime.
I wasn’t kidding about Biden …
In a more traditional setting, the Fox studio crew this morning includes their stalwart host Rob Stone, the “nice guy in real life but provocateur on TV” Alexi Lalas, the drawling Clint Dempsey, and an unusually animated Landon Donovan.
Yes, unusually animated Landon Donovan, the guy who generally radiates California cool unless he has just scored an immense goal.
And now, Weston McKennie is in a movie trailer. That’s a jarring transition.
One hour to go …
Samuel L. Jackson just did the intro on Fox. I’ve got chills, even though I would’ve loved for him to say, “WHAT DOES WESTON MCKENNIE LOOK LIKE?!” Or Tarantino’s tweaking of a verse from Ezekiel.
And … whoa … Joe Biden?
This is starting to seem like a big deal.
Send in your emails while ye may, and I’ll respond to as many as my typing speed and attention span will allow.
The imposing Noppert is in goal, with van Dijk in the middle of the back line between Manchester City’s Nathan Ake and young Ajax back Jurrien Timber.
Daley Blind, who had a long spell with Manchester United but whose surname is synonymous with Ajax, is on the left, Denzel Dumfries, who moved last year from PSV to Inter, is on the right.
Martin de Roon (Atalanta – the Italian club, not a misspelling of Atlanta United) and Davy Klassen (Ajax) will do their best to help de Jong control the midfield against the USA’s outstanding MMA trio. (To be clear – “MMA” refers to their initials, not their style of play.)
Gakpo and Memphis Dupay, a former Manchester United afterthought who scorched the nets for Lyon and has moved to Barcelona, play up front.
Here’s a nifty tactical look.
And there’s big news: Jesus Ferreira, the young goal-poacher who plays for FC Dallas (at the moment – he’s destined to join Weston McKennie, Kellyn Acosta, Shaq Moore and other players in the USMNT talent pool as graduates of The Best Academy in the States who have gone to good clubs overseas), has been controversially omitted so far. Not today. He’s starting in place of Josh Sargent, who was banged up against Iran.
Walker Zimmerman returns to the back line despite Cameron Carter-Vickers doing quite well in that space against Iran.
The rest is unchanged. Tim Ream, the Fulham veteran who had been out of the picture for quite a while but has served honorably alongside Zimmerman or CCV at center back, is still there, as is the MMA midfield of Adams, McKennie and Yunus Musah. The marauding outside backs of Antonee Robinson and Dest keep their spots as expected. Tim Weah, scorer of the goal against Wales and the man who had a goal called back against Iran in a razor-thin offside decision, remains on the front line.
And yes, Christian Pulisic starts.
The many ties between these footballing nations …
As mentioned, Dest grew up in the Netherlands and was part of the Ajax youth machine.
Also growing up in the Netherlands: Earnie Stewart, the US Soccer sporting director who scored some of the most important goals in US history, including the winner against Colombia in 1994.
Also spending part of his career in the Netherlands: Gregg Berhalter, the US Soccer coach who went to some little state college* before moving to the Netherlands.
All this, plus an injury update on Christian Pulisic, in our preview by our US guy in Doha, Bryan Armen Graham:
(* – the University of North Carolina is a fine institution. I attended their greatest rival.)
In the Netherlands’ favor …
Well, they’re the Netherlands, right?
But are they a classic Dutch team? As “the guy who knows soccer” in many a social setting, I’m often asked to give ad hoc scouting reports of US opponents. “Oh, the Netherlands are great,” I said. “They have great players like …”
OK, OK – Virgil van Dijk, yes. He’s the bedrock of many a recent Liverpool success.
Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong is great, even if Barcelona isn’t really Barcelona these days. (Sergiño Dest, incidentally, is a Barcelona player on loan to AC Milan, and he grew up in the Netherlands at Ajax, which rivals Barcelona in the race to be The Most Lauded Youth Academy on Earth.)
Their goalkeeper, Andries Noppert, is … tall.
And Cody Gakpo is still relatively unknown because PSV Eindhoven isn’t a glamour team these days, but that’s going to change when a big club or three. comes calling after this Cup.
With that, I’ve ripped off most of Tom Dart’s scouting report, but please do read the rest:
Oh – and they’re not dull, insists Louis van Gaal.
In the USA’s favor …
Eric Wynalda, whose long history with the US team includes a goal in the 1994 World Cup, says this US team has a great goalkeeper in Matt Turner, a much-scrutinized player delivering the goods in Christian Pulisic, a solid defense, and a captain who inspires on and off the field in Tyler Adams.
And please do read more about Tyler Adams. His midfield tenacity is crucial, giving the US outside backs the freedom to attack, something that paid off against Iran when Sergiño Dest put in the cross for Pulisic. And his composure in a press conference when asked a delicate question on race relations should be the envy of any world leader.
Welcome to The Biggest US Men’s Game Since the Last One …
It’s typical of a World Cup, of course, for each game to be “bigger” than the last, and we knew that about the US when we saw the draw.
Wales? OK, fine, typical group-stage game.
England? Now we’re talking. The Land Where the Game Began has a losing record against the US in the World Cup. (And still does.)
Iran? Uh oh. Flashbacks to 1998 and The Biggest Humiliation the US Ever Had in a World Cup. And a game that would surely determine whether they would advance.
So this game, against … (checks notes) … the Netherlands is “bigger” in the sense that it’s a round of 16 game.
But it feels different, doesn’t it? The concern that the US would embarrass itself has disappeared. Now, they’re playing with house money. Is that the right term? I don’t know gambling.
So it’s a different type of nerves. Being the underdog is fun.
And this is winnable, isn’t it? The oddsmakers generally give the Netherlands a 50% chance of winning outright, and then “draw” and “US win” split the other 50%. This being a knockout-stage game, “draw” means “penalties,” and which team will be feeling the pressure then?
This should be fun. Let’s talk for a bit and then watch, shall we?
Beau will be here shortly, but in the meantime here’s how the two teams’ campaigns have gone so far.
How USA got here
In the opener, the US came storming out the gates and looked like they would carve up Wales for a convincing victory after Tim Weah’s goal. But the Americans faded badly in the second period and the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
USA then faced England, and maintained their unbeaten record against the Three Lions at the World Cup. The Americans were the better team but could not convert their chances in a 0-0 draw.
The US needed to beat Iran in their final group game, and did so thanks to Christian Pulisic’s effort, in which he definitely did not injure his unmentionables. The 1-0 victory sent the Americans through as Group B runners-up
How Netherlands got here
The Dutch left it late in their opening game, with their first goal coming in the 84th minute of their 2-0 victory. They also relied on a good performance from their keeper, Andries Noppert.
Cody Gakpo scored an early goal but the Dutch were put under pressure for large parts of the game in their 1-1 draw with Ecuador.
Gakpo was dangerous again as Netherlands coasted to a 2-0 win over the already eliminated hosts in their victory against Qatar. The win meant they progressed as group winners, even as manager Louis van Gaal bristled at suggestions watching his team is like “grinding teeth”.