By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Dec 2, 2022) US Soccer Players – When FIFA held the draw for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar back in April, American soccer fans got a glimpse of a possible future. FIFA’s structure for the tournament not only put the USMNT into group B with England, Wales, and Iran, it revealed likely match-ups in the round of 16 if the Americans should advance to the knockout rounds.
Getting out of the group was never a given and the events of the last ten days showed just how difficult the job can be. But for those who allowed themselves to dream about a return to the knockout rounds for the USMNT, that structure suggested what has happened, a round of 16 game with the Netherlands on Saturday (10am ET – FOX).
The Netherlands won group A with two wins and a draw for a total of seven points, with Senegal finishing in second and booking the other spot in the round of 16. Those two teams opened up the World Cup against one another on November 21, a day after Ecuador beat Qatar to set the pace in the group. The Dutch prevailed over Senegal 2-0 on goals by Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen, with Klaassen’s goal coming deep into stoppage time from a goalkeeping error.
Against Ecuador in their second match, the Dutch faced an active, aggressive South American team that made life difficult. Gakpo set his side on its way with a goal in the sixth minute, but Ecuador’s Enner Valencia scored an equalizer just after halftime.
Gakpo has emerged as the Netherlands’ key attacking player and currently sits tied with three other players for the Golden Boot lead at the tournament. It was Gakpo who broke the deadlock with Senegal in the late stages of the match by heading home a Frenkie De Jong lofted ball. That goal showed off Gakpo’s ability to recognize space and use his height to score as a target forward.
The Dutch hadn’t managed a shot on target in 84 minutes before Gakpo scored. Gakpo is a game-changer, something he showed in both of the Netherlands’ other two group stage matches. He scored with his left foot in the draw against Ecuador and with his right foot in the Dutch win over Qatar. His ability to drop, pick up the ball, and dribble into dangerous areas makes him a multi-dimensional wild card.
Dutch head coach Louis van Gaal, who said before the tournament started that his team has the talent to win the World Cup, knows he has a difference-maker in Gakpo. He has partnered Gakpo with Steven Bergwijn, who started the first two group matches, and Memphis Depay who started in the win over Qatar after subbing on at halftime against Ecuador. Gakpo, Depay, and Bergwijn are most comfortable collecting service at their feet before going to goal. Their back-to-goal center forward is Wout Weghorst, subbing on twice during the group stage.
The key to the Dutch making the most of their possession advantage comes down to the effectiveness of Frenkie de Jong and Davy Klaasen in particular. De Jong is a danger with balls over the top, like Gakpo’s goal against Senegal, and late runs into the box. Klaassen is the player most responsible for providing the forward line with passes that put them in a position to be dangerous.
Defensively, Ecuador threatened on multiple occasions in the second-half of the second game. That game included an Ecuador goal called offside and a shot that clanged off the crossbar from Gonzalo Plata. Ecuador repeatedly hit the space the Dutch conceded on the flanks. The equalizer for Ecuador came from a forced turnover 40 yards from the Netherlands’ goal that led to Pervis Estupinan’s shot and Enner Valencia’s opportunistic rebound goal. That suggests opportunities with high pressure and quick transitional play, but it also showed the Dutch were they can make adjustments.
Winning their opener set the Netherlands on its way. They got a point against Ecuador and had few issues with an already eliminated Qatar in game three. That group A run raises the big question looming for Saturday’s game against the United States. Have we seen the best of the Dutch, or is there another level to their play?
More From Jason Davis:
- Defense, balance, and limited changes helped England and the USMNT advance from group B
- What the USMNT can use from two group B goals
- Preview: USMNT vs Wales, 2022 World Cup group B
- The USMNT defense has experience and creativity
Photo by Nick Potts – PA Wire via ZUMA Press – ISIPhotos.com