An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Or at least in this case, an orange.
The United States men’s national team is gearing up for a riveting showdown against the Netherlands in the Round of 16 of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar on Saturday.
Christian Pulisic has been cleared to play after suffering a pelvic contusion against Iran, but all eyes will be on his form as the 10 a.m. ET, 7 a.m. PT kick-off time against the Oranje approaches.
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After both nations made the knockout stage in 2014 but failed to qualify in 2018 entirely, let’s preview what should be a fruity affair:
USMNT vs. Netherlands key storylines
Here are three key storylines for each nation:
- Christian Pulisic’s health: The U.S. might not have made it this far if not for Pulisic’s 38th-minute goal against Iran. The 24-year-old left winger has played an imperative role in the nation’s growth after failing to qualify in 2018, but it’s hard to see the U.S. go any further without his quality on the pitch. He has been cleared to play, but how fit and effective can he be against a star-studded Dutch backline?
- Gio Reyna’s minutes: That’s now two games out of three where Reyna did not log a single minute. Perhaps that’s due to game circumstances given the U.S. were playing more defensive-minded in the closing stages against Wales and Iran, but there will be a point where Reyna’s attacking abilities are needed. If there was ever a game screaming for him to play or start, it’s this one.
- Goals: Somehow the U.S. advanced to the knockout stage with just two goals scored. It had one shot on target in each of its first two games before having five against Iran (none came in the second half). Josh Sargent and Haji Wright haven’t produced much in front of goal, and Tim Weah has been too wasteful in key moments. There’s no more drawing for the U.S. now. It’s either you score enough to win or go to penalty kicks. Which one will it be?
- The rise of Cody Gakpo: Three goals in three games will have everyone talking. The 23-year-old PSV forward is breaking out for the Oranje in Qatar. He can play as a left wing or a center forward, and his ball striking, dribbling and speed for being 6-foot-4 is virtually unheard of. Look for him to threaten the U.S. backline to potentially make it four goals in four games, if not more.
- Virgil van Dijk at the back: The U.S. will have its biggest defensive test ahead of them in the form of Virgil van Dijk. The Liverpool star has been one of the best center backs in the world over the last five-plus years, and he captains a Dutch side that’ll make it difficult for any team to find the back of the net without proper goal-scoring threats. Can the U.S. pass this test?
- Underperforming powerhouse?: The Netherlands may not have lost a game compared to other international powerhouses, but it seems a country liable to an upset. The Dutch scored two late goals against a Sadio Mané-less Senegal, had just two shots (one on target) in a 1-1 draw against Ecuador (15 shots, four on target) and beat Qatar 2-0. None of those games have been particularly convincing. They can surely beat the U.S., but it should be close.
USMNT vs. Netherlands players to watch
Here are three players to watch for each nation:
- Christian Pulisic: The star winger has made this category in the previous three editions, and he’ll continue to do so. This time, though, the angle involves his fitness. With one goal and one assist to his 2022 tally, will he be healthy enough to potentially supply more goal contributions? He’s the forward with the most quality to do so, but it won’t be easy.
- Cameron Carter-Vickers: Gregg Berhalter decided to bench Walker Zimmerman for Cameron Carter-Vickers against Iran, and it paid off. CCV started off a little slow in his World Cup debut but grew into the game and finished off strong. But will the 6-foot-1 center back start against a tall Dutch side or will the 6-foot-3 Zimmerman return to the starting XI?
- Tyler Adams: Bar Qatar, the Netherlands’ midfield hasn’t been as compelling as some of the other powerhouses (e.g. Spain). Adams, along with Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah, will need to be instrumental in progressing play on offense while keeping up their press defensively to stall the Dutch build up.
- Memphis Depay: Gakpo has dominated the headlines through three games, but Depay entered the tournament as the key man for Qatar. Fitness issues have kept Depay from playing every minute of a game so far, but he’s going to be a threat anytime he receives the ball in open space or in the attacking third. He doesn’t have a goal or assist in the tournament yet, but he’ll be looking to get one against the U.S.
- Frenkie de Jong: The 25-year-old de Jong is having a solid World Cup so far, logging a goal and an assist through three games. He primarily operates as a deep-lying playmaker but has all the talent to be an attacking threat when needed. He’s the paramount man in midfield the U.S. will need to be aware of.
- Andries Noppert: The 28-year-old Noppert came into Qatar without a single cap but has suddenly become the Dutch’s No. 1 between the sticks. He’s a towering presence at 6-foot-8 and has two clean sheets in three games. The U.S. already has a goal-scoring issue – how will it fare against a profile like Noppert?
USMNT vs. Netherlands starting lineups
Here’s how each team will line up for the knockout stage match:
GK – Matt Turner; LB - Antonee Robinson, CB - Tim Ream, CB - Walker Zimmerman, RB - Sergiño Dest; CDM - Tyler Adams, CM - Yunus Musah, CM - Weston McKinnie; LW - Christian Pulisic, ST - Jesus Ferreira, RW - Tim Weah
GK – Andries Noppert; RWB - Denzel Dumfries, CB – Jurrien Timber, CB - Virgil van Dijk, CB - Nathan Aké, LWB - Daley Blind; CM – Marten de Roon, CM - Frenkie de Jong, CAM - Davy Klaassen; CF - Cody Gakpo, CF - Memphis Depay
USMNT vs. Netherlands prediction
The U.S. can win this game, but it’ll have to do something it’s not often been capable of doing: breaking down a five-man low block. Again, Reyna is someone that needs good minutes in this game as he could provide the offensive spark that leads to a goal, otherwise van Dijk and Co. should be able to clean things up. Getting crosses into the box from the flanks will also be key, as that’s how the U.S. created some of its best moments against the Wales’ five-man low block.
If the USMNT wants a template to beat Netherlands, they should intensively study the Ecuador Group A matchup. Ecuador’s 3-4-3 shape overloaded the midfield and its duel-winning ability kept the pressure on the Dutch backline. The U.S. can do the same with its 4-4-2 midblock and it also has the superior technical quality compared to Ecuador to retain possession. The only difference is the U.S. doesn’t have a clinical finisher like Enner Valencia, which might be the margins the Dutch win by in what should be a low-scoring defensive battle (penalties also not out of the equation).
Prediction: Netherlands 2, USA 1