The U.S. Can Absolutely Beat the Netherlands on Saturday

The USMNT celebrate beating Iran. Photo: Stefan Matzke - sampics/Corbis via Getty Images

Saturday at 10 a.m., the United States men’s national soccer team will face off against the Netherlands in a do-or-die World Cup Round of 16 matchup. Any bar worth its proverbial salt will open early for fans to scream their heads off. But you’re going to want to sound smart in between the screaming. So, if the men’s and women’s World Cup (and Ted Lasso) are the only times you pay attention to soccer, here’s an FAQ that will hopefully provide you with everything you need to know heading into a make-or-break 90 minutes.

Okay, so who are we playing? And are they good?

The Netherlands, and yes. They won Group A in impressive fashion, beating Qatar and Senegal 2-0 and drawing with Ecuador 1-1. They’ve scored five goals so far, three more than the U.S., and their potent offense will pose a test for the stout USMNT defense, which has given up only one goal (on a penalty kick) this entire tournament. They’re currently No. 9 in the worldwide FIFA rankings, seven spots ahead of the United States. And they’re hungry: Like the U.S., they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup — a shocking turn because the Dutch had been on their best run since the Total Football era of the ’70s: They were runners-up in 2010 and finished third in 2014.

Oh, man, are we screwed?

Not necessarily. The Netherlands may have breezed into the Round of 16, but Group A was widely considered to be the weakest group in the tournament. And the Dutch have actually been outshot by their opponents so far, which indicates some real weakness. (If you’re into advanced analytics, their expected goals for the tournament is at 2.3, less than their expected goals given up, 2.7 — another bad sign.) More to the point: The United States has been one of the top stories of this whole tournament, outplaying all three of their opponents so far, including England, who are one of the tournament favorites, and who are much better than the Netherlands. This is a very winnable game.

Does this one carry the swirling geopolitical conflict and intrigue of the Iran match?

Mercifully, no. In 1982, at an event welcoming the Netherlands’ Queen Beatrix to the U.S., President Ronald Reagan said, “The bonds between our two peoples represent the longest unbroken peaceful relationship that we have had with any other nation.” That unbroken peaceful relationship has not been broken, unless I missed a war over the last 40 years. The closest thing to conflict between the two countries may be progressive Americans’ long-running envy at the Netherlands’ eminently sensible urban planning.

How is Christian Pulisic doing?

The USMNT’s best and most charismatic player finally scored his first-ever World Cup goal against Iran, but paid for it with a “pelvic contusion” that kept him out of the rest of the match and ultimately put him in the hospital. (On Thursday, Pulisic cleared up a question on the minds of many by specifying that “I didn’t get hit in all the balls.”)

U.S. fans held their collective breath on Pulisic’s status until the team announced on Friday that he would be available to take the field on Saturday:

It’s not yet confirmed if he’ll actually play, but it seems highly likely. The U.S. — which has only two goals this whole tournament, both created by Pulisic — desperately needs him, so this is terrific news.

What kind of vibes does this team have?

Good vibes, very good vibes.

What does the USMNT have to do to win? 

A big question is whether the U.S. will back off the semi-attacking style it employed against Iran, a team it had to score against to advance. Anchored by Arsenal keeper Matt Turner, the U.S. showed how well they can defend through the group stage, and while they are younger and theoretically able to run more than the Oranje, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has been hesitant to make substitutions, which could mean heavy legs on Saturday. (Berhalter’s reluctance to play Gio Reyna, who might have been the best American player in Europe this year, remains a bit baffling.) It will be fascinating which option Berhalter picks: Parking the bus as they have in past tournaments, or aggressively controlling the pace of play as they did against England, in what was without question the best game they’ve played in Qatar.

What if it goes to penalty kicks? 

World Cup penalty shots are the most nerve-shredding thing on Earth. If the game comes to that, the rest of your day will essentially be over no matter the outcome.

What happens if they win?

A victory would get the USMNT to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002, and only the third time ever (the first was way back in 1930). They would play the winner of Saturday’s Argentina-Australia match on Friday, December 9, at 2 p.m. ET, which means you absolutely will have to stop working at lunch that day, at the minimum. That game would instantly become the biggest United States game in men’s World Cup history. And unless Australia somehow upsets Argentina, the U.S. would be a huge underdog.

How devastated should we be if they lose?

Not very. It’s important to remember that the USMNT are the youngest team in the tournament by far, which means most of these guys will be back, with more experience, in four years … and they’ll have home-pitch advantage next time around, since the U.S. is hosting the 2026 World Cup (along with Mexico and Canada). Getting this far was a major achievement for a team this inexperienced: Everything else is just gravy.

But, you know: Gravy is really good! Which means you need to get out there Saturday morning and lose your mind. You might find yourself in one of these videos someday:

Seriously: There is nothing quite like being at a crowded bar when the USMNT (or USWNT) scores a goal; it’s one of the greatest of all American sports-fan experiences. The Women’s World Cup is next year, so you’ll get to do it then. But as for the men, if you miss out this time, you’ve got to wait four years to do it again. Do you realize how old you’re going to be in four years? Really old!

So get out there and cheer our boys on. This is the fun part. This is the good stuff.

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The U.S. Can Absolutely Beat the Netherlands on Saturday