So you're telling me there's a chance...

The USMNT is back in the Round of 16 at the World Cup — and isn’t guaranteed to be on the next plane out of Qatar despite a date with The Netherlands

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Matt Turner celebrates the USMNT’s 1-0 win over Iran
Matt Turner celebrates the USMNT’s 1-0 win over Iran
Image: Getty Images

It’s the third straight World Cup the United States men’s national team has played in where it reached the knockout stage. Losses to Ghana and Belgium in 2010 and 2014, respectively, denied the Americans an opportunity to win a game beyond the group stage for the first time at the quadrennial event against a team not from North America. The USMNT’s only knockout stage win was in 2022 against Mexico, when it limped its way into the Round of 16 before dos-a-ceroing its biggest rival on the global stage.

Yunus Musah and Gio Reyna weren’t even alive when the U.S. won its only knockout match 20 years ago. Both should be central figures in Saturday’s chance to buck the trend against The Netherlands. Reyna has barely played at the World Cup so far, boggling the minds of USMNT fans. With news of Christian Pulisic being cleared to play against the Dutch following a pelvic contusion, and the same news not coming out for Josh Sargent, it’s safe to assume he won’t play. It’s also dumb to play Haji Wright again in Qatar after how ineffective he’s looked in all three group stage games. And if U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter turns to Jesus Ferreira to start against The Netherlands, he’s truly not putting his best 11 players on the field.

Reyna or Brenden Aaronson need to start in the front three of attack, alongside Pulisic, with Tim Weah completing the group as a false-nine in the middle. Aaronson has played in all three of the Americans’ games thus far in the tournament and likely has the leg up to play more against Holland, but Reyna not seeing the field as a starter or the first man off the bench would be a travesty. That’s truly the only personnel concern the United States has heading into its knockout game, which is a little shocking to see how its top-line talent hasn’t faltered.

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I don’t care whether Cameron Carter-Vickers or Walker Zimmerman starts besides Tim Ream at central defense. Both have been great. There’s no reason to doubt Antonee Robinson or Sergiño Dest at fullback either. It’s strange that both American outside backs will face their birth nations at the tournament. Robinson has a British father, while Dest has a Dutch mother. He was able to represent Holland or America at the international level. Dest also spent his entire youth career and the first stop of his professional career in The Netherlands. Over those 11 years, it’s safe to say he ran into a few players the USA will face on Saturday. One defender that shouldn’t see the field again in Qatar? Shaq Moore, who raised his hand and said “my bad” more than he did the right thing in his two appearances against England and Iran.

Matt Turner has been stable at goalkeeper. The midfield of Musah, Tyler Adams, and Weston McKennie looks locked in for not only the rest of this tournament, but probably the 2026 World Cup as well. Adams has been the best player for the USA at the tournament and if the USMNT is going to beat the Dutch, he’ll have to put out a ton of fires from a potent Holland attack. If Adams is off his game, the Americans will be on a plane back stateside on Sunday.

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The breakout star of the tournament thus far is Cody Gakpo, an integral part of the Netherlands, who will likely join a big club this coming winter or summer because of his play in Qatar. He’s bagged three goals in the tournament so far and I’d bet on him adding to that total against the United States. And obviously, scoring is paramount to winning and the USMNT has averaged less than a goal per game at the World Cup so far. That won’t cut it from here on out, obviously, which is why it’s so important for Berhalter to make those little personnel changes.

The Netherlands is the deserved favorite entering the game. The Americans are also looking like one of the tougher teams to beat still alive in Qatar. Through three games, no team has scored on the U.S. in the regular run of play. That’s truly impressive, and the USMNT is the only team to hold that distinction. It likely ends against the Dutch, but that’s not a guaranteed plane ticket for the Americans. The USA still hasn’t scored a second-half goal in the tournament either and I think that ends against the Dutch. Still, I don’t know if this U.S. side is ready to take down a global power, despite The Netherlands’ faults. I’m calling a 3-1 victory for the Dutch.