The United States Men’s National Team survived the perils of Group B and advanced to the knockout rounds. The Netherlands is waiting in the Round of 16, one of many unavoidable tests as the tournament field continues to thin. There are no second chances, with the potential for a hero to emerge and shift the balance of proceedings. The match is set for Khalifa International Stadium, a 45,857-seat venue in the Al Rayyan suburb of Doha.
This is the fifth all-time meeting between the two nations, with the Netherlands holding a 4-1-0 advantage. Ranked eighth internationally by FIFA, the Oranje qualified for the World Cup by finishing atop UEFA’s tough Group G with a 10-1-2 record, ahead of Turkey, Norway, and Montenegro. In Qatar, a spot in the Round of 16 was secured by reaching the summit of Group A, beating Senegal (2-0), drawing with Ecuador (1-1), and defeating Qatar in the closer (2-0).
Back for his third stint in charge of the program, the Netherlands is managed by Louis van Gaal, who was appointed in August of last year. The 71-year-old embarked on a five-year hiatus after two seasons at Manchester United. He is known for making bold choices, including adding a volleyball coach to the staff as a “penalty killer” with the intention of training goalkeepers to “get penalty takers shaking and less secure.”
Van Gaal named a 26-player roster for the competition, a slightly younger squad with an average age of 26.6 years old. The domestic Eredivisie is home to 12 of the call-ups, mainly collected at PSV Eindhoven and Ajax. Georginio “Gini” Wijnaldum missed the tournament due to a fractured tibia. Goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was a surprise omission, with the manager considering him out of form and hinting at lacking the disposition for a back-up role.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Remko Pasveer (Ajax), Justin Bijlow (Feyenoord), Andries Noppert (Heerenveen)
DEFENDERS (9): Jurriën Timber (Ajax), Matthijs de Ligt (Bayern Munich), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Nathan Aké (Manchester City), Stefan de Vrij (Internazionale), Tyrell Malacia (Manchester United), Daley Blind (Ajax), Denzel Dumfries (Internazionale), Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer Leverkusen)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Cody Gakpo (PSV), Steven Berghuis (Ajax), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Teun Koopmeiners (Atalanta), Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Kenneth Taylor (Ajax), Xavi Simons (PSV)
FORWARDS (6): Steven Bergwijn (Ajax), Luuk de Jong (PSV), Memphis Depay (Barcelona), Noa Lang (Club Brugge), Vincent Janssen (Antwerp), Wout Weghorst (Beşiktaş)
Van Gaal has utilized a 3-5-2 formation with free-flowing and fluid attackers, shying away from a traditional striker and the historic Dutch 4-3-3. The manager received some criticism that his team lacks the necessary “quality and speed” to win the competition. Despite missing “dynamism and sharpness,” the squad is growing in confidence and intent with each match.
The individual firepower has been on display, but the solo moments are overriding overall tactics, for better and worse. The Netherlands struggled to create opportunities during the group stage, including registering a single shot on goal against Ecuador. As opponents pressed, the back line failed to string together passes and was exposed to multiple counter-attacks. When in possession, a striker checks back, either receiving the ball for a layoff or opening up space over the top for his partner.
Heading into the World Cup, the goalkeeper position was a huge question, as van Gaal brought three players with fewer than ten caps combined. Thus far, the manager has stuck with Andries Noppert, who made his senior international debut in Qatar and has shown few weaknesses. The 28-year-old competes with Heerenveen and stands at 6’8”, which allows him to completely control the box on crosses. He is highly-involved in possession and completes a high percentage of passes. While a little slow off his line, his imposing size allows him to cut off angles and overcome any footwork missteps.
Despite a minor personal flare-up in the spring, van Gaal continues to rely on Virgil van Dijk, still considered one of the world’s top defenders at 31 years old. He is a dominating aerial presence and acquits himself well in possession, featuring a complete all-around skillset on both the physical and technical sides of the game. Lining up on his side will likely be Matthijs de Ligt of Bayern Munich, another strong passer who is composed with the ball and will impose himself on proceedings. The Leiderdorp native will slide forward to add another body in the midfield and create a numerical advantage.
Three years ago today, Virgil van Dijk scored twice in a 2-1 victory over Brighton & Hove Albion— The Redmen TV (@TheRedmenTV) November 30, 2022
The Reds moved 1⃣1⃣ points clear at the top of the table despite the dismissal of Alisson at Anfield pic.twitter.com/25rz4aSi9w
The back line trio is completed by one of two options in the inside-outside hybrid role: either Manchester City’s Nathan Aké or Jurriën Timber of Ajax. The former is a highly-accurate distributor and maintains constant involvement. While lacking aggressiveness, his supportive actions help fill the gaps next to the two traditional center backs. The latter option is similarly comfortable in possession but brings more tenacity, a high-energy presser and counter-attacker. Scouted Football describes him as a “huge facilitator” with “on-ball composure,” utilizing “every second he’s given to manipulate the opposition” and open space for teammates.
Patrolling the left side of the pitch is Daley Blind, most known for his spell at Manchester United bookended by tenures at Ajax. While lacking the explosiveness associated with winger roles, the 32-year-old creates several opportunities with his long passing and crossing, methodically picking out teammates which allows him to thrive when proceedings slow down. On the opposite half of the formation is Denzel Dumfries of Internazionale, a 6’2” attack-minded fullback who will be tasked with carrying the ball up the field and cutting behind the defense. He has the speed and technique to dribble past opponents, with deft, quick touches that allow him to work his way out of pressure and streak into the final third.
The only certainty in the midfield is Frenkie de Jong, the versatile generalist is in his fourth season at Barcelona. The 25-year-old can do everything: create, press the opponent, tackle, spring the counter, and operate in possession. If necessary, he can also drop back into the formation and serve as an extra center back. The second defensive spot could be occupied by Teun Koopmeiners, who is on the books at Atalanta in Serie A, displaying the intensity and unselfishness expected from a member of I Nerazzurri (The Black and Blues). His coverage runs the width of the field, allowing him to be the first or second part of the build-up. Ajax’s Davy Klaassen provides a nice balance and takes a more advanced position, often finding the back of the net or threading the necessary incision. While bordering on a luxury player with a somewhat reduced defensive work rate, his penchant for decisive plays makes him a necessary inclusion in the lineup. Expect Steven Berghuis to provide additional attacking support in a substitute role. The veteran uses quite nifty left foot to dink and dunk across the field, nailing perfect field switches to the far-side fullback.
With Memphis Depay slowly building back to full fitness, the likeliest inclusion in the striker pairing is Steven Bergwijn, who started in the first two group fixtures. The 25-year-old returned to Ajax last summer after two underwhelming seasons at Tottenham and is once again thriving in the Eredivisie. He is a skillful creator and dangerously elusive in the final third with a devastating shot from the top of the box. As for his partner, van Gaal could opt for a somewhat more typical striker in Vincent Janssen. The Royal Antwerp target man has the strength and physicality to shield off defenders before laying the ball off to a runner, also possessing the necessary gravitational pull toward the action. The other option is using 6’4” Cody Gakpo as another pacy, energetic presence looking to stretch the opponent and run in behind the back line. The lifelong Eindhoven resident is in the midst of an incredible season with nine goals and 12 assists in 14 league appearances, while leading the World Cup scoring chart with three finishes.
That didn't take long ⚡️— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 25, 2022
Cody Gakpo gets things started for the Netherlands pic.twitter.com/rV8MmgCgQo
Knockout round fixtures can be regressive from a tactical perspective. Some managers play a restrictive style, hoping to limit mistakes and capitalize on fewer chances, while others attempt to inflict their will upon the opponent and dominate proceedings at regimented intervals. The Netherlands will have stretches of intensity, which the USMNT must weather before attempting to display more attacking prowess than has previously been on display at the competition.
The match is scheduled for Saturday, December 3rd at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, 7:00 a.m. Pacific. Viewing options include FOX, TUDN USA, the FOX Sports App, and FUBO TV (free trial).