If U.S. wants to upset Netherlands, these players must improve


For the United States to pull off the World Cup upset of the Netherlands on Saturday, a lot needs to go right: Christian Pulisic must be healthy enough not just to play, but to wreak havoc, the U.S. defense must remain stout in front of Matt Turner, and somehow, some way, they must find a goal scorer.

Here's what also has to happen: These three players can't cost them the game.

We haven't seen a U.S. roster with this kind of skill and creativity ever, especially in the midfield, but there are holes. Here are the three players who will have me watching through my fingers. Two of them may not see the field at all.

1. Shaq Moore

Moore is that dwindling breed of national team player who plies his trade in Major League Soccer, which is simply not a world-class league. His two appearances as a sub have been disastrous, particularly on Tuesday against Iran, when the defender replaced the scintillating Sergiño Dest at right back to try to nail down a 1-0 victory and instead was a turnover machine.

Netherlands Fighting Flu Outbreak Before Match Vs. USMNT

Analyst Clint Dempsey eviscerated him, noting that he raised his hand to say, "my bad" more than he completed any passes. Moore also ignored Turner's clearly audible call to let a wayward cross sail out of bounds, instead heading it away for an attacking throw-in.

For whatever reason, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter insists on summoning Moore when packing it in to protect a lead. Against the Netherlands, with far more firepower than Wales or Iran, that could prove disastrous.

Christian Pulisic Cleared to Play in Round of 16 Vs. Netherlands

2. Haji Wright

You can be forgiven for asking, "Who?" when Wright made the U.S. roster. He's not exactly a household name, but with goals so hard to come by throughout qualifying, Berhalter gave Wright the nod because he had just embarked on a scoring binge in Turkey and he wanted to play the hot hand.

Wright replaced the injured Josh Sargent in the 75th minute on Tuesday with the U.S. hanging on for dear life and had basically one job: when the U.S. cleared Iranian pressure, hold the ball in the attacking end of the field to bleed time.

He failed spectacularly, particularly in the final moments of stoppage time when he rushed a weak shot on goal instead of carrying to the corner and dribbling out the clock. The Iranians unleashed one last counterattack, leaving U.S. fans to collectively hold their breath right to the final whistle.

With Sargent's status unclear, Wright could start on Saturday, as he did against England. Berhalter's other option up front is MLS striker Jesus Ferreira, who has yet to play a minute in the tournament.

3. Walker Zimmerman

Zimmerman is basically 1-1 so far. His foul late allowed Gareth Bale to drill the game-tying penalty kick in a draw with Wales, but his clearance off the line saved the U.S. from elimination vs. Iran.

Zimmerman is a leader and does some things well in the middle of the American defense -- he consistently headed away dangerous Iranian crosses as a sub on Tuesday -- but he always feels one bad pass out of the back away from surrendering a dangerous chance.

Whereas partner Tim Ream has been stout and sure-footed throughout the tournament, Zimmerman can be tentative on the ball, and against a team with scorers as gifted as forwards Memphis Depay and Cody Gakpo, any hesitation by the MLS defender could prove deadly. He was replaced in the starting lineup vs. Iran by the rugged Cameron Carter-Vickers, who deserves to start again.

Contact Us