AL RAYYAN, Qatar — Christian Pulisic covered his face as he walked off. Kellyn Acosta, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie gathered for a group hug. Sean Johnson, Tim Weah and DeAndre Yedlin sat on the field in a small circle with their cleats off.
"It hurts after a tough loss like that when we feel like we could have had more," said Pulisic, the 24-year-old winger managing a voice only just above a whisper. "We don't want to feel like this again."
The U.S. men's national soccer team's return to the World Cup ended with a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands on Saturday in the round of 16. While the Oranje extended their unbeaten streak to 19 games and advanced to a quarterfinal with Argentina, the Americans contemplated how far they came and how short they fell.
Defensive lapses gave the Dutch a treat as Memphis Depay scored in the 10th minute and Daley Blind found the net in stoppage time at the end of the first half.
U.S. hope revived when Pulisic's cross hit the trailing foot of second-half substitute Haji Wright and popped over goalkeeper Andries Noppert and into the net in the 76th minute. However, Denzel Dumfries then scored on a volley in the 81st after assisting on the first two Dutch goals.
"The American public should be optimistic," said Gregg Berhalter, who broke ground as the first to play for and coach the U.S. team at a World Cup. "When you look at the way we wanted to play and did play, it should be positive."
The Americans haven't reached the quarterfinals since 2002 and were again eliminated in the first knockout round, just like in 2010 and 2014. After the American failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Yedlin was the only holdover on a roster that was the tournament's second youngest, averaging just more than 25 years.
"Now they know that feeling of what it's like to lose after putting so much into it," the 29-year-old defender said, "and the feeling of defeat from the past can only fuel success in the future."
The U.S. is winless in 12 games against European opponents at the World Cup since 2002 and has won once and lost seven times in knockout rounds since the championship event launched in 1930.
"This tournament has really restored a lot of belief, restored a lot of respect to U.S. soccer and to soccer in our country," McKennie said. "I think we've shown that we can be giants eventually. Maybe we may not be there yet, but I think we're definitely on our way."
The 2026 World Cup will be in North America, a joint venture between Canada, Mexico and the U.S., which will have 11 of the 16 host venues. The Americans' start to the 2026 cycle isn't so far away, with Serbia visiting Los Angeles on Jan. 25 for a match.
Before a crowd of 44,846 at the renovated Khalifa International Stadium, Pulisic had a chance to put the U.S. ahead in the third minute. McKennie knocked a poor clearance back into the penalty area, but Noppert blocked his point-blank shot with his left thigh.
"I thought I was way offside when it happened, but I still hit it and he made a good save," Pulisic said.
The Dutch went ahead when Cody Gakpo played the ball to Dumfries on the right flank. Depay sprinted into the penalty area as Adams failed to track him, and Dumfries one-timed a cross that Depay redirected inside Matt Turner's far post for the first goal against the U.S. during the run of play in the tournament.
Blind scored in the first minute of stoppage time. After a throw-in, Dumfries got a cross around Adams and Blind beat a late-arriving Sergiño Dest to the ball at the penalty spot for his first international goal in eight years.
Wright entered in the 67th and scored his second international goal on the unusual touch from 3 yards out, sparking U.S. hopes. Dumfries, though, was left unmarked by Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson and scored off Blind's cross from 6 yards for his sixth goal.
"When you play a team with so much quality like that and you give them three, four chances, they're going to put three or four away," Adams said. "We can show that we can hang with some of the best teams in the world, some of the best players in world, and that's a lot of progress for U.S. soccer."
Players didn't want to leave the field at first, wanting more time together.
"Just putting perspective and reflecting on the journey," Yedlin said. "Just giving thanks to the earth. After every training and game we try to do a thing called grounding. It just helps put in perspective to come, good or bad."
Others absorbed the defeat without words.
"Just looking around that locker room, the silence is deafening," Turner said. "We all want to create moments for people back at home to fall in love with the game, and tonight was not one of those nights, unfortunately."
Argentina 2, Australia 1
AL RAYYAN, Qatar — Another match over and another win on the ledger, Argentina star forward Lionel Messi was pushed into the middle of a joyous huddle as his team jumped up and down in celebration.
Messi delivered again for his country, marking the 1,000th game of his era-defining career with his first goal in the knockout stage of a World Cup to lead Argentina past Australia and into the quarterfinals.
This was not the walkover most were expecting, though. At the final whistle, Argentina was just as grateful for its goalkeeper as the player in the No. 10 jersey with magic in his cleats.
Emi Martinez came up with a sprawling save in the last seconds of an increasingly anxious knockout match for Argentina to prevent the need for extra time and the potential of another shock in a World Cup that has been full of them.
With a flourish of his famous left foot in the 34th minute, Messi put Argentina ahead with his third goal at this year's tournament and ninth in total at the World Cup — one more than the late Diego Maradona, who played in four World Cups and led Argentina to the 1986 title.
In the 57th minute, Julián Álvarez pounced on a heavy touch by Australia goalkeeper Mathew Ryan to tap into an empty net for the second goal.
Australia notched a 77th-minute consolation goal when Craig Goodwin's shot deflected into the net off Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez. Amid late pressure from the Australians, there was a chance for Garang Kuol to send the game to extra time, but his shot was smothered by Martinez.
For Australia's squad of unheralded players, it proved to be a match too far at a tournament in which the team exceeded expectations by reaching the knockout stage for only the second time. In 2006, Australia lost in the round of 16 to eventual champion Italy.
Argentina, with three straight wins, appears to have recovered from its shocking loss to Saudi Arabia in its opening group match. As for Messi, the seven-time world player of the year now has 789 goals in a career that might yet reach a crescendo on Dec. 18 by winning soccer's biggest trophy in his fifth and likely last World Cup.