Fans at Tom’s Watch Bar, in Los Angeles, held their heads in their hands often on Saturday morning, Dec. 3.

They groaned and suffered.

But they also remained steadfast, kept chanting and cheering, and clung to hope that the United States men’s national team could storm back and steal a victory against a strong Netherlands side in a round of 16 match at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

They could not.

The U.S. lost 3-1 against the Netherlands, ending their time in the World Cup. It was yet another loss to a European soccer power, a defeat that ended their time in Qatar with a bittersweet feeling. The USMNT, back in the World Cup after failing to qualify for the 2018 tournament, had renewed faith in American soccer, with a young, dynamic squad brimming with promise. They made it out of the group stage and looked poised to challenge the Netherlands — the greatest soccer nation to never win a World Cup.

It wasn’t to be.

The USMNT flashed their quality at times against the Netherlands. They showed, in moments that were, unfortunately, too few between, why this squad is considered America’s golden generation.

But on Saturday, the U.S., having given their all to beat Iran in the last group stage match earlier in the week, looked fatigued and far-less spirited than they had in their first three games. Heavy touches on the ball ensued, as did imprecise passes and mental lapses in the defense. To the Netherlands credit, though, they showed their class, putting on a tactical and technical show, letting the U.S. possess the ball — but striking, successfully, anytime the Americans fell alseep.

In the end, the USMNT was simply overwhelmed and overextended. And now, the Netherlands moves on to face Argentina in the quarterfinals.

For the U.S. fans who woke up early, both nationally and around Southern California — the game was at 7 a.m. on the West Coast — it was a disappointing end to a tournament in which their national team drew with England and was arguably the better side in each of its three group stage matches.

Fans at Tom’s, joining in the nationwide optimisim for the USMNT, stood outside in the crisp air early Saturday, waiting to watch the game. The bar opened before kickoff and hundreds of people filled the place to cheer on their national team.

Sunny Alvarez, for example, woke up at 3:30 a.m. to make her way from her home in Victorville to get a table at Tom’s to watch the game.

“I wanted a rowdy crowd because it was a big game,” the 31-year-old said, “and I wanted to come somewhere good to watch it.”

The bar was packed, as it had been the previous three U.S. games. The fans draped themselves in U.S. flags, star-spangled scarves and USMNT jerseys. The nerves and excitement were nearly tangible — with the patrons hoping to see the upstart Americans stun the Dutch.

Yet, even though the match ended in disappointment, the loss had to be put into perspective: The USMNT has only made the quarterfinals of the World Cup once in the program’s modern era, which dates to 1990, and that time, they beat regional rival Mexico, not a European power.

And the U.S., which put out the four youngest starting lineups at this World Cup, had, for the most part during this tournament, showed that they had the talent and athleticism to one day become a force in international soccer.

And in four years, with their core players in their primes, the USMNT will play in the World Cup again — on home soil.

“I think there’s a lot of excitement about USA soccer right now,” Erron Halen, operating partner at Tom’s Watch Bar, said, adding they he expected the large turnout. “I think that sport is becoming bigger in America and we’re seeing that. This is the perfect indication of that.”

  • Fans react with joy after the U.S. scores a second...

    Fans react with joy after the U.S. scores a second half goal in World Cup action against the Netherlands on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, during a viewing party at Tom’s Watch Bar in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Fans react with joy after the U.S. scores a second...

    Fans react with joy after the U.S. scores a second half goal in World Cup action against the Netherlands on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, during a viewing party at Tom’s Watch Bar in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Fans react with joy after the U.S. scores a second...

    Fans react with joy after the U.S. scores a second half goal in World Cup action against the Netherlands on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, during a viewing party at Tom’s Watch Bar in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

  • A fans reacts after the U.S. scores a second half...

    A fans reacts after the U.S. scores a second half goal in World Cup action against the Netherlands on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, during a viewing party at Tom’s Watch Bar in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Fans react to World Cup knockout round action between the...

    Fans react to World Cup knockout round action between the U.S. and the Netherlands Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, at Tom’s Watch Bar in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Soccer fans fill Tom’s Watch Bar in downtown Los Angeles...

    Soccer fans fill Tom’s Watch Bar in downtown Los Angeles early Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, to see the U.S. battle the Netherlands in the knockout round of the World Cup. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

  • Soccer fans fill Tom’s Watch Bar in downtown Los Angeles...

    Soccer fans fill Tom’s Watch Bar in downtown Los Angeles early Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, to see the U.S. battle the Netherlands in the knockout round of the World Cup. (Photo by Howard Freshman, Contributing Photographer)

The first 10 minutes of Saturday’s match, though, may have been the U.S.’s undoing.

Star forward Christian Pulisic — who injured himself when scoring the winning goal against Iran — made a weak shot on goal while all alone. And then, before the match hit the quarter-hour mark, USMNT captain Tyler Adams — perhaps the team’s best player this tournament — fell asleep, as did the back line, allowing Netherlands striker Memphis Depay to net the first goal.

Still, the fans at Tom’s bar kept hope alive, cheering for their countrymen.

“This has been the place to watch the game,” said Chase McLaughlen, who, along with his friends, is a regular there during U.S. games. “We live locally and this bar has been awesome. It’s packed. It’s cool to see everybody.”

But then, right before half, the Netherlands struck again. On a similar play to the first. Because of another defensive lapse.

Netherlands 2, U.S. 0 at the half.

McLauglen, at the time, said he was hoping for the U.S. to come back in the second half and ultimately win it.

“They’ll make some good substitutions at halftime,” he said. “Gio Reyna is coming in and we’re going to score.”

Reyna — perhaps the most talented player the U.S. men’s side has ever had, though he hardly played this tournament, which frustrated fans and analysts — did start the second half.

Like his teammates, Reyna showed some of his talent on the pitch.

But it was a moment of luck that got the crowd at Tom’s going.

Pulisic, after a failed set piece from the corner, drove with the ball down the right and hit a cross on the ground toward goal. U.S. striker Haji Wright, a second-half substitute, somehow flicked the ball in the air behind him as he stumbled away from the goal.

The Tom’s bar crowd held their collective breaths. The ball spun and floated through the air. And, as if heaven-touched, it found the net. The match was 2-1.

The Los Angeles crowd erupted. The cheers were deafening. The celebration — and, supporters thought, the comeback — was on.

“Come on, boys,” someone yelled over the rest of the crowd.

But with about 10 minutes to go, not counting stoppage time, the Netherlands netted a third goal.

“I feel like they were lacking in defense,” Alvarez said. “They left a lot of people in the Netherlands open, which they were able to score, and I feel like they didn’t have enough headers in the goal box.”

Indeed. The third goal was the dagger. The match ended 3-1. The USMNT’s World Cup was over. But all was not lost.

When the match ended, the fans at Tom’s chanted “USA, USA.” The young, inexperienced-but-precocious Americans had made their supporters, in LA and beyond, proud.

They also made their fans hopeful that the team will only improve from here. Perhaps they can even challenge the soccer powerhouses — Brazil, France, Spain and, yes, the Netherlands — for the World Cup in 2026 when the U.S., Mexico and Canada host the tournament.

And with SoFi Stadium one of the sites for that World Cup, maybe the USMNT can beat one of those powerhouses in Los Angeles, a city used to winning.

After all, while the USMNT’s 2022 World Cup has ended, the country’s hope for their future has not.

California

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