Even after painful knockout, U.S. players take a moment to appreciate World Cup journey

AR-RAYYAN, Qatar – Four American soccer players sat in a circle on the grass at Khalifa Stadium an hour after being eliminated from the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s national team gave it their all in four games, but ran into a better team in the Netherlands on Saturday, beating them 3-1 and ending their hopes of reaching the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time in 20 years.

DeAndre Yedlin, Tim Weah, Aaron Long and Sean Johnson sat cross-legged together on the wet grass, soaking in their surroundings. They talked about life and what this moment meant in the grand scheme of things.

“We were just putting things into perspective, reflecting on the journey and thanking, you know, the Earth,” said Yedlin, who was the only American player to have been to and played in a World Cup. Previous world directed to Qatar.

Yedlin later explained that he and his teammates often sit like this after training and games. In fact, they’ve been doing it for a while and call it a kind of “floor” session.

“It just helps put life in perspective, good or bad,” he said.

“It’s something I have [been doing for awhile]”Yedlin continued. “We introduced it to the team and the guys liked it, so we’re just trying to keep it going. Especially at a time like this, where it can be hard to put life into perspective and realize that it’s not the be all, end all.”

Eight years ago, Yedlin was the second-youngest member of the 2014 USMNT squad to go to Brazil, which was also defeated in the Round of 16. He came off the bench in every game when he was 20 years old. In Qatar, Yedlin, now a 29-year-old veteran, played two games where he came on as a late substitute.

There had been a lot of talk about his importance to this squad because of his World Cup experience. And before the tournament, teammates asked him all kinds of questions like what he would be like and what he expected. The Inter Miami defender gave advice with gusto.

Yedlin is a guy who loves football but also understands that there is more to life and has said that he doesn’t really look at the sport outside of playing it. It has encouraged this group of 20-somethings to recognize the big picture and think introspectively about their experience.

“I’ve learned to put things in perspective better than when I was younger,” Yedlin said. “It hurts and it hurts a lot of guys, but I think it’s important that we realize that we still have our families. The guys who have kids, we still have our kids. We’re still kids, brothers, uncles, whatever be. And that’s the most important thing in life.”

Tyler Adams talks about the growth to come for the young USMNT team

Tyler Adams talks about the growth to come for the young USMNT team

On Friday, the day before the game against the Netherlands, USA captain Tyler Adams was asked about the team’s energy heading into the biggest game the boys have ever played. He noted that it was high and that Yedlin and Weah, who are close friends, are the ones he counts on in the team to “keep the vibes high at all times”. Adams said they don’t go anywhere without their speaker blasting music.

It was even the case hours after the final whistle when Yedlin and Weah walked together in the mixed zone. Their collective mood was solemn as they wore hats and hoodies to cover their faces. But Yedlin swung his boombox-sized speaker behind him and blasted loud music anyway.

“You know, you hear a lot about vibes with this team and people like to joke around,” Yedlin said. “But at the end of the day, I think that might be the greatest quality of this team: that we’re always positive. We’re always looking forward. And you know, even when there’s unquote bad moments, we can put – there is perspective and moving forward”.

‘We didn’t want the ride to end’: An emotional Weston McKennie on USMNT’s mindset moving forward after tough loss

Since Yedlin was part of the USMNT in 2014, he is uniquely qualified to explain why, even after a painful loss to the Netherlands, the program is in a different place than it was then. He cited the brotherhood of this team and its culture. He said he has built a foundation over the past four years after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. He said he believes things are moving in the right direction.

“I think it’s a step forward,” Yedlin said. “I think things happen for a reason. Look at 2018, this group came together [after missing the tournament]. Then this happens and people wonder why it happened that way, or what will come in the future.

“I’m sure it will all make sense at some point.”

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Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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