My 3 Thoughts on USMNT-Iran
DOHA, Qatar — The USMNT beat Iran 1-0 on Matchday 3 of the World Cup on Tuesday. The win gave the U.S. (five points) a second-place finish in Group B behind England (seven points) and set up a Round of 16 clash on Saturday between the U.S. and the Netherlands. Here are my three thoughts on the game:
GrantWahl.com is reader-supported. Free and paid subscriptions are available. This is how I make a living, and quality journalism and traveling to Qatar require resources. The best way to support me and my work is by taking out a paid subscription now.
• Christian Pulisic delivered in a game he’d been waiting his entire life for. This was a must-win game for the U.S. to stave off elimination and advance to the World Cup knockout rounds, and the U.S.’s best player scored the difference-making goal when his team needed it most—and with significant bodily sacrifice. With Iran playing 10 men behind the ball and needing only a tie to advance, the U.S. finally broke through in the 38th minute when Weston McKennie sent a gorgeous ball over the top to Sergiño Dest, whose delicate header across the goalmouth was met by an onrushing Pulisic in time to direct it past goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand. The goal was reminiscent of the one Pulisic scored against Mexico in Cincinnati 12 months ago, in which he also anticipated the ball’s location more quickly than defenders and barely beat them to the ball. Unfortunately for Pulisic, he couldn’t celebrate his goal because he took a blow to the midsection from Beiranvand while sacrificing his body and ended up being attended to for several minutes before returning to cheers from U.S. fans. (Pulisic came off for the second half and was replaced by Brenden Aaronson.) The U.S. has been struggling to score goals this World Cup. It needed its superstar to do superstar things, and Pulisic most definitely did in a career-defining game.
• Even when the U.S. gets a goal, they don’t make it easy afterward. In an ideal world for U.S. fans, the Yanks would have pushed to score again and make things less stressful, much like England poured it on over Wales in a 3-0 victory after breaking through the first time. But just as it did against Wales in Game 1, the U.S. wasn’t able to add to its lead and risked paying the price. Tim Weah had a gorgeous goal disallowed for offside at the end of the first half, but scoring chances came few and far between for the U.S. in the second 45 minutes. The game changed in the second half. With Iran now needing a goal, Team Melli stopped time-wasting (it was getting bad even in the first half) and keeping 10 men behind the ball, started to try and create some attacks on the counter and eventually threw everyone forward as the U.S. played the last 20 minutes with a five-man back line. (Walker Zimmerman came on and seemed to win every ball in the air, though he had to make a scary clearance in the final moments of a ball that had squirted behind goalkeeper Matt Turner.) But the U.S. had a major advantage in athleticism in this game and a slight one in skill and possession, and Iran found it difficult to break through a U.S. defense that has been solid in this tournament with the exception of the penalty conceded to Wales. Which brings us to….
• The U.S. defense is putting the team in a position to succeed here. Not conceding a single goal during the run of play in three World Cup games is phenomenal and better than anyone would have expected entering the tournament. U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter made a surprise choice opting for Cameron Carter-Vickers in the central defense against Iran, replacing Zimmerman, but the idea made sense. While I’m always a little queasy about changing up centerback tandems in the middle of a tournament, Carter-Vickers is faster than Zimmerman, and the U.S. was pushing forward in the attack more this game and thus leaving itself more exposed to counterattacks. CCV showed that speed in a couple important moments. Who would have thought a month ago that Tim Ream and Carter-Vickers would be the starting centerbacks for the U.S. in a must-win World Cup game? Not me. And now Ream and Tyler Adams have been the best U.S. players of the tournament. But beyond the centerbacks, the overall 11-man team defending by the States has been exemplary. If you can post clean sheets at the World Cup, you give yourself a chance to advance against any team in the tournament. And you know what? The U.S. will be an underdog against the Netherlands, but I think they’ve got a real shot to advance based on what I have seen here so far. This was a great day for U.S. soccer.
What are your thoughts? You can join the discussion in the comments below.