Team USA Has Met Expectations, But More is There for the Taking

(Hassan Ammar/AP)

Team USA Has Met Expectations, But More is There for the Taking

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Team USA Has Met Expectations, But More is There for the Taking

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The United States men’s national team defeated Iran 1-0 on Tuesday night, securing themselves a place in the knockout stages of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Coming into the tournament, the goal was always to get out of the group. The USMNT have now done that, but they have a squad that is hungry for more. Head coach Gregg Berhalter has guided the team to the final 16, but USA  should have the mindset that a deep run in Qatar is possible. 

Let’s talk about how the United States have gotten to this point of the World Cup. The USMNT faced off against Wales in their opening group game. For large periods in the first half of that match, USA dominated play. Most of the chances were coming their way, and they capitalized on that in the 36th minute. 

Josh Sargent began the passage of play by holding the ball up from Christian Pulisic, who was beginning to run into space. He [Pulisic] drove at the Wales backline, but noticed the run of forward Timothy Weah. Pulisic played a perfect ball behind the defense, finding Weah who scored with the outside of the right foot. Just like that, the United States had a lead and all of the momentum. 

Going into the halftime break, the feeling around the team was that a strong second half performance would all but guarantee three points for the USMNT. Prior to the restart of play, Wales made an attacking substitution that would completely change that flow of the match. 6-foot-5 striker Kieffer Moore was brought on to the pitch, giving Wales a central figure with the ability to hold up play.

The combination of Moore making an instant impact and an inability to adjust to Wales attacking them differently caused problems for the United States, but they were still able to keep their advantage. That was until Wales received a penalty in the 80th minute, as United States defender Walker Zimmerman took down forward Gareth Bale in the box. Two minutes later, Bale scored from the penalty spot to grab the equalizer.

They [USA] attempted to reset in order to find a late winner, but they were unable to do so. The team would have to settle for a single point, with the feeling that two more were left on the table. Even with that disappointment, the USMNT still had more than a good chance to advance from the group with two games to go. 

USA would return to action four days later, this time against England. The match was not only important because of what would happen on the pitch, but because of the historical significance between the two countries as well. The United States were heavy underdogs against an England team that was one of the favorites to win the tournament. Even with that being said, Gregg Berhalter’s men had confidence that they could take something away from the game.

To the surprise of many, the United States controlled the match and were able to create more opportunities in the final third. Sure, a majority of those shots were not big chances, but it did show how ambitious the team was with their attack. Midfielder Weston McKennie had the best chance of the match for USA in the 26th minute, but put the shot over the crossbar. 

The game would finish as a 0-0 draw, leaving fans of the United States with a tough pill to swallow. The USA were the better side throughout the 90 minutes, but it would only amount to a point for the second consecutive game. In the other match of the day in Group B, Iran defeated Wales 2-0, scoring both goals in stoppage time. Those two results meant that the United States would need a win against Iran in their final match to advance. Anything less than three points would send the USMNT home early. 

So that brings us to Tuesday night at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha. The United States has to win to advance. On the other side, a draw for Iran would be enough to get themselves to the knockout stages. For the next 90 minutes plus stoppage time, the reputation of football in the states would rest on the shoulders of the players in Qatar.

It was a strong start for the USMNT, as all of the possession was coming in Iran’s half of the pitch. The United States created chance after chance, but Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand made every save he needed to. But in the 38th minute, a player for the USA took a risk that would end up deciding the match.

The ball found the feet of left back Antonee Robinson on the wing, who shifted it over to defensive midfielder Tyler Adams. The 23-year-old played a quick pass to Weston McKennie, who already had his eyes on switching play to the right. McKennie played a beautiful ball over the top, finding right back Sergiño Dest pushing towards the box.

Dest snuck in behind the Iranian defense, directing a header towards the edge of the penalty area. Christian Pulisic saw the space and gambled, taking a risk that he would never forget. Pulisic threw his body at the incoming cross, getting his foot on the ball before anyone else to give the United States a deserving 1-0 lead. 

(Hassan Ammar/AP)

Everyone on the pitch in a blue jersey celebrated the goal, except the player who scored. Pulisic laid on the ground in agony, as he had taken a significant blow from the goalkeeper of Iran. The 24-year-old forward would be able to finish the first half, but was forced to come off at halftime in order to receive treatment on what was later diagnosed as a pelvic contusion.

The United States would have to finish the match without one of their most in-form players. With their backs now against the wall, Iran began to push on for an equalizing goal. That forced the USMNT to be a bit more defensive, allowing themselves to concede more of the possession for large periods of the second half.

As the clock winded down, Iran threw more and more numbers forward. Every set piece and/or cross required USA to win the first ball, something they were very successful at. Iran had nine minutes of stoppage time to grab a goal, but the big chance never came for them. The United States held on for the 1-0 win, earning three points and a place in the knockout stages. 

Expectations Moving Forward:

As I mentioned before, the United States getting out of Group B is what fans wanted to see from this young group. If the results were different and the team failed to do that, it would have been deemed as a disappointment. Two draws and a win go them through in second place, setting themselves up with a matchup against the Netherlands on Saturday, Dec. 3rd. 

USA will be underdogs in that match, but they already showed what they are capable of against a European giant in England. The USMNT controlled the tempo and made the game difficult for their opponent. If they are able to do the same against a Dutch side that will be expected to advance, the United States will have the attacking quality to go down the pitch and score themselves. 

23-year-old Cody Gakpo is the danger man for the Netherlands. The PSV forward scored in all three group stage matches for the Dutch, helping the team finish at the top of Group A with seven points. Memphis Depay, who is working towards full fitness after being out with a long-term injury, will be an important part of the Netherlands attack as well. 

If the United States are going to advance to the quarterfinals, it would certainly help if Chrisrtian Pulisic is healthy for Saturday. The player has said on his social media that he will be, but it will all depend on how quick his recovery goes. Pulisic was a key contributor in the group stages, scoring a goal and grabbing an assist in three matches. 

Sure, the Netherlands are a very good team with a coach who has had a lot of success over the years in Louis van Gaal. However, they are beatable. If Gregg Berhalter gets his tactics right and sets his team up in a way to threaten on the counter attack, the United States has the pace and tenacity to shock the world. 

The United States men’s national team has already made the country proud, so anything more would feel like the “cherry on top” per say. But the reality is, they are four wins away from a World Cup title. Once you get to the knockout stages, it is all about taking it one game at a time. The USMNT will be an underdog in most scenarios moving forward, but if they do go on to beat the Netherlands, it will go down as one of the greatest achievements in the history of the program. 



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