USMNT: The Story of Qualification
Iran vs USA
The USMNT took care of business Tuesday defeating a talented Iran squad 1-0. With the result, the United States guaranteed their qualification for the Round of 16. Despite the win, draws against England and Wales ensured a 2nd place finish in Group B.
One of the most apparent disparities between the two teams was the difference in structure. The United States employed a disciplined 4-3-3 formation. This shape allowed for wide expansion on offense and compression on defense. In contrast, Iran’s shape was often erratic and unorganized. While they seemed to be playing either a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-5-1, at times it completely broke down due to players being out of position. This discrepancy in organization is a testament to both the talent of this U.S. squad and the tactical instruction of Gregg Berhalter.
Additionally, Berhalter evidently covets attack-minded fullbacks as Antonee Robinson and Sergiño Dest were afforded near complete freedom down their respective flanks. Central midfielders Weston McKennie and Yunus Musa were also clearly granted creative license as they pulled wide on offense to offer even more support to the flanks. This added support down the wings created triangles that forced the Iranian defenders into conflict and constantly challenged their positioning.
The sole goal came in the 38th minute after McKennie played a beautiful ball to Dest, who caught Ehsan Hajsafi napping down the right flank with a run in behind the Iranian backline. Dest then calmly headed the ball down to a charging Christian Pulisic who was able to fire a ball into the back of the net. Unfortunately for Pulisic, his day would end early after he collided with Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand in the process of scoring. The goal was a well-deserved culmination of the United States first half domination.
After the first-half, a Team USA victory seemed like a foregone conclusion. However, it became a much more balanced affair in the second half. Led by the efforts of right back Ramin Rezaeian and forward Medhi Taremi, Iran was able to create problems for the United States defense on a couple of occasions. Fortunately for the U.S. though, Iran only managed to challenge goalkeeper Matt Turner once throughout the game.
Finishing 2nd in the group means the U.S. will now play the Netherlands on December 3. This game will likely be the toughest test of the tournament thus far. The U.S. and the Netherlands have only played against one another five times with the United States possessing a dismal record of 1-4 against the Dutch. However, in their most recent matchup, the U.S. was victorious. That game ended 3-4 after the United States mounted a monumental comeback from 3-1 down.
On Friday, Team USA received the excellent news that Christian Pulisic will be available for the showdown against the Netherlands. American forward Josh Sargent also sustained an injury in the Iran game, and his status for the game versus the Netherlands remains unclear. If Sargent is unavailable, USMNT fans should rest easy knowing Borussia Dortmund star Gio Reyna is waiting in the wings. Reyna’s lack of playing time has been a major talking point throughout the tournament, with many questioning Gregg Berhalter’s decision to exclude him from the starting lineup in every World Cup game so far. If Reyna was to be called on, he would likely be deployed out on the right wing while Timothy Weah would move back to his natural position of center forward. Berhalter may also choose to use either Brenden Aaronson or Haji Wright, both of whom have appeared up top during games this World Cup.