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It’s ‘Win or Go Home’ for USMNT against Iran


The knockout rounds of the World Cup don’t officially begin for another week, but for the U.S. men’s national team, the elimination games will begin with Tuesday’s group-stage finale against Iran.

The Americans have a very clear task to achieve at Al Thumama Stadium, win or go home. Anything short of a victory for the USMNT will bring an abrupt end to what has been a promising World Cup for the second-youngest team in the competition.

“Make no mistake about it. This is a knockout game for both teams, so it’s going to be a high level of intensity,” Gregg Berhalter said on Monday. “I love what Iran has done so far, especially the last game. A lot of commitment, really good counter-attacking. We expect it to be a hotly-contested game and we’ll be ready for it.”

The Iranians rebounded from an embarrassing 6-2 loss to England in their World Cup opener by beating Wales, 2-0. It took a pair of late Iran goals against a 10-man Welsh side to secure the victory, and leave Iran needing just a draw against the Americans to secure a place in the Round of 16.

“It’s going to be a tough battle,” Tyler Adams said. “We’re going to have to have a lot of energy in this game and make sure that we’re mentally prepared, pay attention to all the details in the game, set pieces, and their midfield is quite impressive, a very technical midfield. For me, it’s always difficult to play against a technical midfield when they can control the ball and control the game.”

Iran will come into the match with confidence after beating Wales, a performance that was a far cry from their lopsided loss to England.

“In the first game against England, I think Iran was was too passive,” Berhalter said. “And I think they learned that lesson, and were really aggressive in the second game, and really good team spirit. It’s almost like they played with nothing to lose and I think that’s when they were at their best. They showed the world what they can do, by beating a strong European team, a very physical European team.”

The Iranians are effective at counterattacking, and head coach Carlos Quieroz has a well-established reputation of being able to set up teams in defensive-minded setups that can be very difficult to break down. The fact that the Iranians need only a draw to secure a place in the Round of 16 would suggest they are likely to sit back and try to frustrate the Americans, but not everyone is convinced that is how Tuesday’s match will play out.

“After watching Iran’s last game, I would not expect them to do that, because they went after the game and they were looking for three points,” Tyler Adams said when asked about Iran playing ultra-defensively against the USMNT. “You could tell from the mentality of the group. They were attacking, counter-attacking, doing everything they needed to do. Fighting in every single duel, tackles, every single moment of the game looked like it could be their moment to score a goal. So I’m not expecting to do that.

“We know that it’s a knockout, and of course, we have to attack. I’m not the coach of their team so I’m not exactly sure what they’re going to do but, based off of last game, I’m expecting them to come after it.”

The Americans have enjoyed an excellent tournament from a defensive standpoint, allowing zero goals in the run of play, with Gareth Bale’s penalty kick goal the only blemish on the USMNT’s defensive ledger. The challenge for the USMNT will be creating more chances and boosting an attack that has struggled to generate dangerous scoring opportunities.

The need for more attacking production could lead to some lineup changes, with Jesus Ferreira a possibility at striker after Josh Sargent and Haji Wright failed to produce goals in the target striker role. As far as Berhalter is concerned, that lack of production is more about the supporting cast than his strikers.

“It’s up to the rest of the group to give them quality service, that they can finish off some of these opportunities,” Berhalter said. “Hopefully, in this Iran game, we can get some some good balls into the box and help these guys out a little bit.”

The USMNT are the favorites heading into Tuesday’s match, and will be looking to avoid repeating the history made when these teams last met at the World Cup. The Iranians defeated the Americans, 2-1, at the 1998 World Cup, a tournament that saw the USMNT crash out in last place.

“That game just sticks in my mind and burns in my mind,” Berhalter said of the 1998 World Cup meeting between USA and Iran. “And what I saw from the opening whistle is one team that really wanted to win the game and one team that didn’t really want to win the game. Iran wanted to win the game with everything, and they played really committed, really focused.

“For us to have a chance to advance (on Tuesday), that’s going to have to be the mindset of our group,” Berhalter said. “Because we know exactly what Iran is going to bring. A well-coached team, very committed team. And we don’t want to make the same mistakes of the past. We want to learn from that and be able to put it in good performance.”


  1. i take a lot of the back and forth to be what the military calls “psychological operations.” but you have to know the correct buttons to push. the difference from 1998 was that team was a mess and plus sampson seemed to want to avoid politics and psyops. we are taking a different approach this time. based on 1998 and the adrenalized counter approach this time i don’t know if we want a riled up iran. maybe they think triggering iran/persia vs “islamic republic” — with a team that refused to sing the current national anthem — is a wedge.

    • given iran’s erratic performances it will be a question which team shows up. i am concerned we haven’t rotated enough for freshness. i hope CCV is better than zimmermann has been. the striker choice is sleepwalking. when your defense of the position in a press conference is like the one guy early in a game managed a header off the post then disappeared, that’s tepid.

  2. I don’t like any organization making social comments, for the simple reason that it’s anti-democratic. The people in power of the organization decide what to say, and everyone else has to go along with it or risk losing their job, or at least causing tension.
    We have a devout Muslim on the team. What an awkward place he’s in to have to choose between his team’s social message and his religion’s. He is undoubtedly smart enough to keep his mouth shut. He has to. Shouldn’t he just be focused on soccer?
    So I already wish US Soccer would narrow it’s focus to soccer, but in this situation their action is even more offensive. They are inflaming a national security situation, and — for the love of God — messing with someone’s flag. No one butcher’s someone’s flag. You want a country of people to hate you more than they already do… do that.
    I really think someone should lose their job over the flag thing. The coach and captain had to answer for it. It’s the last thing we need.
    They’ll be fine though. Tyler Adams handled it like a pro. Go USA!!

  3. It’s been reported on multiple outlets that Iran’s secret police apparently dropped in on the Iranian team at their camp and let them know their families would meet with “violence and torture” if they acted out before the game, didn’t sing the national anthem, made any sort of political gestures, etc. It’s similarly been reported the Iranian secret police have also sent a lot of folks into the general Iranian crowd, to intimidate and be aggressive towards those fans who are making political gestures, and to also be hooligans in general.

    I hope this crap doesn’t spill over into the game, but I’m afraid it will. The USSF altering Iran’s flag for a day with the state seal left off gave the Iranian government a chance to get offended, and in typical utterly-blind-to-irony authoritarian fashion the Iranians made howls of outrage and demanded the US be kicked from the tournament and suspended for ten games. After all, Iran might be tear-gassing their own female supporters who try to attend national team matches (no joke, they really did that, which peeved off FIFA righteously though of course they did nothing about it), gunning down protestors by the dozens in the street, and hauling protestors off for the kind of interrogations that are conducted in rooms with drains on the floor…God forbid the USSF say anything about it, however mildly. That we just cannot have. (I still think the USSF was dumb for doing it, though. The situation’s charged enough.)

    So there’s going to be a lot of noise, anger, and crazy in the leadup, in the stands, and in the game itself. I hope the kids are ready for it…and I similarly hope we have enough of our own security on hand we can physically guarantee the safety of our players if the Iranian secret cops do decide to play dirty. My fear is, if the Iranians start losing, the Ayatollah’s gnomes in the crowd may well engineer an “incident” that spills over onto the field. I definitely wouldn’t want to have to rely on Qatari security at that point.

    Of course, there’s no telling how all this crazy will effect the Iranian team, too. They pulled it together against Wales after looking like a train wreck against England…but that was before the Ayatollah’s secret police threatened the players’ families, too. It’s hard to see how that is exactly going to inspire the players to go out and give it all for Iran. (I can’t think of anything that could de-motivate a player to not wanna play hard for his country more than that, in fact.) Pre-match stress in World Cups is insane anyway, this is…something else entirely.

    I have no idea how this plays out. I really wish FIFA had avoided this matchup.

    • Sounds crazy, but I’ve had similar nagging fears about Iran’s political turmoil physically impacting our players and fans. I hope that all this purported intel about secret police indicates our own folks are on the ground… Really prefer to focus on the games though. Win or go home. That should be our focus and should be more than enough motivation for the players. No guarantees, but I think our boys pull through. Stoked for the match.

    • Same things the Iranian government did in 1998. And we all know how that turned out. Hopefully this team is up for the emotional fight from the start.


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