The formula is incredibly simple for the United States National Team (USMNT) against Iran for Tuesday’s Group B finale, which kicks off at 2 p.m. ET on FOX: Win and advance to the knockout Round of 16.
Anything else, and a once-promising World Cup journey is cut woefully short at the group stage.
“For us, our knockout game comes one game earlier,” defender Walker Zimmerman said (h/t Laken Litman, Fox Sports). “You look around at the other teams and groups, and a lot are going into their third game having to get a result, whether that’s a win or a tie.
“There’s going to be pressure. And for us, [we need] a win, and we have no problem with starting our knockout a little bit earlier.”
This is the bed that USMNT made and is ultimately forced to lie in. Despite being the favorites to defeat Wales in its World Cup opener, a bright first half made way to a tentative, meek second that led to a needless tackle from Zimmerman that awarded Gareth Bale and the Welsh a game-tying penalty just eight minutes from time.
On Friday against powerhouses England, the Americans looked even better and more likely to score. But the overarching problem that has been forecast for them heading to Qatar remains prevalent. They don’t have the pure-finishing talent up front to cap off its attacking play and a 0-0 draw was all that could be salvaged.
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It’s why head coach Gregg Berhalter has a massive question mark to address on Tuesday.
Josh Sargent wasn’t effective enough against Wales. Haji Wright looked disinterested in attacking inside the England box as he was frustrated and held up by Manchester United defender Harry Maguire.
Jesus Ferreira is an option to try and act as a pure No. 9 after leading USMNT with five goals this season and adding another 18 with FC Dallas in MLS play.
There is also the possibility of moving Tim Weah — who scored against Wales — from the wing to the middle while giving Borussia Dortmund youngster Gio Reyna a full run in Qatar when attacking prowess is needed the most.
Predicted USMNT lineup vs. Iran
- GK: Matt Turner
- Defense: Sergiño Dest- Walker Zimmerman-Tim Ream-Antonee Robinson
- Midfield: Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah-Weston McKennie
- Forwards: Gio Reyna, Tim Weah, Christian Pulisic
USMNT is playing an Iran team that is normally well-organized and plays more of a defensive brand of soccer. They’ve recorded clean sheets in six of 10 matches this season, including an impressive 1-0 victory over Uruguay on Sept. 23.
An early goal from England in its Group B opener led to chaos as the Three Lions cruised to a 6-2 victory. On Friday, though, we saw what Iran was made of with a 2-0 triumph over Wales to move them up to second in the group.
The game plan should be rather simple for the United States on Tuesday at Al Thumama Stadium: Push early and push often with the prospect of an early goal disbanding the Iranian ranks. Then, it’s a matter of not taking the foot off the gas pedal, which it did against Wales.
Easier said than done, especially when this match is being played under the backdrop of diplomatic tensions between the two countries after USMNT social media posts depicted altered Iranian flags in protest of the human rights issues plaguing the Middle Eastern country.
“It’s a knockout game, both teams want to go to the next round and are desperate to go to the next round,” Berhalter said (h/t Yahoo Sports!). “And that’s how we’re looking at this match. We are very focused on what we do as a team, as are they.
“I don’t want to sound aloof or not caring, but the guys have worked really hard for the last four years… Of course, our thoughts are with the people, the whole country, the whole team, everyone – but our focus is on this match.”