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What psychopath described the United States Men’s National Team’s long-awaited Black Friday showdown against England as a goalless draw? I’ll take whatever you drink After sorting through that stiff cocktail and noting that Matt Turner or Jordan Pickford hadn’t conceded a goal, it wasn’t just a fallacy, it had a simple consequence for the American’s group stage final against Iran on Tuesday: victory and the USMNT advances to the round of sixteen in front of the stage. To lose? It would be on the next flight from Qatar. Tie? Who the hell is playing for a tie? It depends on the goal difference for your grades.
The American’s game in Qatar will draw many comparisons to her effort at the 2010 World Cup. Draw against England, yes, that game with Robert Green’s all-time gawk at the net, and Slovenia to start group play. The USMNT group finals against Algeria featured exactly the same stakes. A goal from Landon Donovan in extra time was the difference as USA went from eliminated to group winners with a shot. A goal against Iran could well make the difference for the United States.
The goal for the USMNT coming into Friday’s game was to prove they could compete with the Three Lions. In the four years that Gregg Berhalter has led the Americans, they have precisely never played against an opponent of this quality. Zero minutes against a world class team, especially in a competitive environment. Not only did Americans cling to the country from which they gained independence, the US would have won under the Queensberry Rules. The first 20 minutes for the USMNT were tough, but they didn’t concede a goal. After that, the Stars and Stripes defeated the Union Jack.
While the United Kingdom beat each other up, only Iran stands between the round of 16. What American fan wouldn’t have made the Final of 16 a week ago by beating Iran? You would have been crazy to want more. Iran have not looked strong in either game of the tournament so far. The USA had time in both games against Great Britain where they looked organized and intimidating. It only got one goal.
After the game against Wales, the Americans were lucky to have picked up a point. After the draw with England, the Americans need to feel like they can play with anyone. And their next game is against the team that gave England six goals. If the US loses to Iran, Berhalter will not come back to the States with a job. His exaggerated mindset of splitting the World Cup into two tournaments, the group stage and the knockout stage, should be a good benchmark for evaluating the future programme. Without seeing the USMNT in these two phases, Berhalter should not be hired.
After two draws, Berhalter has to make some changes to his starting XI. Do enough not to disrupt the chemistry and facilitate the right change to score more. Haji Wright didn’t make it as a striker and Josh Sargent looked at least comparable against Wales. We haven’t seen Berhalter’s favourite, Jesus Ferreira, come into the tournament yet. I wouldn’t be shocked if he had a big shift against Iran. The USMNT has been looking for a consistent forward who can score in big games for ages. It will not be solved at this World Cup. Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. Another change I would make would be Tim Weah coming off the bench and Gio Reyna or Brenden Aaronson starting in his place. Although Weah scored America’s only World Cup goal to date, he was unable to do much against England. The USMNT was supposed to provide Iran with a group of personnel that it could not have scouted together.
With this redesigned USMNT, the must-win scenario seems much more achievable. Let’s not dismiss Iran entirely here, they are a solid football team. It did more than enough to reach the world championship. Let’s not also pretend that the Americans shouldn’t win this game with some ease. We saw one of the USMNT’s best efforts in recent memory, albeit without a goal, against England. Now the Americans have to do it again, their World Cup lives are at stake.