USMNT advances to knockout stage with win over Iran

Illustration

Edward Segal

Illustration

Edward Segal, Sports Editor

The stakes for match day three of Group B could not have been higher. The United States looked to start a deep run after missing the World Cup in 2018, while Iran had a chance to make the knockout stage for the first time in their history.

The match took place in the midst of women’s rights protests in Iran, leaving some fans of the sport conflicted on which team to cheer for. Reporters from various countries had grilled U.S. players during press conferences for their thoughts on these issues. But for the U.S. men’s national soccer team, their focus was on the pitch.

The United States controlled the tempo from the kickoff, and in the 38th minute their efforts paid off. Midfielder Weston McKennie sent a long pass over the heads of the defenders into the penalty area for defender Sergiño Dest, who headed the ball toward the center of the box. Midfielder Christian Pulisic sprinted toward the net and tapped the ball past Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, but crashed into the goalie and injured his abdomen in the process.

The United States went down to 10 players for the next five minutes, before Pulisic came back and played the final few minutes of the half. The United States almost tacked on another goal before the halftime whistle, but the official deemed the scorer, forward Tim Weah, offside.

Pulisic did not return for the second half and was transported to a hospital for further evaluation, where it was determined that he had suffered a pelvic contusion. The team has labeled him day to day, according to a tweet from USMNT.

The U.S. held the lead for the remainder of the match, surviving a play in added time that could have resulted in a penalty kick for Iran. In the 98th minute, U.S. defender Cameron Carter-Vickers grabbed the shoulder of Iranian defender Morteza Pouraliganji, pulling him down in the box to stop him from getting a clean touch on the ball. The official did not award Iran a penalty shot, and the U.S. held on to win 1-0.

The last time these teams played, Yugoslavia had not yet split up and was part of their group.

It was the 1998 World Cup in France, and the United States needed at least a draw to stay alive. The U.S. fell behind 2-0, and after getting one goal back in the 87th minute were unable to come from behind and win. But this effort was fruitless for Iran, as they lost their next match to Germany to fall out of the World Cup.

After missing the World Cup in 2018, the United States men’s team has set out to prove themselves before co-hosting the next one in 2026, along with Mexico and Canada.

The United States almost beat Wales in their first game, but a late penalty kick from LAFC forward Gareth Bale allowed the Welsh to tie the game and steal a point. Nevertheless, they recovered in their next game to hold England scoreless and earn a point in the 0-0 draw. This set them up for a win-and-you’re-in scenario, and Pulisic’s goal was enough to put them over the top.

Being the second-youngest team in the World Cup with an average age of just over 25 years, the United States has limited experience on such a big stage. Defender DeAndre Yedlin is the only player on the team with prior World Cup experience, having played in Brazil in 2014.

Gregg Berhalter became the coach of the U.S. men’s national team in 2018, but because the team missed the World Cup that year he had never coached on this stage. The win over Iran gave Berhalter his first victory at the World Cup as a coach; but as a player, he was part of the U.S. team that made the quarterfinals in 2002.

The young team has only scored two goals so far, applying pressure at times against all three opponents but struggling to finish. Offensively, they have relied on crosses into the penalty area to apply pressure on their opponents. Pulisic is tied for the most crosses in this year’s World Cup with 22.

Precision on the defensive end has allowed the U.S. to keep their opponents at bay while they pressure. Midfielder Tyler Adams leads the World Cup in tackles won with nine, while midfielder Yunus Musah is tied for seventh with five. This helped them secure two crucial points in the draws against Wales and England.

Iran came into the match with three points and needed at least a draw to stay alive, with a win automatically pushing them through to the round of 16. The United States entered with two points, and the win over Iran bumped them up to five — putting them out of reach of Wales, who finished the tournament with one point.

England beat Wales on Tuesday to hold on to first place in Group B, and will take on Senegal in the knockout round Sunday. The United States, who finished second in group play, will take on the Netherlands in their first World Cup duel. With a victory Saturday, the United States can return to the quarterfinals for the first time in 20 years.

The rest of the bracket will be determined by Friday, after the teams in Groups E-H have played their final matches. Groups C and D have already finished play, with Argentina and Poland moving on from Group C while France and Australia took the top two spots from Group D. From the other groups, Brazil and Portugal have already secured their spots in the knockout round, while Canada has been eliminated.