The United States men’s national team secured a spot in the round of 16 of the 2022 FIFA World Cup with a pivotal 1-0 win over Iran on Tuesday.
After drawing 1-1 to Wales in the opener and following it up with a 0-0 draw to England, the U.S. needed nothing less than a win against Iran to advance.
In the end, England secured first place in Group B after beating Iran and Wales, the U.S. came in second, Iran finished third and Wales rounded out the group after failing to win a game.
Before the U.S. takes on the Netherlands in the round of 16 on Saturday, let’s look back at the winners and losers from the group stage:
Winner: Christian Pulisic
When it mattered most, Pulisic delivered. He logged an assist when Tim Weah scored against Wales, and this time Pulisic grabbed a goal on a Sergiño Dest cross that proved to be the difference against Iran.
Now all eyes are on his health for the contest against the Dutch, as he left the Iran game at halftime with an abdominal injury that occurred as he put the ball into the back of the net. The U.S. has had a difficult time creating consistent chances in the final third, but Pulisic’s goal – his first ever in the World Cup – will be remembered for a long time to come.
Loser: Walker Zimmerman
It’s been a rough outing for Zimmerman in Qatar. Gregg Berhalter has called on him to be the first-choice starting right center back with injuries to Miles Robinson and Chris Richards, and while Zimmerman impressed in the build up to the tournament compared to Aaron Long, that quickly evaporated.
Zimmerman was at fault for conceding the penalty against Wales that led to Gareth Bale’s goal, making an unnecessary tackle inside the box. He held relatively firm against England but was subsequently dropped for Cameron Carter-Vickers against Iran.
The Nashville SC defender came in to see out the Iran game when Berhalter went with a 5-3-2 low block in the last 10 minutes plus stoppage time, but will he return to the starting XI against the Dutch?
On a positive note, 35-year-old Tim Ream has been nearly faultless despite logging very little time under Berhalter and the rest of the squad coming into the tournament.
Winner: Matt Turner
The U.S. conceded just one goal in the group stage – and it was a penalty. Matt Turner is proving Berhalter right by making him the first-choice goalkeeper in Qatar after Zack Steffen long held the top spot.
Turner has two clean sheets in three games, and the Arsenal goalkeeper has mightily impressed with his distribution along with already being one of the top shot-stopping goalkeepers out there.
If the U.S. is to beat the Netherlands, Turner will need to be strong between the sticks yet again with a frontline led by rising star Cody Gakpo.
Loser: Gregg Berhalter
So, does Berhalter have any sort of plan in second halves when his team is leading? Both against Wales and Iran, the U.S. took an early 1-0 lead but could never kill off the game with a second goal.
There just doesn’t seem to be much going on in the second half besides chaos and clearances in the United States’ defensive third, and that could cost the nation in the end. The U.S. certainly has the technical quality all around the pitch to retain possession and not invite constant pressure from the opposition, but for some reason are not instructed to do so.
Berhalter usually is great in the first half of games, but the U.S. needs to stay aggressive and create better shots when leading.
Winner: Tyler Adams
A leader on and off the pitch. Tyler Adams is proving to be the right man to captain the United States moving forward.
Adams entered Qatar with an impressive first campaign with Leeds United of the English Premier League. His ability to play in a single pivot as the holding midfielder and create all sorts of good chaos in defense has been instrumental.
That has carried over to the World Cup where the U.S. is thriving thanks to his influence. He can spread the ball around, play the ball progressively through the lines and win duels all over the field. He’s been with some solid European teams already, but he seems destined for a bigger one sooner rather than later.
Goals win games, and the lack of doing so is bound to hurt the U.S. Advancing to the round of 16 is a huge accomplishment, but getting only two goals with the quality of a Netherlands back five that includes superstar Virgil van Dijk looming isn’t looking too promising.
The U.S. had one shot on target in each of its first two games before getting five against Iran. Even then, it was only good for 1.35 expected goals. Josh Sargent and Haji Wright have each gone blank, while Jesús Ferreira is yet to log a minute despite looking like he’d be the main striker leading up to Qatar.
If Pulisic can’t play on Saturday, it’ll be interesting to see who – if anyone – gets on the score sheet against the Netherlands.
Winner: Yunus Musah
Musah was primed to break out on the big stage entering Qatar, and now the just-turned 20-year-old midfielder is doing just that.
After coming out of the Arsenal youth academy before moving to play more first-team football with Valencia in La Liga, Musah is coming into his own with exceptional displays in midfield on both the left and right side.
He works his tail off on both sides of the ball, has phenomenal speed for his position and is gifted technically with both feet. He still has a long way to go to polish his all-around game, but the midfield trio of Musah-Adams-Weston McKennie is looking to be a great one for the U.S. for several years to come.
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