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USMNT vs Iran Preview: Time for USA to show Urgency in Attacking Play

The USMNT has done very well in their first two games, but in a win or go home match they need to finally show urgency on offense.

England v USA: Group B - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Photo by John Todd/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Later this afternoon, the United States will play Iran in the third and final game at 2pm EDT on FOX/Telemundo for a spot in the Round of 16 at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

For the first two games the USMNT have been highly organized and active defensively, but their transition, counter attacking, and final third play have been lacking. Now the US have been better on the attacking side than they have been at times this year, including being shut out in two friendlies back in September. But now is the time for Gregg Berhalter to show that he can deploy this talented, young US team in an attacking mentality and get goals.

Because the USA needs to win this game, there is no other scenario where the US can advance - they need to beat Iran today or they’re going home. Right now, with one goal through two games and not having broken the 1.0 xG barrier against Wales or England, the US needs to think outside of the box. And that is not a place Gregg Berhalter visits often.

This concerns me...and I am admittedly not a Gregg Berhalter fan, I said as much before this tournament and in the months even since their 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup victory. This team is wasting a player up top at the striker position and they have not been able to fix the issue. It’s not just a player pool issue, the US has a lot of promising center forwards but none seem to fit into Berhalter’s preferred 4-3-3 system.

Jesus Ferreira’s ability to drop deep and play the #10 spot seems like it would be a solid option to link up with the midfield triangle. Ricardo Pepi is a classic poacher type who can finish off early crosses if the US ever got out on the break. Jordan Pefok and Daryl Dike have the ability to operate more like target forwards giving the US a hold up option and a body to aim crosses at against a set backline.

But only Ferreira is on this roster, Josh Sargent and Haji Wright have started the first two games and the same problem has persisted - the US strikers simply aren’t getting the ball.

The US has operated like this throughout qualifying, and occasionally it has come together and the US has gotten production from their front men. Pepi recorded 3 goals in two games against Honduras and Jamaica in 2021 early in qualifying but failed to score the rest of the way. Ferreira tallied a goal in a rout against Panama and then put up four against Grenada in Nations League play.

The US has gotten by with their scoring by committee approach, with Pulisic usually leading the way, but often times have lacked urgency and attacking intent in their games. The USA has always had a tendency to struggle against packed in defenses even in CONCACAF, but at least in those games we’ve usually seen the US on the front foot and able to generate chances. Possessing and passing the ball really well out of the back and in midfield is a great trait to have but not at the expense of being flaccid in the final third and constantly ignoring your striker in the build up until it’s time to lump balls into the box when your outnumbered against a set defense.

While the US has played well, and at times controlled their matches against both Wales and England for significant stretches, that hasn’t translated to lots of good looks on goal. What this US team has not shown is the intent to go forward with the ball when the need too, especially not taking advantage of potential counter attacking opportunities. Whenever it seems the USA could force an odd man rush, instead of pressing that advantage they often square the ball and allow the defense to get set up. Rather than playing a killer throughball that might not work, the US plays it safe and that is in my opinion a reflection of the style that Berhalter wants.

Well that style has not proven to be good enough to win games of late. Yes, the USMNT has played better in these first two games, but are still significantly behind where they could be offensively with the talent that they have.

Gregg Berhalter should be thinking about what happens if today’s first forty-five minutes doesn’t go well. I believe he’s going to start Jesus Ferreira up top even though the priority today should be getting his eleven best players on the field from the start of the game. I agree with Clint Dempsey, your starting front three today should be a combination of Reyna/Pulisic/Weah/Aaronson, though I have Aaronson starting at central midfield for the previously yellow carded Weston McKennie.

And none of the strikers on this US squad are one of the 11 best talents that we have available in this squad. That’s not to say Ferreira or Sargent or Wright can’t go out today and put in a good performance or score, but the style Berhalter has the US playing doesn’t set up the strikers to get the ball let alone be effective. It honestly doesn’t matter how Iran sets up their formation, if the USA isn’t fully committed to attacking from the opening whistle.

Gregg Berhalter has for months and years watched his team play with the same glaring tactical hole that his the #9 position. Despite all the rotation and experimentation up top, nothing has consistently even been average let alone good. If he refuses to change now facing a win or go home situation, then I don’t believe he ever will, and Berhalter will have brought this team as far has he can go tactically. And I will be right about what I said before the start of this tournament.

Gregg Berhalter will not get a fourth game to coach at this World Cup. And today will be his last game on the sidelines for the USMNT.