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Three Thoughts as the USMNT Advances to Knockouts

The US late game bunker did just enough, as a Matt Turner clean sheet and Christian Pulisic first half goal sends them through to face the Netherlands in the Round of 16.

FBL-WC-2022-MATCH34-IRI-USA Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

The United States went in knowing they had to win to advance to the knockouts and did just that in a less than comfortable down the stretch 1-0 win against Iran earlier today.

The win gives the USA second place in Group B win an unbeaten 1W-0L-2D record and five points as England topped the group with seven points beating Wales 3-0 in their finale.

The USMNT finishes group play with two Matt Turner shutouts, only one goal conceded from a penalty kick in three games, and a Christian Pulisic winner in which he quite literally sacrificed himself and potentially future generations to get the US to the next stage.

The USA will play Saturday, December 3rd against the Netherlands in a Round of 16 fixture with a 10am US EDT kickoff.


I can complain about style and tactics all I want, and I will believe me we’re going to do that, but the US did so many things right from the start of the game and they and Berhalter deserve credit. Berhalter has refused to move away from his system, and while that drives a lot of us insane, the organization and team chemistry the US have in said system really is impressive at times.

The big question for me was up top and while I would not have gone with one of the Ferreira/Sargent/Wright trio, I thought Josh Sargent was solid on the ball and I reckon his 34 touches and 90% pass accuracy would be the best game of the US strikers up top in the group stage and certainly passed the eye test of one of the more productive games from the volatile US #9 position in recent memory.

Sergino Dest was amazing, Tyler Adams is still everywhere, and the centerback pairing of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Tim Ream shut down essentially every Iran attack in the first half on the occasions they were called upon to do so. Tim Weah was a half step offside and nearly had that vital second USA goal right before halftime but the flag correctly went up and was confirmed by VAR.

At the end of the day, this group stage was a level of consistency we have not seen from the USA even in qualifying. Arguably for 60 minutes against Wales, England, and Iran the US were the better team and while they didn’t convert that advantage on the scoreboard, there are still a lot of positives to take from the individual and combined performances here.

Gregg Berhalter was tasked with fixing a lot that was wrong with the USMNT, especially defensively, and he’s done that in spades. Not even I would deny that. Instead of making major adjustments to fix a disastrous first half as the US has often had to do over the last year or so, Berhalter and the US have spent a lot of time on the front foot which was not something they did consistently in qualification or at the Gold Cup last summer. Getting those tactical adjustments and lineup choices right from the beginning have really shown as the US deservedly got three results in the group stage.

There were a lot of question marks about this team going into this tournament and a lot of them have been answered positively. Tim Ream was the answer at centerback, having a healthy Pulisic, McKennie, etc., clearly makes the US better and gives them more options off the bench. While there are still issues in the final third, this has been a truly wonderful group stage from a young, talented team.

Which is what continues to make this next section so frustrating because I truly believe this US team is so very close to legitimate greatness.


Having Pulisic come off at the half due to injury wasn’t ideal, but aside from the goal Pulisic was not having an incredible game. Aaronson coming in made a lot of sense as did Kellyn Acosta just after the hour mark for a tiring Weston McKennie.

But the US probably should have made a second sub along with Acosta for an attacker, instead having to take of Josh Sargent after he rolled his ankle/landed awkwardly around the 75th minute. Haji Wright was the substitute there and he struggled mightily to do hold the ball and his late shot on target deep into stoppage time was one of the few US threats in the second half but also

Shaq Moore at right back also struggled, misplaying passes and failing to heed the instruction from Matt Turner in net on a long cross that he should have let go instead playing it out for an attacking throw. Walker Zimmerman cleared out every aerial ball into the box those final frantic minutes which is what he was there to prevent and was the only late sub to actually do his job effectively along with that late clearance after the ball squirted behind Turner in the box.

There was no reason for the US to decide to play bunker ball at the end of this game, absolutely none and I didn’t hate the five at the back look. But the US largely gave up going forward and opted to weather the storm and that’s not what this team is built to do. There weren’t enough outlet options from the midfield to relieve pressure and bad passes and clearances kept ball mostly in the USA end unnecessarily the few times the US did attempt to go forward.

Berhalter either doesn’t trust his team to counter attack or doesn’t want them to and it makes no sense and I still don’t have an explanation or any comprehension for it. This game, and every game in this group stage, was screaming for Gio Reyna’s ability on the ball to connect the team late in games and all he got was a cameo against England. Just like Acosta coming in for McKennie around the hour mark, Reyna should be subbed on around the same time so he can have time to impact the game with his skillset against a tiring defense. Never stop doing what got you a lead in sports, double down and keep doing it - and for the US that was staying on the front foot against Iran.

Twice in this tournament the USA should have been pushing for a second goal and thankfully this time they did not get burned by Iran like they did against Wales after Keifer Moore subbed on at the half and completely changed the Welsh approach. That was an adjustment the US never truly adapted too but that’s credit to Wales for making good decisions where here Berhalter is actively changing his team for the worse and letting the opponent back into the game unnecessarily.

No, the two late penalty shouts for Iran for a Moore handball or a CCV foul in the box were nonsense and not fouls. But that still doesn’t take away from the fact that this is not a team that can sit back and absorb pressure late in games without a competent counter attack because the US allows themselves to get pinned in too often and invites too much trouble with your opponent facing little to no repercussion for pushing forward.

The USA knew the task at hand today was to get a win and they accomplished that task and style points don’t matter. But there are lessons that Berhalter and this team need to take from this group stage and they are still some of the same lessons this team hasn’t learned from over the last two years.

In order to beat the Netherlands on Saturday, which this US team can do, they’re going to have to counter. The Dutch are going to have more of the ball and are better at Berhalter possession ball than the USMNT are, so the counter should be the most effective weapons the US has to score goals. They got out of the group doing just enough from the run of play, but haven’t proven to be able to generate consistent quality chances from the build up and have been woeful on set pieces.

Assuming the US know how to counter because multiple times against Iran, they had odd man breaks and tried to pass the ball into the net instead of getting a shot on frame. If the US can’t create second chances off of shots and set pieces they offense is going to struggle again and put a lot of pressure on Matt Turner and the defense to keep another shutout against the Netherlands and Cody Gakpo who has scored in each of the opening goals in three group games for the Dutch.

But I don’t think the Netherlands are invincible, this is a game the US can go out and win...if they have the mentality to do so from start to finish.


Yeah, we’re gonna put this argument to bed and it will never be brought up again on this site. I do not believe Turner ended the game as the most efficient passer after some late clearances, but he was excellent today as he usually is commanding his box and pinged some exceptional diagonal balls to spring the US attack. Which is something this team needs to do more of because it starts counter attacks...but I digress.

Matt Turner is second USMNT goalkeeper with two World Cup shutouts, joining Jimmy Douglas from the 1930 semifinalist squad. He and the USA allowed zero, yes ZERO, goals from the run of play in these three games which is a big reason why the US offense hasn’t had to put up epic numbers or chances.

New England Revolution fans know Matt’s journey and as always you will continue to enjoy the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference until morale improves.