USMNT sees opportunity in World Cup knockout round

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RAYYAN, Qatar — Gregg Berhalter and the US men’s national soccer team arrived at the World Cup to prepare for two tournaments. They successfully navigated the first (a three-game rumble culminating in a harrowing victory over Iran on Tuesday) and now enter the no-mercy phase with a round of 16 showdown with the Netherlands on Saturday.

“Anything can happen from here,” Berhalter said. “It’s a great opportunity, but it’s not something we go into thinking it’s an honour. We deserve to be in the position we are in and we want to keep going.”

With the youngest starting lineups in the league with 32 teams and one player with World Cup experience – defenseman DeAndre Yedlin has played as a substitute once – the Americans are playing with house money.

With courageous aim, USMNT beats Iran to advance to the World Cup

While the FIFA rankings (accurately) suggested they would finish second to England in Group B, there were genuine questions about the maturity of players and Berhalter’s coaching talents on the world stage. Failure to continue would not have been a disaster, but would have been very disappointing and possibly the end of Berhalter’s tenure. (His contract expires after the tournament.)

Moving forward, however, the US team recovered its dignity after missing out on the 2018 World Cup — its first absence from the sport’s premier event since 1986 — and continued to grow.

World Cup bracket and knockout round schedule

“The bigger picture is to get as far as possible in the tournament,” midfielder Weston McKennie said. “Look back at what it took to get here. Not just the last four years, but the last game, this game against Iran. We will definitely look back and see what it took, remember it and use it as fuel.

The Americans will need all the fuel they can find against a Dutch squad that won Group A with a 2-0-1 record and both great football history (three-time finalist, including 2010) and present-day excellence (a star-dotted roster led by the giant Liverpool defender, Virgil van Dijk.)

“A huge opportunity for us,” said US captain Tyler Adams.

Svrluga: Christian Pulisic has his moment and that is why the US survives

What the US lineup will look like remains unclear after injuries to two starting forwards against Iran. Christian Pulisic suffered a pelvic contusion after colliding with Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand while scoring in the 38th minute and Josh Sargent left the game in the 77th minute with an apparent ankle injury.

Sargent, who started the first and third games, was evaluated on Wednesday, a team official said. Haji Wright and Jesús Ferreira are the other strikers on the roster. Wright, who started the second game, looked lost as Sargent’s substitute on Tuesday. Ferreira has yet to play.

Asked days ago if he has considered using wingers in the central role, Berhalter said he was happy with his current options. So in all likelihood either Wright or Ferreira would replace Sargent on Saturday.

Pulisic was taken to hospital for tests as the second half progressed and returned to the team hotel in time to greet his teammates returning from the stadium. The American Football Association has placed him on the day-to-day list, a status that is unlikely to change before Saturday’s game to keep the Orange in the dark.

However, teammates who spoke to him after Tuesday’s game said Pulisic intends to play. They marveled at how he made contact with Sergiño Dest’s header as Beiranvand came out powerfully for the ball. Pulisic was there first, a moment before the heavy collision with a half-volley.

“Just a testament to his bravery,” midfielder Kellyn Acosta said. “I mean, you want it so bad. I’m glad he was finally rewarded with a goal. He is very hungry [and] tough as nails.”

They knew Christian Pulisic’s story even before it started

The Americans have also shown unity and are fighting this tournament as if they are fully invested in the cause.

That’s what Berhalter was looking for as he rounded out the roster, filling several slots with what he calls “glue guys” – players who strengthen team chemistry and embrace their reserve roles, even if they weren’t the best talent options.

Those on the field in the final nerve-racking minutes battled for each other on Tuesday to fend off Iran’s relentless pressure. As the final whistle blew, players fell to their knees, stomachs and backs – exhausted from the physical and mental weight of winning the World Cup.

“That was one of those games where you can look left and right,” Adams said, “and you have someone fighting for you.”

However, effort will only bring a team so far. Good football also helps. The US goal was just that. It started with Turner controlling the ball with his feet and drifting into midfield. Tim Weah hit it with one touch to Yunus Musah, who gave space to Adams. Something was brewing.

Three passes later, McKennie made a great pass to Dest for a header that sent Pulisic full blast into the box.

“The guys executed it perfectly,” Berhalter said.

The goal enabled a victory that requires a historical perspective. Only one other time had the United States won its third match in group play at the World Cup, in 2010 when Landon Donovan scored against Algeria in the closing seconds to turn a threat of elimination into sure progress.

From the archives: Landon Donovan’s goal means Americans advancing

This win was also the first for the United States since the opener against Ghana in 2014 and just the ninth in the program’s 11 World Cup appearances – the same number of triumphs France achieved in 2014 and ’18 combined. The only times the US team won two games at a World Cup were in 1930 and 2002.

In the knockout round, the Americans have little time to heal and reset. Chance awaits.

“There is no need to even project how far this team can go, because the next game is against the Netherlands, and that is our main focus,” said Berhalter. “It’s great to be in this knockout format. We enjoy this. It’s a chance for our guys to keep grinding and stick together and enjoy this experience.”

World Cup in Qatar

The last: France has already secured its place in the knockout round and three more countries will join Les Bleus on Wednesday. Follow our live coverage for the latest news, updates and highlights from the World Cup.

USMT: Star striker Christian Pulisic scored in the first half as the US men’s team beat Iran 1-0 at the World Cup in Qatar. By finishing second in Group B, the United States (1-0-2) earned a meeting in the round of 16 on Saturday with the Netherlands, which won Group A with a 2-0-1 record.

Tiebreakers and Progression Scenarios: The 32 teams of the World Cup have started their third group stage matches and the scenarios for progression are now clear.

Perspective: “This moment – to be moment – asked for something more than finesse or creativity. It may not be very brave or courageous to charge at a soccer ball in the midst of heavy human traffic, at the risk of personal injury, to demonstrate what athletic sacrifice means. Read Barry Svrluga about Christian Pulisic’s moment on football’s biggest stage.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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