The United States men’s national team is on its way to the knockout stages after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
The USMNT advanced thanks to Christian Pulisic who put his body on the line for his winning goal. While scoring, Pulisic suffered an abdominal injury that forced him to hospital.
Without Pulisic in the second half, Iran came oh so close to equalizing several times. A draw would have sent Iran to the next round and sent the Americans home.
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Alexi Lalas, a FOX Sports broadcaster and former member of the USMNT, knew the Americans had to hold the foot pedal after Pulisic’s goal.
“I said, ‘This is good, but we’ve got a whole second half,'” he told “The Brian Kilmeade Show.” “We knew Iran was going to make some changes, and they did. Having said that, there was a sense of relief, especially in that first half. The US played very, very well. And then the second half came, and yes, those changes happened, and it was just kind of, “Hold on for your life, bend but don’t break,” and eventually they did, but there were some jittery moments…
“Keep in mind the strategy involved where the US had to win the game. Iran didn’t have to win the game. So that put the ball much more in the US’s field. But then they got the goal, and of course, Iran has to attack , and at half time they made some changes Christian Pulisic was great at the moment.
“Even though he went off hurt and basically gave his body for his country at the time, he was really, really good, and I think he was a big part of the success in that first half. In that second half. Some things didn’t quite work out for Gregg Berhalter and USA in the second half but in the end they bowed a lot but they didn’t break in the end they got the goal they needed , they got the win they needed and they’re going through. That’s all that matters.”
The Americans are now on their way to the Netherlands and will be underdogs and will probably remain underdogs as long as they advance.
However, that is a role that has been common for men’s soccer in the United States.
“We’ve been to World Cups before where we’ve come out of groups, so I think there’s a higher expectation, which I think is a good and fair thing to do with this team,” Lalas said, pointing out that the only goal the USMNT allowed in group play was a penalty from Gareth Bale. “This Dutch game is going to be tough, but the US will be in this wonderful, comfortable underdog role that we traditionally thrive in.”
At the same time, Lalas understands that the Netherlands is the better team “on paper”, and the United States will “have [its] hands full.”
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“This is a team that will definitely not be afraid of the US. This is a team that will try to force itself on the US, but I also think this is definitely a game to be won by the US,” Lalas said. “Obviously you’ll have to play a really good game. You’ll have to be very smart. The substitutions will have to be better. The set pieces, which were terrible – let’s face it – during this tournament, will have to be better.
“And yes, you’re going to have to get a little help from the football gods, but everyone is going to have to get a little help at some point, no matter how good you are. But this is not a team.” at the level of Brazil or France that the US now has to deal with compared to the Netherlands.”
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The Round of 16 competition kicks off at 10am ET on Saturday.