They needed to win against a team they are clearly better than, and Christian Pulisic’s 38th-minute goal was the difference in Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over Iran. That put them second in Group B, booking a knockout round game against Group A winners Netherlands on Saturday.
The US showed great maturity in the first half to maintain concentration when they searched for quality chances. But the first goal before halftime was huge and the approach to start the second half was very good. As predicted, Iran employed a defensive posture and looked for an occasional counter-attack. The US got their breakthrough and saw out the game.
On the day, I thought Josh Sargent’s play was critically important and the midfield play between Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie was outstanding. As expected, playing their third game in eight days, the US began to tire around the 60th minute. Substitutions were called for to help close out the game.
Overall, the team did an outstanding job to walk off the field with three points.
Now, onto the Netherlands. This knockout game should be an end-to-end affair with two teams looking to attack. The US can beat them; I don't think they're the hardest opponent. In the next round, if the US get to the quarterfinals, that's when you face a really quality opponent – maybe Argentina or France depending on how the bracket goes.
Here's how I thought the USMNT fared Tuesday against Iran, using the following grading scale.
- 1-4: Below average or worse
- 5-6: Average
- 7-8: Good to very good
- 9-10: Excellent or outstanding
It was a really quiet day for Matt. He didn’t even have to register a save, but was good coming off his line to stop counters and picked out some good passes.
Dest struggled at times in the first half to be effective in the final third, and then he delivered an outstanding headed pass for Pulisic’s goal.
Carter-Vickers was solid defensively and then almost made a critical mistake at the end of the game for a penalty. Had they called a penalty, that would have been unbelievable. It's happened to my teams in the World Cup, but it didn't happen today.
Ream's positioning is good, he's calm on the ball and you can see he communicates well with the group. They need an older statesman back there, so to have him in the backline is much-needed for the team given the young group they have.
I keep waiting for plays where Ream really has to defend. England, Iran and Wales didn't ask those serious questions that decide games.
Robinson's touch sometimes got away from him, but he was very active getting into the attack and very solid defensively. Iran gave the US so much space out wide in both halves – Robinson was wide open at times.
Adams is a great leader and he sniffs out dangerous chances. He's rock solid and plays like a real veteran. He's got a really intelligent way he plays, has good composure out there and is clearly well-respected by teammates. That's a position where he makes it look a lot easier than it is.
Musah is a terrific two-way player. He got forward and when there were openings he works hard to come back. He's good at winning tackles, good at getting the ball and finding spaces they give him. For 90 minutes he's up and down the field. When you talk about a box-to-box midfielder, that's what Musah is. He was really outstanding.
Weston is coming back from that injury with Juventus, and doing three games in eight days is hard. He looked tired as well; the whole team did starting around the 60-minute mark with fatigue setting in.
Weah got in good spots to create goal-scoring opportunities in the first half, but failed to deliver on the final pass or shot. That was until his first-half stoppage time “goal,” when he was offside by the smallest of margins and would’ve made it 2-0.
This was Sargent's best performance in the World Cup, proving active and dangerous. He did a good job holding balls up and moving into threatening positions inside the penalty area. He was pretty motivated to play, it was clear.
My guess is Pulisic is going to be okay after getting injured on a classic Pulisic goal. He has probably scored the majority of the goals in his career like that. He's terrific at sniffing things out and running hard in the six-yard box.
By making only two changes to the starting lineup, Gregg sent a clear message to his team that he believes in this group. They were well-prepared and played an aggressive and dominant first half, which made the difference in the game. The substitutions were important to help close out the result.
Aaronson came into the game for Pulisic at halftime and Iran was pushing the game. He get into the attack a couple of times and created some dangerous plays that could've made it 2-0.
A solid performance when subbing on for McKennie. If the US let him do it, Kellyn's very good at hitting corner kicks and free kicks. They could use those qualities.
Hopefully Sargent isn't badly hurt. If he is, I think Gregg goes back to Wright against Holland. It'd be tough in a Round of 16 game to start a guy (Jesús Ferreira) who hasn't played yet in the World Cup.
That goal-line clearance at the end was huge, as were his late-game headers to clear Iranian crosses. I was surprised to not see Walker start, too.
There were a couple of plays from Moore that could’ve proven costly, but they saw out the result.