That outlook received a giant exclamation point in Friday’s early morning hours stateside, as Iran scored two second-half stoppage-time goals to beat Wales 2-0 and – at least briefly – take Group B's second place over the USMNT.
A Wales-Iran draw was the ideal result for the USMNT's time in Qatar. But then Rouzbeh Cheshmi and Ramin Rezaeian changed the calculus very late after Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was shown an 86th-minute red card.
What does it mean for USMNT?
The result precedes the USMNT’s high-profile showdown later Friday against England (2 pm ET | FOX, Telemundo). And when it comes down to booking a Round of 16 place, a loss or draw against the Three Lions is now basically the same result.
The USMNT enter their England clash on one point. Even if they win or draw that game, they’ll need a result against Iran to get first or second place, booking a knockout round spot. Should they lose against England, a victory over Iran is 100% necessary (a draw won't be enough), and then tiebreakers come into play.
Now, it’s looking like four points will be enough to stay alive in the tournament. So the USMNT would benefit from going for a win against England. Then they reload and go again on Tuesday against Iran, likely needing a three-point result either way.
From an MLS perspective, Iran’s win essentially eliminates Wales captain and LAFC superstar Gareth Bale from the World Cup. The Dragons have one point, but the probabilities strongly favor some combination (two of three) of England, Iran and the US advancing from Group B.
Bale is leading Wales at their first World Cup in 64 years. He scored a late penalty kick in their 1-1 draw Monday against the USMNT, then was held scoreless against Iran. He's played the full 90 in both games.
Wales close their Group B slate on Tuesday against England (2 pm ET | FOX, Telemundo).
"We are gutted, there is no other way to say it," Bale said postgame. "We fought until the last second and we need to go again."