The United States men are officially through to the round of 16 with a 1-0 win over Iran. A beautiful team goal capped off by Christian Pulisic was just enough to see them win the match. Following Sergino Dest's cross, Pulisic threw himself at the ball, scored the goal, and then collided with Iranian keeper Alireza Beiranvand and had to be withdrawn at the half for Brenden Aaronson. From there, the team was able to keep their strong defensive form even with starting Cameron Carter-Vickers in place of defensive stalwart Walker Zimmerman. The team wasn't able to nab an insurance goal allowing pressure from Iran late but the one goal was all they needed to advance.
Next up will be a clash with the Netherlands on Saturday, Dec. 3 and they may not have Pulisic or Josh Sargent for that match after both left with injuries. Sargent especially will be worrisome as Haji Wright hasn't looked like a starting national team striker but Jesus Ferrerira has yet to register a minute of game time during this World Cup. But despite the injuries -- and a poor sub performance from Shaq Moore -- the team dug deep and got the job down to make the last 16 for the third time in the last four World Cups.
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It's an emotional moment for the team after missing the 2018 World Cup but it's important to remember that the job isn't done. The attack going flat when Weston McKennie leaves the pitch cant continue versus the Netherlands when Cody Gakpo is lurking but the building blocks are there to topple them as the defense hasn't allowed a goal from open play during the World Cup so far.
Here are a few takeaways from the match
The United States has been great at starting games during the World Cup and this match was no different. Antonee Robinson and Dest were getting forward with ease but Sargent and Tim Weah weren't getting on the end of the service they provided. But Pulisic was fired up enough to score the goal. Started by McKennie from deep with a lovely pass, we saw the best of Dest as he got forward and played an excellent, headed cross to Pulisic. Nothing was stopping him from putting the ball into the back of the net including Iran's keeper.
While Pulisic did leave with an abdominal injury that sent him to the hospital, wing depth is something that the USMNT has quite a bit of. Gio Reyna has been used sparingly during this World Cup, but if Pulisic can't go, he will be needed against the Netherlands as one of the few unpredictable players on the team. Aaronson was a good choice to close things out in order to provide defensive guile, and stabilize things but to start a knockout round match, Reyna would be the way to go.
USA depth is a concern
This match is one that exposed some fringe players on the team. Shaq Moore had to hold his hands up multiple times to say my bad when he was beaten down the flank but Zimmerman and Carter-Vickers have been there to clean things up. If Dest can't go 90 against the Netherlands, it's time to turn to another teenager in Joe Scally because the team knows what they have in Moore and it isn't good enough at the moment. The experience is important if Moore will be a depth option moving forward, but it's hard relying on him right now.
The same goes for Haji Wright who hasn't offered enough leading the line. Late in the match, Wright had a chance to dribble to the corner effectively ending the game but he instead goes for a shot gifting Iran possession to drive down the pitch. On a different day, the VAR review that it caused may have led to a penalty. Jesus Ferreira hasn't played a minute during this World Cup which is surprising as he was involved during qualifying but he needs to start Saturday if Sargent can't go. Ferreira does a lot of the same things for dragging defenders around which allows the wingers space in attack and that will be needed as the Netherlands have not been disciplined defensively during this World Cup.
Credit given when due
Gregg Berhalter has made some massive calls during this World Cup. Not only with leaving Zack Steffen and Ricardo Pepi out of the squad but also starting Sargent, Ream, and Matt Turner. All three have been big parts of why the team is in the last 16 right now as well as Carter-Vickers who was a surprise inclusion in the lineup against Iran. While the job isn't done, Berhalter's plan a has been spot on during this World CUp and he'll have more calls to make if Pulisic and Sargent can't go.
Group B final standings