The key U.S. talking points you may have missed at the World Cup…

The US Men’s National Team’s dramatic 1-0 win over Iran on Tuesday may be one of the most memorable victories in their history: a must-win game, an intense atmosphere, stoppage time and, finally, relief.

We looked at the big picture of what a win would mean for the team here at the World Cup in Qatar and where they intend to grow together ahead of the 2026 World Cup.

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There were many pieces to Iran’s victory that, in retrospect, were crucial in how the game played out. Walker Zimmerman’s exceptional substitute performance, Cameron Carter-Vickers’ solid first start of this entire World Cup campaign, the qualifiers, Sergino Dest’s continued good play at center-back, and the US’s inability once again to take full advantage of their attacking moments.

Some controversial decisions by head coach Greg Berhalter dropped the US into a more defensive posture in the second half. But the coaches have a great tournament overall…


Berhalter’s bold move at centre-back paid off

Berhalter made a significant change to his starting XI on Tuesday, dropping Zimmerman and adding Carter-Vickers alongside Tim Ream at centre-back.

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Zimmerman has been one of the US’s stalwarts since October, when he was called up and added to the line-up after Ream and fellow centre-back John Brooks withdrew from the qualifiers.

He captained the US in their final qualifier in March, then in their second and final match before the World Cup in September. As expected, he then started the first two games in Qatar.

    Cameron-Carter-Vickers


Cameron Carter-Vickers fights for the ball against Iran (Photo: John Darton/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

For the most part, he played well, but he had some shaky moments, including a costly penalty against Wales and some errant passes and contributions against England.

It was even more surprising to see Zimmerman benched for such a crucial game. Berhalter said Carter-Vickers’ extensive experience with champions Celtic in the Scottish Premiership playing against lower blocks will help the US in distribution against a deep-seated Iran team. He was right. Carter-Vickers put in a solid shift and looked comfortable on the ball, completing 58 passes in his 65 attempts and making absolutely no dangerous turnovers.

Berhalter said it was difficult to convey that Zimmerman had been benched, but he talked about the important role he could play in the late stages.

“We talked to him beforehand about the plan to come back five,” Berhalter said. “And we said winning aerial duels was really important to him – he did.”

Actually, they did. Zimmerman came on for eight minutes in the 90th and dominated the middle of the back five immensely, aerially and decisively clearing the ball off the line after a 98th-minute challenge between goalkeeper Matt Turner and the Iran striker popped the ball towards goal. Mehdi Taremi.

After the game, Zimmerman said Monday that he was of course sad when Berhalter told him he wasn’t starting, but he changed his ways to be the best teammate he could be while focusing on the job at hand. Off the bench to help the US close out the match.

That kind of mentality is critical in a tournament setting. It’s natural to be disappointed when players aren’t on the field, especially someone like Zimmerman, who has been a big part of the team for so long, but being able to contribute positively from a reserve role can still make a difference. . His performance did not go unnoticed by his colleagues.

“Obviously, he played well in the first game but gave away a penalty, then bounced back against England, had a really good game, kept a clean sheet,” left-back Antony Robinson said.

“After that, he was getting frustrated not starting, but he would come on and I remember him jumping up and winning three or four headers in a row and thinking, you know, ‘That’s somebody who’s not thinking about himself, somebody who’s giving everything, putting his body on the line for the team.

“That’s what we got – it’s just an overwhelming feeling that everyone is giving their all for the team.”

Along with Turner, full-backs Robinson and Dest and midfielders Tyler Adams, Younes Musa and Weston McKenney, the centre-backs again produced a top-class defensive performance.

The US have defended their best all tournament with two clean sheets and only conceded that through a Gareth Bale penalty.

According to FBref.com, they allowed just 2.3 expected goals in the group stage — the third-lowest total among the eight teams that played all three group games Wednesday morning. That number is less than 10 of the 24 teams that have played just twice. It is impressive.

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Dest continues to amaze

Entering the World Cup, there was zero doubt about Dest’s talent, but the question was whether he would play with enough discipline to get the most out of his considerable gifts.

For club and country, Dest has independent tendencies. The right-back, on loan at AC Milan from Barcelona, ​​is a skilled attacker but can sometimes get a little too engrossed in that side of the game, getting into trouble or neglecting his defensive responsibilities to the detriment of his team.

None of that appeared in Qatar. Dest is solid defensively, doing a good job of staying organized and connecting with his fellow defenders and winning key challenges.

“He was unbelievable,” said goalkeeper Turner after the win against Iran. “Free flowing, up and down the field. And what I noticed most about him is that he always appears defensive in the big moments. He’s tracking runners in the box really well.

Dest contributed a lot in attack alongside McKenney and Timothy Weah to control the right flank against England before being involved in a few chances on Tuesday.

His most notable involvement came with a goal. Dest made an excellent run behind the left flank of the Iran defence. McKenney played a beautiful ball into the end of the penalty area. Instead of turning the ball towards goal, he angled it smartly towards an onrushing Christian Pulisic at the opposite post, allowing the winger to bury the chance from a few yards out that sealed qualification for the knockout stages.

It came through different players but, remarkably, the goal was a carbon copy of the one scored by the US in the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

It was a move the US had clearly worked on ahead of the Iran match. He drills it repeatedly, draws Iran to one side of the field, then passes the ball back to the midfielder, who has enough time to get his head up and hit a diagonal ball to the full-back on the opposite side.

“We talked about it before the game. That’s exactly it, accurate It was a game of how we were going to score,” Ream said. “Credit to Serg, seeing that he could hit the ball across. And Christian said before the game. ‘Crash That Back Post’. That’s what he did and it happened. Perfect, perfect, perfect setup. “

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Chances need to be taken in attack

The US took some of the best positions against Iran. As AthleticAs Ahmad Walid explained in his tactical breakdown on Wednesday, the Americans did well on the left flank, with wide rotations between Pulisic, McKenney and Robinson unbalancing Iran.

Those rotations helped create space for McKenney to build Dest toward goal.

    Tim-veh-USA


Weah was one of the forwards guilty of missing a good chance (Photo: Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Despite all that, the US still struggled as they made it to the final third. This has been a common theme throughout their World Cup campaign. They have done well to control the run of play but have often struggled to convert their pressure into chances and goals.

Some of that is understandable – it’s hard for every team to score goals at the World Cup. Some of that is down to poor decision-making and execution in key areas on the field. We saw it again against Iran.

The misfires began in the second minute, when Pulisic squandered a chance to play Josh Sargent into the box, instead dribbling the ball away after a long run.

There was another poor decision in the 19th minute when McKenney didn’t see and failed to play a relatively easy through ball that left Pulisic one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Weah had what should have been a more dangerous chance in the 28th minute, heading a weak effort at goal when he had the time and space to get the ball down and hit a shot.

Five minutes later the US made all the right choices, but an open Weah missed the target completely from about 12 yards. He and Sargent also failed to attempt a shot on a two-on-two break at half-time.

Some excellent combination play between Weah, Musa and McKennie ended with Musa getting into trouble instead of playing a simple square pass that would have put Weah on the run into the area.

With the exception of the Weah goal that was disallowed for offside, those were six different moments in the first half where the US was in a good spot to attack, but failed to capitalize due to poor choices, poor execution, or a combination of the two.

Neither team is going to finish every solid offensive move, but the U.S. would have had a much, much less anxious evening if it had been a little more effective against Iran.

If he wants to make a run at the knockouts, he needs to be more clinical.

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(Top photo: Doug Zimmerman/ISI Photos/Getty Images)



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