USA World Cup mailbag: Predicting USMNT’s best lineup for win-or-go-home game against Iran

CBS Sports anchor Grant Wahl is in Qatar, covering the men’s World Cup eight. He will be writing the mailbag columns for CBS after every USMNT team game. All other articles, including magazine-style stories, interviews and feature articles, can be found at GrantWahl.com.

DOHA, Qatar – I am still buzzing after Friday’s relations between the US and England, which set up a very important conflict for the US and Iran on Tuesday. Let’s introduce ourselves with your questions!

“What’s the US winning team for Tuesday?” — — @Workingonup2

I’ll give you the list I’ll go with and the list I think US coach Gregg Berhalter will go with:

My team: Matt Turner; Sergiño Dest, Walker Zimmerman, Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson; Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie; Gio Reyna, Tim Weah, Christian Pulisic.

The program I think Berhalter will go with: Turner; Dest, Zimmerman, Ream, Robinson; Adams, Musah, McKennie; Weah, Jesús Ferreira, Pulisic.

It is clear that the US needs to score goals in this game, and I remain convinced that Weah would be a better choice than any of the American No. 1 names. 9s, which can also be the instruments of “Spinal Tap”. Taking Weah up would give Reyna the opportunity to step in and make the difference he hasn’t been allowed to in this World Cup. When you need goals, you have to maximize the goal-generating creativity you have (at least within reason). Iran are going to pack the bus knowing that a tie takes them to the knockouts, and Reyna could be the guy to unlock the situation.

“Is there anyone other than Pulisic who will take the free kicks?” — — @akjoeroy

Pulisic was better in his corner kick against England, but he is still underrated in this area in this tournament. Other options include Brenden Aaronson and Kellyn Acosta, but neither has started in this tournament, so they don’t have a real chance. I hope they get a chance sometime on Tuesday.

“What topics does FIFA need to address? It seems the extension order is working. Are there any new issues they will need/want to address?” — — @Todd9115

I have decided that I like the new policy of having extra minutes of time at the end of the half. It prevents teams from wasting time to the extent we’ve seen in the past, and as a result looks good for the game. What I would like to see is more times the referee goes to the VAR monitor to review the call. There were several times at this World Cup where I was surprised that the call was reviewed without the referee going to the monitor. It needs to happen often.

“Given the poor quality of the draw, do you think the US took enough risks against England to try and get the full three.” — — @itschazhello

No, I don’t think the US did. Lo and behold, Berhalter got his tactics right in this game by adding a few key twists – going into a 4-2-2-2 in defense and playing McKennie wider than usual in attack – and surprised England with to do so. The English scored six points in Game 1, so to have a clean sheet against them after that was truly impressive. That said, I wish Berhalter had brought in his subs earlier than he did. His first goal didn’t come until the 77th minute, and Reyna didn’t enter the game until the 83rd, which was about 23 minutes too late. I wish the US would have done more to try to win the game and get a chance to win the group (which would be important to the overall plan of trying to win the tournament).

“What’s the key to unlocking the USMNT’s attack? It’s definitely bigger than just changing the striker.” — — @dougadams25

In training, the US worked mainly on two things: 1. trying to take out the attackers and create space for players like Pulisic to run in the middle of the opening created, and 2. attacking directly wide and hit back-to-back passes. like Musah above the box. We saw No. 1 was achieved when the US scored against Wales, but it was good on a night when the US was not in the middle. And we saw No. 2 scored once in the second half against England, but Musah couldn’t do anything about it. They know what they want to do, but they have trouble doing it.

“Now we have seen Iran play twice, do we have a good way to deal with their strengths and weaknesses? Or is this too small of a sample size?” — — @jshecket

The example we have of Iran in this tournament is very small and very different: A 6-2 loss in which they were outplayed by England (who took advantage of all their chances) and a victory that came out hands of 2-0 against Wales there. Iran improved from the start and benefited from the addition of Sardar Azmoun at the top. Their coach, Carlos Queiroz, has become a master buster in recent years, even coaching Mohamed Salah-led Egypt during the World Cup. But all they need against the US is a tie, so I don’t expect them to play with any kind of abandon. At the same time, I don’t think I’d say they’re a top defensive team, so there will be opportunities for the US to create scoring opportunities.

“What do you think US Soccer should do at the youth level to start developing No. 9s?” — — @thomastortora1

The truth is that almost every country is struggling to develop a quality institution these days. There are fewer soccer fans around the world than there used to be, just as there are fewer elite supporters in today’s game. I remember last year during World Cup qualifying when we saw Ricardo Pepi scoring goals and asking if the US had finally gotten the world No. 9 ranking. It hasn’t been — not so, at least, since then. Pepi isn’t here — but that’s a very good question. Scoring goals is still the hardest thing to do in the game.

“Controversies aside, how was Qatar hosting the World Cup for the fans, players and media?” — — @GalaxyDude96

It is impossible to leave human rights aside, but I will answer your question. Security guards have been cracking down on people wearing rainbow shirts and signs and taking signs from Iranian protesters for women’s rights. All bad, of course. From an organizational perspective, things have gone very well. The arrangements are easy when the World Cup is in one city, and you don’t need to fly from one place to another. It is a shame not to drink beer or wine in our private accommodation, but I respect the rules here and drink a soft drink when I go to a hotel restaurant or bar that has one. I feel safe here, it’s good.

“What do you think it will take for Berhalter to keep his job after this tournament? Is getting out of the group enough or do you need to win the knockout game? Manage the 2026 team without qualifying?” — — @zach13090

My guess was that the US would need to advance in the knockout stages for Berhalter to have a chance to stay on as coach for the next round. I think he is looking for work for the 2026 World Cup at home, although he has not said so directly. My opinion is that I am not a big fan of national team trainers having more than one bike. If you look at history, teams tend to do worse in the second round than the first. But you want to make sure you have an upgrade if you hire someone else. Since the US will not have to qualify for 2026, whoever is the coach in 2023 has the number to manage the World Cup.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the World Cup!

CBS Sports anchor Grant Wahl is in Qatar, covering the men’s World Cup eight. He will be writing the mailbag columns for CBS after every USMNT team game. All other articles, including magazine-style stories, interviews and feature articles, can be found at GrantWahl.com.



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