By AnnaGrace Hale | Sports Writer
The United States Men’s National Team has just secured a spot in the knockout rounds of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and all of America could not be more excited. Head coach Gregg Berhalter’s squad has put up a solid performance thus far, and with the 1-0 victory against Iran, the team has shown the world it means serious business.
Going into the group round, there was a lot of skepticism surrounding this team after the September friendlies and the youth of the squad. However, the players have shown their strength as a unit, something that was in question in weeks past.
Group B was a relatively difficult set of teams composed of England, Wales and Iran. The U.S. emerged with a 1-0-2 record, which is pretty solid. Now, the USMNT go into the round of 16 undefeated.
In the last three matches, the USMNT hasn’t been perfect with some clinical errors and mistakes caused by nerves. There have been issues attacking and finishing in general, but overall a lot has been learned about this team.
Here are my three takeaways from the group stage:
Tyler Adams is an absolute beast on and off the field
Adams is a workhorse. There is no other way to put it. He’s in top form. The midfielder constantly runs, tracks down balls and pressures players. He leads by example. The 23-year-old is the youngest captain of the 2022 tournament, but he doesn’t show it. On the pitch, the Leeds United player is the heart of the team, distributing balls and making key plays.
Off the pitch, Adams impressively faces the media. Leading up to the Iran game, U.S. soccer posted a U.S. v. Iran match announcement on Twitter and Instagram displaying the Iranian flag without the country’s official emblem and two lines of Islamic script. The idea was to show support for the women in Iran. The Iranian government was livid, claiming the alteration was unethical and breached FIFA regulations.
That being said, tensions were high as the Iranian media asked questions during Monday’s press conference with Berhalter and Adams. The captain was asked a question about discrimination in the United States after being corrected for his pronunciation of Iran. Adams responded in a calm manner saying “there’s discrimination everywhere you go,” showing his maturity and fitness to lead this United States team.
Young players are stepping up in big-time moments
The 22-year-old Timothy Weah made big moves in the Wales matchup. The forward slotted the ball past the Welsh goalkeeper and became the first player to score in a World Cup against Wales since Pele in 1958. In the England and Iran match he could be seen working up and down the sideline, creating chances and looking dangerous.
Additionally, 24-year-old Christian Pulisic steps up as the face of the team. The forward is doing all the good for the United States. He put his body on the line and claimed the winning goal against Iran. He’s an asset to this U.S. team and played a big role in the Iranian matchup by lifting his team out of the group round.
USMNT needs some strikers who can finish
Right now, it seems that the top of Berhalter’s lineup is lacking a finisher. Although the team put two in the back of the net this tournament, the center forward position is not making much of an impact. Berhalter has tried a few players in that position with Josh Sargent and Haji Wright sitting up top. There is so much potential for that position, and it is not reaching its fullest with these players.
The best course of action would be to move Weah from outside forward to the middle position. He can capitalize on opportunities. Start another high-quality outside forward, like Gio Reyna or Brenden Aaronson out wide. This would create more chances on goal for the U.S. and hopefully propel it further into the tournament.
Looking at Saturday’s match against the Netherlands, the U.S. must show up once again. It held tournament favorite England to a draw in pool play, but can they capitalize against the Dutch? With a few tactical changes and the momentum gained from this game, it may have a chance.