Three keys to the USMNT defeating Iran and advancing to the 2022 World Cup knockout stage

DOHA, Qatar — The U.S. men know exactly what they have to do against Iran on Tuesday to advance to the knockout rounds of the World Cup.

Win.

The question is how. Iran coach Carlos Queiroz called the Americans “the most consistent” team in Group B, and “probably even the team that made the best two performances in the tournament in our group.” It’s a nice compliment, but it hasn’t gotten the USMNT much.

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So how does the USMNT get the three points it will take to reach the round of 16? Here are three keys.

Score goals

Christian Pulisic was one of the USMNT players who had a great chance at a goal against England, but just missed the back of the net.
Christian Pulisic was one of the USMNT players who had a great chance at a goal against England, but just missed the back of the net.

Sounds simple, I know. But the Americans had multiple chances to score in each of the first two games and have all of one goal.

Had Josh Sargent connected against Wales early, the USMNT would be in a far more secure position. Had the shot Weston McKennie skied against England or the one Christian Pulisic banged off the crossbar been a few feet lower, the Americans could get through with a draw and maybe even a loss.

“It’s hard to come by goals. And that’s what we’ve found,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said Monday. “For us, it’s about how do we put our players in position to create chances and get on the end of chances. We’ve been defending really well and that keeps you in the game.

“We know in this game, we’re going to need to score a goal, that’s going to have to happen. So we stay calm, we have a plan and we go out and try to execute that plan.”

Specifically, the USMNT needs to tighten up in the final third. Players said after both the Wales and England games that they needed to be sharper in transition so they can make that final pass. Or make it a good one.

And when they do get a shot, they have to make it count.

“If you create 100 chances, at least one of them’s gonna go in eventually,” McKennie said. “So the most important thing was that we created the chances and that we can be a threat. And that’ll just build.”

The Americans also need to get something off set pieces.

Pulisic’s delivery on corner kicks in the England game was excellent, but the USMNT couldn’t capitalize. Players need to not only be in position for Pulisic’s initial service, but be ready to pounce on any rebounds or clearance attempts.

“It’s going to come down to little things on set pieces,” Walker Zimmerman said. “We definitely need to work on those and make sure that that can be a real strength of ours because I think we have the personnel to score goals off of set pieces.”

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Be wary of Iran late

The USMNT should know this after conceding a penalty to Wales in the 81st minute, but it must stay aggressive and not let up as the game is winding down. Because Iran will for sure make the Americans pay.

Of Iran’s four goals this World Cup, three have come after the 90th minute.

It got one against England in the 13th minute of stoppage time, a minute before the final whistle blew. It got its first against Wales in the eighth minute of stoppage time and the second in the 11th, two minutes before the game ended.

“They’ve scored really, really late goals,” Matt Turner said. “And I know they were losing pretty badly to England but they still stayed in every game. They don’t stop.”

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Don’t fall for the gamesmanship

This is Queiroz’s fourth World Cup, and he’s savvy enough to know that late-game shenanigans can bait teams – inexperienced ones, especially – into doing dumb things.

With the exception of a bit of chippiness in response to Wales’ physicality, the young Americans have mostly been able to maintain their composure. It probably doesn’t hurt that they play in Concacaf, where gamesmanship is an art form.

But this is the World Cup and there’s a lot on the line. If Iran gets dirty with Pulisic, say, or is time wasting late, the Americans need to keep their emotions in check.

“You look at every single team in the World Cup and they all have a different kind of style. Different ways of gamesmanship. That’s the nature of this sport, that’s the nature of our game,” said Tim Ream, the oldest member of the USMNT.

“It’s not something you can overly prepare for, but it’s an understanding that it’s going to happen and you have to keep your cool and not let it bother you.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USMNT needs a win vs. Iran at World Cup: Here's how it can be done