The United States are moving on.
Both Iran and the USMNT came out with 4-3-3 starting lineups. It’s been a common setup for the U.S. under Gregg Berhalter, with Carlos Quieroz running it for the second straight World Cup game after opting for a back five against England.
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Some of the tactical changes for the U.S. included Cameron Carter-Vickers making his World Cup debut at right center back replacing Walker Zimmerman with Josh Sargent’s hold-up play at the No. 9 position being preferred over Haji Wright.
Yunus Musah also operated in the right central spaces with Weston McKennie swapping to the left, a difference from the United States’ first two group stage games.
As expected, the U.S. controlled the possession all throughout the first half, at one point reaching a whopping 69%. Iran settled with a 4-4-1-1 low block to break out in transition with Medhi Taremi and Sardar Azmoun as the outlets up top, but Tim Ream and Carter-Vickers cleaned up Iran’s long balls well.
Iran’s low block also emphasized being compact centrally to force the U.S. to play out wide, so Sergiño Dest and Antonee Robinson pushed up to hold the width and send in more crosses. That led to the U.S. getting in some 2-2-6 shapes up top with McKennie and Tyler Adams staying back and Musah joining the attack.
But Iran’s back four had some shaky moments where it wasn’t coordinated, and that came back to haunt the side when McKennie picked out Dest making a run in behind Iran’s left back with a lobbed through ball. Dest’s great first touch allowed him to send in a rapid cross into the box, which Pulisic fired home in the 38th minute.
However, Pulisic suffered an abdominal injury after Alireza Beiranvand’s knee collided with him right in front of the net. Pulisic managed to stick through until the first half ended, but Brenden Aaronson replaced him to start the second.
Iran expectedly went up another gear offensively for much of the second half. Most of the action came through crosses from the right-hand flank, but the U.S. either did well to clear the ball away or saw an Iran shot miss the target.
The U.S. locked in with the 4-4-2 midblock and low block it had success with against England, but the Stars and Stripes just couldn’t control possession as effectively compared to the first half.
Eventually Walker Zimmerman’s substitution in the 82nd minute for Tim Weah saw the U.S. revert to a 5-3-2/5-4-1 look with Musah and Aaronson pushing up to press depending what side the ball was.
In the end, the U.S. hung on with nine minutes of stoppage time added on.
Next up for the U.S. in the round of 16 is the Netherlands on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET, 7 a.m. PT at the Khalifa International Stadium. The Netherlands finished atop Group A with a 2-0 win over Senegal, a 1-1 draw to Ecuador and a 2-0 win against Qatar.