FIFA Men's World Cup
Forget tactics and lineups: For USMNT, it's all about their mentality
FIFA Men's World Cup

Forget tactics and lineups: For USMNT, it's all about their mentality

Updated Nov. 28, 2022 5:36 p.m. ET

Tactics in soccer are great. They are fascinating. Diving into them allows for a deeper look into the game, an embrace of the chess-match element inherent in the sport, and a whole new series of rabbit holes to go down.

But not today. Not now. 

Not with the United States faced with a Qatari night of chilling simplicity in which it must beat Iran (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App) or suffer the Outcome-That-Must-Not-Be-Named: elimination from the World Cup at the group stage.

Now is not the time for the X's we love and the O's that are just as much fun. Now is not the time for the American soccer fan, new or old, to ruminate and postulate on the wisdom of 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, because, heck, if things go a certain way, and they need a goal late, it might just end up 0-0-11.


Should U.S. be worried about Iran?

Alexi Lalas and David Mosse react to Iran's victory over Wales and what their passionate victory means for the United States in the final match of group-stage play.

It is not a time for formations or even selections, though of course that won't stop those who consume the game in a certain way to hold court about whether Gio Reyna should start, or Haji Wright should be benched, or if Brenden Aaronson should come on, and when, and in place of whom. That's OK — it's just that there's other stuff that matters more, just this once.

"We believe it's going to be a match where the result will depend on who puts more effort in," Berhalter said. "And executes better on the field."

Best believe Iran is going to bring the passion. Yes, there is a whirlwind of political intrigue surrounding the 90 minutes, but the USA's opponent is also a group that got thrashed 6-2 in its first game and found a way to shrug it off, beat Wales and occupy second place in Group B.

Berhalter did not make the American roster as a player in 1998, the last time the USA played Iran at the World Cup, but he commentated on the game for Dutch television and remains haunted by what he witnessed.

"That game just sticks in my mind, burns in my mind," he said of Iran's 2-1 victory 24 years ago. "What I saw from the opening whistle was one team that wanted to win the game and one team that didn't really want to win the game. 

"Iran wanted to win the game with everything they did. Really committed, really focused. For us to have a chance to advance tomorrow, that's going to have to be the mindset. We don't want to make the same mistakes as the past. We want to learn from that."

Iran-United States preview

The "FIFA World Cup Tonight" breaks down the USMNT's do-or-die match with Iran on Tuesday.

Victory on Tuesday at Al Thumama Stadium, and a place in the round of 16 is assured, where shoulders can be rubbed with the elite nations of world soccer and everyone can feel pretty happy about things. Tie or lose, and a plane ticket home will be waiting in the locker room. It's that simple. Let's not complicate it.

The team that emerges from this — a battle between the second-youngest squad in the event and the very oldest — will be the one that wants it more. The one prepared to give that little bit extra. The one who finds inspiration in the starkness of the situation and seeks to devour the opportunity.

"This is certainly one of the moments," Berhalter added. "We are not looking backward. There is no talk about the performance against Wales or England. It is all about how we can be successful against Iran. What I see from the group is a huge amount of focus. There is no real distraction from how do we get a win."

If things remain tight and Iran creeps closer to the tie that would serve them nicely, you can forget about tactics. Formations go out the window. Defensive duties get deliberately ignored. 

Caution? What caution?

If it goes down that way, it will be thrilling to watch. It will also be terrifying, and mean that the danger of elimination looms, like it did in 2010 when Landon Donovan rescued the day. And in 2006, when the USA found no such savior.

Will USMNT's striker problems be costly?

Alexi Lalas and David Mosse break down the USMNT's limitations in the striker position and whether it could present a problem.

By then, yes, Reyna, the 20-year-old uber-talent from Borussia Dortmund, would almost certainly be on the field, if of course, he doesn't make his first start of the tournament. Heck, it wouldn't be totally beyond the realm of possibility that all three pure strikers — Josh Sargent, Haji Wright and Jesus Ferreira — end up out there. 

In 2010, in the closing moments against Algeria, back-up front-man Edson Buddle found himself introduced, in an unfamiliar role on the left, just so that Bob Bradley could get guys on the pitch who knew how to finish.

Berhalter isn't going in without a game plan, but neither will he want his group to be encumbered by the bounds of conformity. He needs to see spirit and ferocity. No room for any hesitation. 

"I think it is always going to be a combination (of tactics and mentality), but make no mistake about it, this is a knockout game for both teams," he said. "It is going to be a high-level intensity. I love what Iran has done so far, especially the last game (a 2-0 win against Wales). A lot of commitment, a lot of good counterattacking. And we expect it to be a hotly contested game. We will be ready for it."

Us too, Gregg. Ready for the firepower. Ready for the bravery. Ready for your team to show their mettle.

In whatever formation, combination or permutation you choose, because this time, that's not what counts.

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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.


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