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USMNT finding its identity as contender at just right time
FIFA Club World Cup

USMNT finding its identity as contender at just right time

Updated Nov. 30, 2022 5:32 a.m. ET

DOHA, Qatar — The difference between contenders and pretenders at World Cups is simple. 

The best teams get the results they need when they need them. The others don’t. 

So, while the U.S. men’s national team might not be among the title favorites at Qatar 2022, despite beating Iran on Christian Pulisic’s first-half goal and advancing to the knockout stage, its ability to block out the pressure and the noise and grind out the victory that was required Tuesday shows there’s something special about this USMNT. 

"You have to enjoy that adversity, you have to enjoy the pressure that comes with a team throwing everything at you," central defender Tim Ream said after he and his teammates made Pulisic’s goal count by beating back attack after Iranian attack over 54 second-half minutes, including a whopping nine minutes of stoppage time. "If you don't enjoy it, and you start panicking, then bad things happen. I looked around and saw 11 calm guys on the field, doing everything they could, putting their bodies on the line, to make sure that the result stuck. 


"And what a fantastic result it is."

How far can the USMNT go?

Maurice Edu, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Stu Holden react to the United States' 1-0 win against Iran and discuss how far the USMNT can go in the World Cup.

No kidding. Not only did Tuesday’s victory set up a marquee round of 16 matchup with the Netherlands on Saturday (10 a.m. ET, FOX and the FOX Sports app), it marked the first time since the inaugural World Cup in 1930 that the U.S. has kept consecutive clean sheets on the global stage.

"The end of the game is really what I'm most proud of, because it's the mark of determination and an extreme amount of effort and resiliency to hang in there and get the win and not buckle," U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. 

After missing out on the last World Cup, the first goal of this rebuilt USMNT was to get back to the biggest event in sports. Once it qualified, the bare minimum became getting out of the group stage. But after blowing a late lead to Wales in its opener and settling for a tie, the team was under significant pressure, even after holding England to a scoreless draw in its second match. 

The U.S. found itself in the difficult position of having to beat a good Iranian side in its final group-stage game. Suddenly, a match already fraught because of the adversarial political relationship between the two countries became a must-win. 

Lesser teams would’ve crumbled under that sort of scrutiny. Instead, the fighting spirit of this historically green squad — the U.S. has fielded the three youngest lineups at this World Cup, with Tuesday’s being No. 1 — has been on display for all to see. 

"We're brothers, and we love the pressure"

Weston McKennie talks about how the U.S. held off Iran to reach the knockout round.

"You have guys making plays, picking each other up in tough moments, and we did that all game," goalkeeper Matt Turner said. 

They showed quality, too. As much as the final pass and shot were lacking for the Americans throughout the first round, Tuesday’s winner from Pulisic belongs in a museum. And it wasn’t a fluke. 

"We knew that they would struggle with diagonal balls behind the back line, and that's something we worked on," said midfielder Weston McKennie, who started the play that led to the goal with exactly that sort of pass. "We executed it to plan."

They also showed guts. Knowing full well he’d get crunched by Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, Pulisic still got to the spot he needed to after being set up by Sergiño Dest.

"He'll do anything for his team in order for us to win," U.S. captain Tyler Adams said of Pulisic. 

Overall, it was a mature performance from a team that is growing up before the eyes of the world. That evolving identity "starts to take shape based on these performances," Berhalter said. "You see how resilient this group is, you see how unified this group is, you see what type of energy output they put into every single game.

"And then along the way, there's some pretty good soccer. And so I think that's the American spirit the way this group plays. And I think people will appreciate that, especially back home."

Does Gregg Berhalter deserve more respect?

Alexi Lalas and David Mosse discuss whether Gregg Berhalter deserves more respect for his results with the USMNT.

After capping an undefeated record in the first round by winning when their backs were against the wall, fans new and old back home have a marquee tilt to look forward to this weekend. The Netherlands are three-time World Cup finalists and favorites, but this USMNT won’t go down without a fight. 

"We may be the underdog — the Dutch are a world power, and they've been that for many, many tournaments," winger Brenden Aaronson said.  "I think for us, it's just going in there with no fear and playing the way we have been this entire tournament."

If they do, there’s no reason the Americans can’t get the result that they’re after again.

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