It may not have been altogether pretty, but the United States got the job done. Despite a second half surge from the Iranians, including a couple desperate penalty appeals, the USMNT held firm and ensured that the “pelvic contusion” that Christian Pulisic suffered while guiding Sergiño Dest’s headed cross into the back of the net was not in vain.
The flow of the game was quite similar to that of the opener against Wales in that the United States dominated the first half but were only able to put one of their chances away. Pulisic’s aforementioned opening goal came in the 38th minute, and was deserved based on the US’ performance up to that point. In first half stoppage time, Tim Weah looked to have scored the United States’ second with a lovely finish reminiscent of his goal against Wales, but the flag went up and the semi-automated VAR decision confirmed that his knee was just offside. Iran registered 0.00 xG in that first half, while the US had 0.86 xG. It safe to say the American’s lead was earned.
However, the second half was much more balanced, if not leaning the way of the Iranians. Pulisic’s injury forced him off at half-time for Brendan Aaronson, and Berhalter’s substitution of Weston McKennie for Kellyn Acosta in the 65th minute showed a clear intention to defend and hold on to their lead. Iran certainly opened up a bit, but the US were unable to take advantage. They should have scored a second, especially during the later stages of the game, but substitutes Haji Wright and Shaq Moore were awful after coming on, and instead the US had to hold on for dear life.
Berhalter brought on Walker Zimmerman and switched to a 5 back, which did hold firm. Iran won the xG battle in the second half with 0.42 to the United States’ 0.32, similar to Wales, but unlike in that game, the United States did not crumble and did not allow a tournament-ending equalizer to get past Matt Turner. They found a way to win and advance through the group for the second consecutive World Cup appearance.
The United States will now face the Netherlands in the Round of 16, a formidable opponent with a very similar recent story as the Americans. After making a deep run in the 2014 World Cup which saw them lose in the Semi-Finals to Argentina only on penalties, they failed to qualify in 2018, just like the US. Now, they have returned to the knockouts on the back of three strong defensive performances which has only seen them concede 1 goal across all 3 group stage games, just like the US. Both teams will be tough tests for the other, and the matchup promises to deliver an intense affair on Saturday. Can the United States win their first World Cup knockout game since defeating rivals Mexico in 2002? There’s only one way to find out.