Something seems to be missing in all this hoopla over the lovely, $95 million building itself in Houston.
But what is it? Let’s see … oh!
The game itself. League play. Three points. You know, the essence of what this whole thing is about.
When it comes to stadiums, most of us are like little kids, distracted by pretty or glistening things that cross our field of vision. So we’re too busy oohing and awing to remember that 22 men are about to take things seriously down on the green, green grass, never mind the din and hulabaloo.
Houston has done OK so far, starting that seven-game road challenge to open 2012 in a good way but running out of pep and petrol on the back side. Wednesday’s loss in New York finished the gauntlet at a respectable 2-3-2.
But now it’s time to make this place their orange house of pain. First up opposition-wise just happens to be one of Major League Soccer’s hottest clubs, D.C. United.
Luckily somebody was standing watch on the sporty side of this thing. Here a preview of the game itself from our peacock partners over at NBC:
Matt Turner: 6.5 — Some nervy moments late but the Arsenal backup again showed command of his box even when his body didn’t follow-through on good decisions.
Antonee Robinson: 9 — There’s an argument to be made that “Jedi” was the player of the round for the USMNT. He made a few rescue tackles and crosses from the left were few and far between.
Tim Ream: 8 — Quick, someone ask the coach if the guy who played every minute of the group stage is now a good fit for his system.
Cameron Carter-Vickers: 7 — Terrific when the U.S. had the ball and mostly good at the back, too. Is a good fit as a RCB in the back three, if that’s something Berhalter pulls out again.
Sergino Dest (Off 82′): 9 — While Pulisic’s goal was the moment of the game and Musah delivered several other moments, the fullbacks were the story of the entirety. Dest’s assist was massive, too (obviously).
Tyler Adams: 8 — He rarely has bad games in a USMNT shirt, and there’s a reason he has the captain’s arm band when most teams would’ve automatically allocated it to Pulisic.
Yunus Musah: 8.5 — It’s fair to say the U.S. hasn’t had as a complete a midfield duo in Musah and Adams in two decades, if not longer. Musah was monstrous
Weston McKennie (Off 65′): 6.5 –Still working his way to match sharpness over the hour-plus, and you can pen him in for a start and a sub in every game the rest of the way.
Tim Weah (Off 82′): 7.5 — The team’s second-biggest threat, could’ve had this match salted away at the hour mark with a hat trick on another day.
Josh Sargent (On 75′): 7 — Yeoman’s work from the Norwich City man, who limped off after landing awkwardly on the ball.
Christian Pulisic (Off HT): 8 — Scoring a round-clinching goal in a World Cup game is a really good way to cement your status in a national team program. His abdominal injury required a precautionary trip to the hospital. Fingers are crossed. So are toes. And any new appendages that might evolve.
Brenden Aaronson (On HT):7 — A busy boy in his half, had Iran just as enraged as he’s had Premier League opponents
Kellyn Acosta (On 65′):6.5 — Job done.
Haji Wright (On 75′): 6.5 — See above.
Walker Zimmerman (On 82′):8 — A goal-line clearance and all the aerials duels you knew would be won when he was plugged into the lineup, were won. Three clearances in 10-plus minutes.
Shaq Moore (On 82′): 6 — Wyd, Gregg? Moore’s only job should’ve been to shut down crosses. He didn’t.
“Proud. First half we showed what we can do soccer wise. Second half we showed what we could do determination wise. The guys grinded. They gave every single ounce of energy. We are undefeated going into the knockout round,” Berhalter said.
He was then asked about his nerves late on as Iran almost scored in the 99th minute when Mehdi Taremi nearly got on the end of a ball into the box.
“This new injury time, counting every second, it is stressful. I think I have less hair on my head now,” Berhalter smiled. “We will take it and we will move on and we will go battle Holland.”
Christian Pulisic injury update
Pulisic, the goalscoring hero, was subbed out at half time after getting hit in the abdominal area when he scored the winning goal.
Asked about the status of the USMNT and Chelsea star, here is what Berhalter had to say.
“No update on his status but I’ve been saying all along, ‘it’s a wonderful thing when one of your best players is also one of your hardest working.’ He is certainly that. I can’t say enough positive things about Christian.”
Another update from Fox said Pulisic was taken to the hospital after the injury.
The Welsh have not made the most of their second trip to the World Cup in their history. They were dominated in the first half of their opener against the U.S. but showed good spirit to battle back for a point late on. Against Iran they were second best throughout and a late red card to Wayne Hennessey was followed by two late Iranian goals and Robert Page could have no complaints as his team failed to show up. Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale have had superb careers but injuries have hit them hard in recent years and this looks like a tournament too far for Wales’ star duo.
As for England, the vultures are circling back home as Gareth Southgate is under pressure once again for what many believe are overly cautious tactics. Against the U.S. they huffed and puffed without really creating clear-cut chances and were pretty lucky to escape with a draw. Even though England are all but guaranteed a spot in the last 16, the Three Lions fans expect more from Harry Kane and Co. after they reached the World Cup semifinals four years ago and were runners up in the European Championships just over a year ago. Southgate is expected to make quite a few changes to his lineup as the likes of Phil Foden, Kalvin Phillips and Marcus Rashford could feature from the start.
Current FIFA world ranking: 19
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 1
How they qualified: Qualified from UEFA via playoffs, Path B
Coach: Rob Page
Key players: Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies
England quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 5
World Cup titles: 1 (1966)
World Cup appearances: 15
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA
Coach: Gareth Southgate
Key players: Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Pickford
It’s difficult not to feel good for Christian Pulisic, no longer the young sparkplug hopeful of reaching his potential.
The next great American player actually became the next great American player, and our enduring World Cup-related memory of him was in qualification; The teenage goal scorer who didn’t find a teammate to also score in Couva as the Yanks crashed out of the tournament.
Now the enduring World Cup image of him, rightly so, is as a gamer. Pulisic scored a round-sealing goal while getting kicked in the nether region.
Then his teammates needed to hold on tight.
They mostly did! The USMNT stayed firm after Gregg Berhalter stopped going for the second goal, removing several attackers in favor of Walker Zimmerman and Shaq Moore.
It was nervy, but they did it. And the U.S. moves forward…
Stars of the Show
Christian Pulisic goal video: Dest cues up USMNT star
There has also been some off-field tension brewing between the U.S. and Iran surrounding this game, as Gregg Berhalter and captain Tyler Adams responded to in a tense press conference amid questions from the Iranian press.
🗣 "The players and the staff knew nothing about what was being posted."
USA head coach Gregg Berhalter responds to the social media post by the US Soccer Federation which featured the Iran flag without the islamic republic emblem #FIFAWorldCuppic.twitter.com/mRzhQW0vNs
Current FIFA world ranking: 20
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 5
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC (Won Group A)
Coach: Dragan Skocic
Key players: Ehsan Hajsafi, Sardar Azmoun, Mehdi Taremi
USA quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 16
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 9
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONCACAF (3rd place)
Coach: Gregg Berhalter
Key players: Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams
The youngest starting XI at #Qatar2022 thus far. 🇺🇸