The United States men’s national team has to score more goals than Iran to reach the World Cup knockout rounds.
Isn’t that just the perfect test for the Gregg Berhalter era of the program?
The USMNT has kept eight clean sheets in 14 matches this year, including Friday’s 0-0 with England and a September friendly draw with Saudi Arabia.
The quality of those clean sheets is strong, especially given the Saudis performances in Qatar, but it’s the other side where Gregg Berhalter has to find answers.
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And the Yanks can’t count on one goal being enough, what with Iran scoring twice against England and twice again in its win over Wales.
And while Team Melli did allow six goals to England and two to Tunisia and Algeria, they’ve also held Senegal to a 1-1 draw and blanked Uruguay. Carlos Queiroz’s men certainly won’t be any more worried about the Yanks than they were any of those previous tests.
So how can Gregg Berhalter unlock the USMNT’s offensive capabilities, bringing the side that scored thrice versus Morocco — Brenden Aaronson, Tim Weah, Haji Wright — and delivered the same amount of goals in a memorable 3-2 win over Mexico in the CONCACAF Nations League Final?
We have some ideas.
Let it Reyna
There’s been tons of pressure on Gregg Berhalter regarding the playing time of Giovanni Reyna, the 20-year-old Borussia Dortmund starlet who has been injured for much of his recent tenure with the USMNT.
Reyna went unused against Wales and played just seven minutes against England, and Berhalter hasn’t used the youngster more than 45 minutes in six appearances this year.
Reyna played an hour or more in his first seven caps, scoring against Panama and Northern Ireland before getting a goal and an assist in that CNL Final match versus Mexico.
While fitness has limited his minutes, not appearances, for Dortmund over the past month, Reyna does have two goals and both came in matches where he went over an hour.
Berhalter, however, has often made the more popular choice once the lights get brightest and there will be no time brighter for his tenure if they fail to beat Iran.
Look to England (and Morocco)
Carlos Queiroz has only been at the Iranian wheel for a half-dozen matches and he’s barely used the 4-1-4-1 that the side made a staple of its World Cup qualifying run.
A 5-4-1 against England saw the Three Lions put up six goals while a 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders helped beat Wales 2-0, as Queiroz has made it difficult to predict his plan for a given game.
So it becomes imperative that Berhalter put his best foot forward and take the game to Iran.
England’s attack-minded 4-3-3 was too much for Iran and the Yanks will hope for the same. And maybe Berhalter will look to that last offensive outburst against a decent side, the 3-0 defeat of Morrocco that saw Christian Pulisic set up two goals.
That night saw Berhalter use Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, and Brenden Aaronson in midfield and Christian Pulisic, Jesus Ferreira, and Tim Weah atop the attack. The Yanks scored twice in the first half through Aaronson and Weah, then Pulisic won a second-half penalty that sub Haji Wright deposited for a 3-0 that was deserved but closer than the score line.
McKennie and Luca de la Torre were subs after the hour mark and it would be a risk not to play the former from the opening whistle. It’s easy to guess that Berhalter’s plan was always to use a different center forward in each group stage match, but did Haji Wright or Josh Sargent do enough in the first two games to change his mind?
Move Timmy to the tippy top
Tim Weah’s got the lone goal of the tournament and it came through the middle as Pulisic spotted the Lille man driving into the box and Weah snapped the ball past the oncoming keeper.
While Weah likes being out wide and is even more of a midfielder for Lille, putting him at center forward allows Berhalter to use Giovanni Reyna or Brenden Aaronson on the opposite wing of Pulisic.
And he could even play both Reyna and Aaronson if he shortens McKennie’s time for fitness reasons, slotting Reyna atop Adams and Musah.
Do nothing different, expect young team to grow
This one sounds sillier than it is in practice.
Berhalter made just one change between Wales and England, and the difference was muted between the first halves and miles better in the second segments.
The coach may feel that the team learned from its early second-half woes versus Wales given the complete performance against England. And he’s already changed his mind on unit rotation from his World Cup qualifying claims that rotation was good because he’d have to do it at the World Cup.
When all’s said and done, Berhalter wouldn’t be crazy to think this same team playing the same way in the first half would finally get that early goal they’ve earned over two very decent first-45 performances at this tournament.