USA v Iran was a referendum on Gregg Berhalter’s leadership. He won | USA

gregg Berhalter knows all about the increased importance of thin margins in the World Cup. As an American defender, he was denied an equalizer in the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup when a handball down the line by Germany’s Torsten Frings went unpenalized. The United States lost 1-0.

If Iran had shown more composure in the box on Tuesday, they might have taken the point they needed to finish above the United States, and instead of looking forward to a game Drawn in the round of 16 against the Netherlands on Saturday, the American head coach would have faced an uncertain future.

But counting heart-in-mouth moments, total time spent looking through fingers, and length of fingernails bitten aren’t stats that count in official rankings, so what matters is that states United finished second in Group B behind England. Right where their talent level suggested they should be.

As a result, Berhalter almost certainly gained some long-term job security. Barring a change in standard practice as co-hosts USA won’t come up against the potential tripwire of a Concacaf qualifying campaign, so he’s likely to still be in charge of the 2026 tournament, when many members of the rapidly improving current squad are expected to be at their peak.

Pretty much or not, this 59th match for Berhalter in charge was a referendum on his entire term. And he won. Faster, stronger, smarter and more skilful than their opponents, a program in perpetual quest for respect, a nation which did not even qualify for the final four years ago, is in the last 16 of the Cup of the world.

This is what the United States expected and what the coach needed. risky undertaking, leading the most talented group of footballers your country has ever produced. Finishing below Wales and Iran would not have been a good idea.

They hit the bare minimum while implementing Berhalter’s grand vision: youth, energy and a possession-based style that, without suspending disbelief too much, might make you think you’re watching one of the best teams in the world. .

Of course, it’s choppy and some flaws are still evident, most notably the lack of goal threat to the striker. This is a team of purple spots and gray areas. Injuries to Christian Pulisic and the fitness of Josh Sargent and Weston McKennie are cause for concern ahead of the clash with the Netherlands, although even at full strength the United States would be the underdogs. Some of Berhalter’s substitutions are confusing.

But if we’re going to play “what if?” from the Iranian point of view, we can also do it from the American point of view: what if Tim Weah’s knee had not been offside when he ran without faults and finished with aplomb at the end of the first half? The second period would have been much quieter with the advantage of two goals which was the least deserved by the superiority of the Americans.

After a quirky buildup featuring a Gio Reyna conspiracy theory, a social media stunt and questions about his influence on US foreign policy, he barely registered on the weird-o-meter that Berhalter has dropped Walker Zimmerman, a trusted starter at centre-back. for more than a year, in favor of the much less experienced Cameron Carter-Vickers.

Gregg Berhalter replaced Walker Zimmerman with Cameron Carter-Vickers, who acquitted himself well
Gregg Berhalter replaced Walker Zimmerman with Cameron Carter-Vickers, who acquitted well. Photography: Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images

With his job on the line, against a nation with Qatar’s oldest roster and winless in their last five matches, Berhalter – boss of the tournament’s second-youngest team – chose his youngest roster from the three groups. Games.

No one accuses the coach of an unwavering loyalty to “his boys”; it turns out he’s ready to mix up his players as well as his sneakers. The change, which came after Zimmerman played well in a hugely creditable goalless draw with England, was another example of the ruthless streak Berhalter demonstrated by knocking out goalkeeper Zack Steffen and striker Ricardo Pepi when he named its 26-man roster for the tournament.

The risk of pairing Carter-Vickers with Tim Ream for the first time paid off. Both impressed – the 24-year-old physique and the bearded veteran with the look of a lumberjack and the anticipation of a chess grandmaster.

Up front, Sargent, restored to the starting XI, was a valuable and busy contributor until injury struck – but mostly with his back to goal. When it came time to take shelter from the storm, Berhalter brought in Shaq Moore, a right-back who barely featured in Concacaf qualifying, rather than DeAndre Yedlin, the lone player roster with World Cup experience from a previous final. It was a bet that paid less dividends.

The general pattern of play was similar to the Americans’ opener against Wales: first-half dominance netted just one goal, creating an anxious second half as cautious and limited opponents left their bunker looking for an equalizer. The difference here was that the United States had not made a decisive error.

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Still, USA keeper Matt Turner didn’t need a save until the final 10 minutes, and the team showed they could cope without their talisman after striker Pulisic suffered an injury at the break.

Entering the tournament, Berhalter had to work out personnel issues, such as who to play against the striker and centre-back. But the key question was more fundamental, and perhaps largely beyond his control: would the pressure make this band of World Cup novices shrivel or swell? Now we know.

Like another high-level American manager put it: “It’s a big game, man… They did it, God loves them.” The much-questioned and debated Berhalter has earned his right not to be guessed – at least until the weekend.

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