Commentary

USA graduates from soccer to football before our eyes

The USA is through to the round of 16 at the 2022 World Cup.

It isn't the first time the USA has survived group play. It did it in its last two appearances in the tournament -- in 2010 and 2014 -- and before that in 1994 when it hosted the World Cup and in 2002 when it reached the quarterfinals.

The 2002 World Cup — in which U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter started the two knockout games — will be the reference for his team.

Berhalter's Americans achieved their goal of getting out of the knockout stage but will be disappointed if the round of 16 is the end of the line.

Most times the USA has played two good games in group play but then ran out of gas. The 2022 run is similar to what happened in 2010 when the USA opened with two ties and then needed to win its third game to advance.

In 2010, the 1-0 win came on Landon Donovan's memorable goal in stoppage time. On Tuesday night, Christian Pulisic's goal came a lot earlier — 38th minute —and at a great cost — he ended up in the hospital with what was diagnosed as a pelvic contusion. (He was back at the U.S. luxury hotel on the Pearl, though, to greet his teammates when they returned from their game.)

Both goals came on end-to-end plays:

2010: Howard pass to Donovan pass to Altidore pass to Dempsey shot saved and rebound to Donovan for the goal. Four players involved.

2022: Adams backpass to Turner clearance to Weah layoff to Musah pass to Dest pass to Adams pass to Jedi pass to Adams pass to McKennie pass to Dest header to Pulisic for the goal and crunching knee to the midsection.

What is different, of course, about the 2022 team is its youth.

The USA's starting lineup against Iran is the youngest starting lineup at the 2022 World Cup. And its starting lineups in the other two group games are the next two other youngest lineups in the tournament's first 36 games.

Its biggest test came on Tuesday night, a must-win game at the Al Thumama Stadium, and to its great credit it was oblivious to the heavily pro-Iranian crowd, bossing Iran in the first half.

On Monday, Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said he thought the USA was the most consistent and probably best team in Group B over the first two matchdays, so he said after Tuesday's match he wasn't surprised how the USA came out and deserved its lead.

The USA accomplished in 2022 what it could not do in 1998 in Lyon and that's beat Iran at the World Cup.

"I talked yesterday in the press conference about the 1998 game and the guys not having the appropriate intensity to compete against Iran — and today we had it," Berhalter said. "It was clear from the opening whistle."

"We believed in ourselves," he added. "We believed in what we were doing."

That is what's been so impressive about the USA's growth through the three games. Berhalter's youngsters do seem to believe in themselves and they look like they are having fun at it.

They've grabbed control of each of their three games — for long stretches — with their linkup play, the variety of their starting positions, the different channels they attack, their willingness to look for each other, and their generosity to help each other out. Almost always with short passes and interchanges.



In the USMNT's hierarchy of young stars, Tyler Adams, the general, Weston McKennie and Pulisic are at the top. It will be the underdog on Saturday when it faces the Netherlands, but the Dutch will want nothing to do with Sergino Dest, Yunus Musah and Timothy Weah popping up all over the field.

The frustrations with how the USA has struggled to close out the three Group B games stem from just how well it has played before then. And it is all relative.

"It's the first time in 92 years that we've had two shutouts at a World Cup," Berhalter said, "so the boys are doing something right."

Queiroz has been in the game too long to spin. He was right when he said the USA has graduated from soccer to football.

Photos: Chris Brunsklil and John Todd/ISI Photos

11 comments about "USA graduates from soccer to football before our eyes".
  1. Santiago 1314, November 30, 2022 at 7:53 a.m.

    I don't Know about Graduation.???
    Maturation; Yes
    Let's be Realistic;

    Eye-Ran.... CONcacaCrAPf Hexagonal Level Team, even down to the Bizarre, Disjointed Plays and Histrionics... Thank God we had a LaLiga FIFA Level Ref Crew that wasn't Sucked into their Mind Games.

    Wales... About as Good as Previous Versions of Canada, Not even Close to the Current Canada, and Look how they Got Spanked.!!!

    England ... Over Priced, Over Hyped, bunch of Prima Donnas due to BPL Quota of "English" Players needed on the Club Roster...
    A Good Team, Yes... But, Not at the Level of Brazil, France, New Spain, ... Maybe Croatia, Portugal, (Germany.???)(Argentina.???)...
    The fact they played in 3rd Gear against us makes it hard to Judge.
    Let's Face it: England has Never "Travelled" Well and I imagine they will get Exposed in the Knock Out Rounds.

  2. Barry Ulrich, November 30, 2022 at 9:39 a.m.

    When will our team incorporate "end of game time management?"  It is very difficult for the opponent to attack our goal if we are in possession.  GKs upfield usually result in the opponent coming right back on the attack.  Why can't we end the game possessing the ball rather than putting the fans in heart attack mode as the team furiously defends?

  3. Andrew Brown replied, November 30, 2022 at 10:56 a.m.

    Can't possess the ball when coach subs off people capable of being outlets for the defense, in favor of more defenders who also happen to be poor on the ball. 

    Reyna really could have made a difference at the end of the game to alleviate the pressure with his size and skill. The appearance of GGG having some beef with him is hard to get over. 

  4. Keith Tabatznik, November 30, 2022 at 12:48 p.m.

    The unreal amount of criticism of Berhalter now makes me angry and happy. I'm reminded of Carlos Parreira who was heavily criticized in Brazil for the way they won the World Cup! Many are criticizing GB for going 27-5-7 In competition games, unbeaten in WC group play w/0 GA in run of play. Damn - we must be getting like Brazil. 


    oh yeh - we started 11 players who now play in Europe. Never in my dreams could I see that coming. We are soccer. We are football and we have a lot of fans who care. Regardless of how I feel about Reyna not getting PR or when subs were made , I know this- we have a coach the players buy into and who are playing the best team soccer of their young lives. 

  5. R2 Dad replied, November 30, 2022 at 3:04 p.m.

    Keith, I can't unsee our match against Canada where we lost 0-2. Has GB been outcoached since then? Have GB's subs been timely and appropriate? I'd argue the subs from the Iran match prove he has not learned some needed lessons and will be exposed in the knock-out stages. I hope I'm wrong. 

  6. Keith Tabatznik, November 30, 2022 at 12:48 p.m.

    The unreal amount of criticism of Berhalter now makes me angry and happy. I'm reminded of Carlos Parreira who was heavily criticized in Brazil for the way they won the World Cup! Many are criticizing GB for going 27-5-7 In competition games, unbeaten in WC group play w/0 GA in run of play. Damn - we must be getting like Brazil. 


    oh yeh - we started 11 players who now play in Europe. Never in my dreams could I see that coming. We are soccer. We are football and we have a lot of fans who care. Regardless of how I feel about Reyna not getting PR or when subs were made , I know this- we have a coach the players buy into and who are playing the best team soccer of their young lives. 

  7. Karl Schreiber, November 30, 2022 at 1:06 p.m.

    Hi Paul.


    I am surprised about the title. Soccer is a legitimate name for our game. It was derived in the U.K. from "association football" during the formative years of organized soccer via the abbreviation "assoc" as far as I learned. 


    I believe "Soccer" is a valid term for the world's game, football. Your headline makes it sound like a lower-class version of the game.


  8. Mat Santoro, November 30, 2022 at 1:10 p.m.

    It's still called "soccer". Attempting to speak like Brits is not progress. 

  9. Tim Lenahan, November 30, 2022 at 7:09 p.m.

    Do you think that Berhalter wants to sub McKinney, Dest, Sargent and Weah.  He has no choice in Dest and Weah as their fitness level was not at 90 minute level coming in...he HAS to sub those guys or risk injury.  It takes 6 games to me match fit, hopefully they are getting closer.  The problem is Yedlin, Wright and Moore have been choice but not sure what the options were. I'd be surprised to see them again.  As far as closing up shop with 15 mins left, it works more often than not.  This time it did.  Barely but you can't argue with a result.

  10. R2 Dad replied, November 30, 2022 at 8:05 p.m.

    Maybe we can get away with this in the group stage but will get punished for any wrong moves from here on. Subbing out your ball-handling guys for defensive-type players is the equivalent of using a Prevent defense in the 4th quarter and hoping to hang on.  That strategy doesn't work, and defeats the positive attacking mindset. Even trying to run out the clock I want to see our ball-handling guys at the corner flag instead of MLS kickball types clearing balls into the upper deck.

  11. Greedy Striker, December 2, 2022 at 6:16 p.m.

    There's a lack of true big-game international experience in this squad, so considering some of the other teams who have already been knocked out, anything further than this is playing with house money.

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