USA World Cup mailbag: Predicting USMNT’s best lineup for win-or-go-home game against Iran

CBS Sports soccer analyst Grant Wahl is in Qatar to cover his eighth men’s World Cup. He will write inbox columns for CBS after each USMNT group stage game. The rest of his writing, including magazine-style stories, interviews and breaking news, can be found at GrantWahl.com.

DOHA, Qatar – I’m still buzzing after Friday’s game between the USA and England, which has set up a monumental must-win clash for the USA with Iran on Tuesday. Let’s dive into your questions!

“What’s the winning USA lineup for Tuesday?” — @Workingonup2

I’ll give you the lineup I’d go with and the lineup I think US coach Gregg Berhalter will go with:

My lineup: Matt Turner; Sergiño Dest, Walker Zimmerman, Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson; Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie; Gio Reyna, Tim Weah, Christian Pulisic.

The lineup I think Berhalter will go with: Turner; Dest, Zimmerman, Ream, Robinson; Adams, Musah, McKennie; Weah, Jesús Ferreira, Pulisic.

The USA need to score goals in this game and I remain convinced that Weah would be a better option at centre-forward than any of the USA’s nominal number 9s, who might as well be the drummers of Spinal Tap. Elevating Weah up top would give Reyna the chance to step in and make the difference he hasn’t been allowed to be yet at this World Cup. When you need goals, you should maximize the goal-producing creativity you possess (at least within reason). Iran will park the bus knowing that a draw takes them to the knockout rounds and Reyna could be the man to unlock that situation.

“Will someone other than Pulisic take the free kicks? — @akjoeroy

Pulisic was slightly better on his corner kicks against England, but he has still been poor in that area this tournament. Other options include Brenden Aaronson and Kellyn Acosta, but neither has started this tournament, so they haven’t had any real opportunities. I hope they get the chance at some point on Tuesday.

“Any official topics that FIFA needs to address? It looks like the extended time mandate is working. Are there any new issues they will need/want to address?” — @Todd9115

I’ve decided I like the new policy of having more minutes of overtime at the end of parts. It prevents teams from wasting time to the extent we’ve seen in the past, and as a result it just looks fairer to the game. What I would like to see is more cases where a referee goes to the VAR monitor to review a call. There have been a few times in this World Cup when I was surprised that a call was reviewed without the referee going to the monitor. It should happen more often.

“Given the minimal value of a draw, do you think the USA took enough risks against England to try and get the full three.” — @itschazhello

No, I don’t think the US did. Look, Berhalter got his tactics right in this game by adding some important wrinkles — going into a 4-2-2-2 in defense and playing McKennie wider than normal in attack — and surprised England by done this. The English scored six goals in the first leg, so to have a clean sheet against them after that was really impressive. That said, I wish Berhalter had brought in his subs much earlier than he did. His first sub didn’t come until the 77th minute and Reyna didn’t come on until the 83rd minute, which was about 23 minutes too late. I wish the USA had done more to win the game and earn a chance to win the group (which would be important in the overall scheme of trying to win the tournament).

“What’s the key to unlocking the USMNT attack? It’s definitely bigger than just changing strikers.” — @dougadams25

In practice, the USA worked extensively on two things: 1. trying to draw defenders and create space for players like Pulisic to run centrally into the opening created, and 2. attack vertically with width and then to hit attractive passes for players. like Musahu at the top of the box. We saw No. 1 hit when the USA scored against Wales, but it was a night when the USA had little central penetration. And we saw the No. 2 get it once in the second half against England, but Musah was unable to do anything with it. They know what they want to do, but have trouble executing it.

“Now that we’ve seen Iran play twice, do we have a good handle on what his strengths and weaknesses are? Or is it too small of a sample size?” — @jshecket

The sample size we have for Iran in this tournament is very small and very varied: a 6-2 defeat in which they were outplayed by England (who scored on almost all of their occasions) and a resurgent 2 -0 against Wales in which Iran improved from the start and benefited from the addition of Sardar Azmoun up top. Their coach, Carlos Queiroz, has become something of a coach park specialist in recent years, even when he coached Mohamed Salah’s Egypt during World Cup qualifiers. But all they need against the USA is a draw, so I don’t expect them to play with any kind of abandon. At the same time, I don’t think I’d say they’re a master class defensive team, so there will be opportunities for the USA to create scoring chances.

“What do you think US Soccer needs to do at the youth levels to start developing the number 9?” — @thomastortora1

The truth is that almost every country has a hard time developing elite center forwards these days. There are fewer of them in world football than there used to be, just as there are fewer elite-level centre-backs in today’s game. I remember a year ago, during World Cup qualifying, watching Ricardo Pepi score goals and wondering if the USA had finally found a world-class No. 9. That hasn’t happened — at least not yet, Pepi isn’t here — but it’s a great question. Scoring goals remains the hardest thing to do in sports.

“If it was possible to put the controversy aside, how has Qatar been hosting this World Cup for the fans, players and media?” — @GalaxyDude96

It is not really possible to set aside human rights, but I will answer your question. Security guards have been overpowered in harassing people wearing rainbow shirts and symbols and grabbing signs from Iranian women’s rights protesters. All of this is bad, obviously. From an organizational point of view, things have gone quite well. The logistics are easier when a World Cup is basically in one city and you don’t have to fly from place to place. It’s bad to not have beer or wine in our private residence, but I’m abiding by the laws here and occasionally having a drink when I go to a restaurant or hotel bar that has it. I feel safe here, which is good.

“What do you think it would take for Berhalter to keep his job after this tournament? Is getting out of the group enough or does he have to win a knockout round match? If he keeps the job after the tournament, is he stuck manage the 2026 team without qualifications?” — @zach13090

My feeling has been that the USA will have to make it to the knockout rounds for Berhalter to have a chance to remain as coach for the next cycle. The THINK he wants the job for the 2026 World Cup at home, although he hasn’t said so specifically. My personal feeling is that I am not a big fan of national team coaches having more than one cycle. If you look at history, teams tend to perform worse in the second cycle than in the first. But you’ll want to make sure you get an upgrade if you hire someone else. Since the U.S. won’t have to qualify for 2026, whoever is coaching in 2023 figures to be in charge of the World Cup.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the World Cup!

CBS Sports soccer analyst Grant Wahl is in Qatar to cover his eighth men’s World Cup. He will write inbox columns for CBS after each USMNT group stage game. The rest of his writing, including magazine-style stories, interviews and breaking news, can be found at GrantWahl.com.



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