AL KHOR, Qatar — United States captain Tyler Adams passionately urged his players to show the mental strength needed to produce a historic victory in their all-or-nothing showdown with Iran on Tuesday, a clash that will decide the squad’s World Cup fate.
After Friday’s impressive 0-0 tie with England, Adams and his colleagues know they have to beat Iran (Tuesday, 2 p.m. ET on FOX and FOX Sports app) to qualify for the knockout stage, and that failing to do so will result in elimination.
He insisted that a resolute mindset was the key to emerging from Group B — in what would be a significant achievement for Gregg Berhalter’s young squad.
“We know what we have to do in the last game and I think that’s important that you have that mentality,” Adams said. “We definitely can’t get ahead of ourselves and dig a hole. It won’t be an easy win; we have to compete.
“Now that we have gotten here and tested ourselves against quality opponents, it feels good but we can’t be too happy with ourselves. We must iron out the negatives before the last game.”
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With the Americans having tied both of their first two matches, it is natural that comparisons have been drawn with the 2010 campaign in South Africa. Back then, Landon Donovan scored the most famous goal in USA soccer history with a late winner against Algeria, following two ties.
“It is exciting, but hopefully not as dramatic as [Donovan’s] goal,” Adams said of Tuesday’s match. “We don’t want to leave it until the end.”
The magic of the World Cup is that it generates big moments. And, of course, the biggest moments are the ones that stick in the mind, drawing in fans and creating memories.
That is the opportunity that lies ahead for a team that is fully aware of the national support that is beginning to grow behind it.
“I feel like today the whole world will see that the United States can do big things, but I guess that time will tell and you can’t just do it for one game — you have to do it consistently,” midfielder Yunus Musah said.
“I know that the audience back home supports us so much. It is nice to inspire the future generations. This World Cup is going to be there forever and future generations are going to watch this and want to be like us. I am very grateful the place I am in right now to be doing that.”
And so, it all boils down to this. Having gone into the second round of matches with almost limitless permutations, there is clarity, and it is simple, no worries of goal differential or countback or fretting about other results.
“We are nowhere near where we want to be and we still have a lot left to do in this tournament,” said forward Christian Pulisic, who was named Player of the Match against England.
Just win, baby. Just win — albeit no easy task against an Iran side that was motivated and energized in beating Wales 2-0 earlier in the day.
“It sets up our first knockout game of the World Cup,” Berhalter said. “We win or we are out of the World Cup. We have to understand the intensity Iran is going to bring. We are going to have to be up for it if we are going to have a chance to advance.”
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World Cups are all about pride and passion. Time and again over the years teams with a special sense of spirit and willingness have outperformed the odds. Is this American side one of those? We will soon find out.
Regardless, they have already gained the respect of one of world soccer’s preeminent nations. England is ranked fifth, but was outplayed for long stretches by Berhalter’s men.
England midfielder Jordan Henderson spoke of the efforts Gareth Southgate’s group went to in preparing for the match.
“We certainly approached the game as if they were a top team,” Henderson said. “I’m not sure who is thinking that [they aren’t], but they have got some really good players, they were organized. We knew it was going to be difficult and it certainly turned out that way.”
Game 3 awaits. History is there for the taking.
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