Well, this is it. Eight years after the heartbreaking but classic match against Belgium, five since the failure in Trinidad, and a few long days since an impressive draw against England, the United States Men’s National Team needs a win against Iran to qualify for the knockout stage of this tournament; a draw or a loss will not do. If you told American fans before the tournament that this would be the case, most would have been ecstatic, but those people would likely not be aware that Iran themselves would have just pulled off a huge win over Wales. That triumph leaves them in need of just a draw to advance; they’ll be sitting tight behind the ball, patiently waiting for the talented but youthful American side to make a mistake. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for the biggest game for the American- or Iranian- team in quite some time.
USA Vs. Iran Odds
USA are favored in this one with +105 odds to win and qualify, while Iran are set at +300 to win with the draw sitting at +235. The goalscoring total, as always, is set at 2.5, with the under being a pretty decent favorite at -170
USA Vs. Iran Prediction & Pick
It’s been a tournament of draws so far for the United States, one that felt pretty good, the other not so much. The draw to Wales was something of a letdown after having led for the better part of an hour, just to concede at the end, while the even outcome of the match against heavily-favored England was viewed as a major victory. Even so, there were three points on the table in both instances- three points that many viewers believed the Americans deserved in both cases. Against Iran, those will have to be claimed, or the tournament is over for this fascinating group. The story continues to be the forwards; they looked lively, and there were plenty of chances against England, particularly in the first half, but an inability to finish is rendering all of the great buildup play as completely useless. If that trend continues, there will be no qualification- plain and simple.
Iran have executed a truly commendable turnaround- after a 6-2 beatdown in their first match against England, it looked like they were simply cannon fodder, donors of three points each time out. But they rallied together and played evenly with Wales all game long, before putting together an excellent stretch of play to finish the game and secure the latest winning goal in World Cup group stage history. The man of the hour, so to speak, has been Porto’s Mehdi Taremi, a striker who contributed a huge assist for that insurance goal against Wales, and bagged something of a consolation brace against England; he’s been truly excellent for his nation so far in this tournament. Outside of Taremi’s central role, there were numerous tactical changes that arguably contributed to the team’s change of fortunes- from the England match to the Wales one, there were four lineup changes made by choice, while there was also a goalkeeper swap due to injury, which yielded a great performance out of Hossein Hosseini. Iran also changed shapes from a somewhat bizarre 5-4-1 to a more conventional 4-4-2, which could well have contributed to the side’s increased fluidity and ability to hold the ball up.
This is a tough one to pick, really. The USA have shown themselves to be a much more talented side than many may have thought, and I definitely see them as having an edge in that department against Iran. The issues finding that final strike are really troubling though, and it won’t be particularly easy with Iran sitting back and content to draw. That being said, this is not an opponent of the same caliber as the English side that the Americans seemed to push nearly to the brink; I believe in them to finally find that goal, and just about find their way to victory; I’m taking USA on the moneyline. The total, I’m less on the fence about; this one’s going under, for better or worse. Iran are not likely to score when England didn’t and Wales only did from the penalty spot, especially if they do sit back for most of the match, and although I do see the Americans finding the back of the net in this one, I don’t think it’s going to be much of a scoring fest.
USA Forwards vs. Iran defense
To me, this is what the whole match will come down to. The United States midfield has been excellent, thoroughly outplaying both England and Wales, and I have no doubt they can do the same against Iran. Similarly, the back line has held remarkably steady other than Zimmerman’s lone moment of horror against Wales; I don’t think a relatively passive and content Iran side are going to break through more than England did. No, it’s just going to come down to whether or not the American forwards are able to either find a moment of magic, or gradually wear down Iran’s back line and goalkeeper with a barrage of shots on target. That “on target” caveat is actually a pretty big one; despite getting into dangerous positions and firing off 10 shots against England, they only forced one save from keeper Jordan Pickford, and of course there was Pulisic’s near-screamer off of the crossbar.
Speaking of Pulisic, he and Timothy Weah, who scored the lone American goal so far, have both been extremely lively at the top, easily the two best attacking players for the team in the past two games. The question is who will join them in the lineup; against Wales it was Josh Sargent, who did not seem up to the moment, and then in the second match it was Haji Wright, who contributed nothing of substance either. If I were the manager- and I believe that many American supporters share this sentiment- I’d move Weah up top, and slot in Gio Reyna at his wing spot. The Dortmund youngster has been nothing short of fantastic at the highest levels of competition, and his semi-banishment from the pitch by Gregg Berhalter is utterly mind-numbing; he provides the individual quality with the ball at his feet that this team is missing, nobody else on this side brings the danger to score like Reyna does. Even if he doesn’t get into the lineup, he’d better get more than the 10 or so minutes he saw against England; if not, I’ll have simply no understanding of what’s going on, and I’ll also feel less positive about USA’s odds of advancing.
I mentioned Iran’s formation change, as well as a few personnel swaps; much of this tinkering took place with the defensive group. Most notably, although it wasn’t really a decision, was second-choice keeper Hosseini getting the start against Wales after playing, and struggling through, most of the England match. He was much better against a weaker opponent his second time out (to be fair, it’s hard to say the American attack has been much better than the Welsh thus far), saving all three shots that came his way, and generally doing a nice job cleaning up balls into the box. His distribution was pretty mediocre, however; a dangerous errant pass could mean a tournament-changing chance in this one. Of the three central defenders from the odd 5-man back line against England, Majid Hosseini and Morteza Pouraliganji were the two survivors who got a second chance against Wales, and both were generally solid in their defensive actions, although just like their keeper, neither provided much in terms of passing. Lastly, right back Ramin Rezaeian didn’t play against England, but made the most of his start against Wales, playing solid defense and even picking up a goal. This group has put in two completely different performances while executing two completely different sets of tactics; it’ll be interesting to see how they come out against the USMNT in this decisive match.