The USMNT made a tactical tweak against England. Here’s what to expect against Iran.

As far as tactical identities go, Gregg Berhalter has reveled in regularity as the U.S. men’s national team coach. The defining traits since he took the helm in December 2018: a 4-3-3 formation with two advanced midfielders and one defensive midfielder; a high press paired with a high defensive line; and an attacking philosophy geared toward building out of the back, winning the physical battle in the midfield and playing through its wingers in transition.

When Berhalter’s U.S. teams have strayed from those standards, the results haven’t always been pretty. The short-lived 2019 experiment that saw Tyler Adams deployed as a hybrid defender-midfielder was never going to maximize the budding midfield general’s talent. A switch to a 3-4-3 alignment for the Concacaf Nations League final against Mexico in June 2021 left the Americans repeatedly playing from behind until they changed formations and won the title in extra time. The United States again trotted out a three-man back line for a World Cup qualifier against Honduras in September 2021, trailing at halftime before second-half adjustments sparked a 4-1 victory — the Americans’ only road win as Berhalter steered the team to Qatar.

Live updates: United States to face Iran in must-win Group B clash

So one could have been forgiven for questioning Berhalter’s wisdom when he made a tactical tweak for his team’s second match of the World Cup, a Black Friday showdown with England that ended in a 0-0 draw. The game came four days after the Americans opened group play with a 1-1 stalemate against Wales in which they played their usual style, controlling 59 percent of the possession and largely stifling the Welsh attack. But Berhalter recognized that a stiffer opponent called for a stingier approach and turned to a 4-4-2 formation that his teams have rarely used.

4-3-3

United States

1

Wales

1

Monday, Nov. 21

Robinson

Musah

Pulisic

Ream

Sargent

Adams

Turner

Zimmerman

Weah

McKennie

Dest

Two advanced

midfielders

One defensive

midfielder

4-4-2

England

0

United States

0

Friday, Nov. 25

Robinson

Pulisic

Musah

Ream

Wright

Turner

Weah

Zimmerman

Adams

McKennie

Dest

Two

forwards

Two midfielders

and two wingers

4-3-3

United States

1

Monday, Nov. 21

Wales

1

Robinson

Musah

Pulisic

Ream

Sargent

Adams

Turner

Zimmerman

Weah

McKennie

Dest

Two advanced

midfielders

One defensive

midfielder

4-4-2

England

0

Friday, Nov. 25

United States

0

Robinson

Pulisic

Musah

Ream

Wright

Turner

Weah

Zimmerman

Adams

McKennie

Dest

Two

forwards

Two midfielders

and two wingers

4-3-3

United States

1

Wales

1

Monday, Nov. 21

Robinson

Musah

Pulisic

Ream

Sargent

Adams

Turner

Zimmerman

Weah

McKennie

Dest

Two advanced

midfielders

One defensive

midfielder

4-4-2

England

0

United States

0

Friday, Nov. 25

Robinson

Pulisic

Musah

Ream

Wright

Turner

Weah

Zimmerman

Adams

McKennie

Dest

Two

forwards

Two midfielders

and two wingers

4-3-3

4-4-2

United States

1

England

0

Wales

United States

1

0

Monday, Nov. 21

Friday, Nov. 25

Weah

Wright

Sargent

Weah

Pulisic

Two forwards

Pulisic

McKennie

Two advanced

midfielders

Musah

McKennie

Two midfielders

and two wingers

One defensive

midfielder

Musah

Adams

Adams

Robinson

Robinson

Dest

Dest

Ream

Ream

Zimmerman

Zimmerman

Turner

Turner

Rather than play a three-man front line of left winger Christian Pulisic, center forward Haji Wright and right winger Tim Weah, Berhalter deployed Wright and Weah as dual strikers, dropped Pulisic to a left-sided midfield role and asked central midfielder Weston McKennie to drift toward the right channel. The combination of Wright and Weah gave the U.S. team an extra body to clog passing lanes between England’s back line and its central midfielders, Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham, who had run rampant in the Three Lions’ 6-2 thrashing of Iran. By denying service to those midfield orchestrators, the United States dared England to push the ball wide and run its attack through the flanks.

Pickford

Maguire

Stones

Trippier

Shaw

Wright

Weah

Bellingham

Rice

McKennie

Pulisic

Adams

Musah

Pickford

Maguire

Stones

Trippier

Shaw

Wright

Weah

Bellingham

Rice

McKennie

Pulisic

Adams

Musah

Pickford

Maguire

Stones

Trippier

Shaw

Wright

Weah

Bellingham

Rice

McKennie

Pulisic

Adams

Musah

The gambit worked: After combining to connect on 182 passes against Iran, Rice and Bellingham completed just 87 vs. the United States. The Americans conceded the possession battle but racked up scoring opportunities in transition, outshooting England 10-8 and boasting a 7-3 advantage on corner kicks. Asked by the new formation to cover additional ground in midfield, Adams and Yunus Musah rose to the occasion. All things considered, the U.S. team was unlucky not to take all three points against a title contender.

Even after Josh Sargent and Gio Reyna replaced Wright and Weah, and Brenden Aaronson replaced McKennie, the U.S. formation continued to be the same.

Stones

Maguire

Reyna

Henderson

Sargent

Shaw

Rice

Trippier

Aaronson

Adams

Musah

Pulisic

(Illustration over a photo by Peter Cziborra/Reuters)

England defenders John Stones and Harry Maguire failed at connecting with midfielders Jordan Henderson, who replace Bellingham, and Rice, so they had to play the ball through the flanks.

Even after Josh Sargent and Gio Reyna replaced Wright and Weah, and Brenden Aaronson replaced McKennie, the U.S. formation continued to be the same.

Stones

Maguire

Reyna

Henderson

Sargent

Shaw

Rice

Trippier

Aaronson

Adams

Musah

Pulisic

(Illustration over a photo by Peter Cziborra/Reuters)

England defenders John Stones and Harry Maguire failed at connecting with midfielders Jordan Henderson, who replace Bellingham, and Rice, so they had to play the ball through the flanks.

Even after Josh Sargent and Gio Reyna replaced Wright and Weah, and Brenden Aaronson replaced McKennie, the U.S. formation continued to be the same.

Stones

Maguire

Reyna

Henderson

Sargent

Shaw

Rice

Pulisic

Musah

Trippier

Aaronson

Adams

(Illustration over a photo by Peter Cziborra/Reuters)

England defenders John Stones and Harry Maguire failed at connecting with midfielders Jordan Henderson, who replace Bellingham, and Rice, so they had to play the ball through the flanks.

Even after Josh Sargent and Gio Reyna replaced Wright and Weah, and Brenden Aaronson replaced McKennie, the U.S. formation continued to be the same.

Stones

Maguire

Reyna

Henderson

Sargent

Shaw

Rice

Pulisic

Musah

Trippier

Aaronson

Adams

England defenders John Stones and Harry Maguire failed at connecting with midfielders Jordan Henderson, who replace Bellingham, and Rice, so they had to play the ball through the flanks.

(Illustration over a photo by Peter Cziborra/Reuters)

But don’t expect that approach to work when the United States meets Iran on Tuesday for a must-win group stage finale. After Iran’s dramatic 2-0 victory over Wales gave it the inside track on passage to the knockout round, Carlos Queiroz’s team only needs a draw to send the U.S. squad home. So the Iranians probably will play more like Wales than England, content to sit back and absorb pressure as the United States throws numbers forward.

That could prove to be a tricky task for a U.S. team that has often struggled to break down compact opposition. Pulisic and Weah are at their best in transition but will need to beat Iran with combination play and one-on-one prowess. (This may be where 20-year-old playmaker Gio Reyna, limited to seven minutes over the first two games, is called upon.) Asked to stay home against England, outside backs Antonee Robinson and Sergiño Dest should push forward more frequently. The speed of the American center backs will be put to the test as Iran looks to strike on the counter.

For a U.S. team that has played commendably but lacked a killer instinct, Tuesday’s do-or-die scenario is the ultimate test. And it’s no overstatement to say Berhalter’s tenure could be defined by this performance against Iran. Get out of the group, and he could lead the United States toward the 2026 World Cup on home soil. Fall short, and Berhalter’s legacy may be one of untapped potential.

Graphics and illustrations by Artur Galocha.

World Cup in Qatar

World champions: Argentina has won the World Cup, defeating France in penalty kicks in a thrilling final in Lusail, Qatar, for its first world championship since 1986. Argentina was led by global soccer star Lionel Messi in what is expected to be his final World Cup appearance. France was bidding to become the first repeat champion since Brazil won consecutive trophies in 1958 and 1962.

Today’s WorldView: In the minds of many critics, especially in the West, Qatar’s World Cup will always be a tournament shrouded in controversy. But Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, wants people to take another view.

Perspective: “America is not a men’s soccer laughingstock right now. It’s onto something, and it’s more attuned to what’s working for the rest of the world rather than stubbornly forcing an American sports culture — without the benefit of best-of-the-best talent — into international competition.” Read Jerry Brewer on the U.S. men’s national team’s future.

Loading...
Loading...