The USA overcame a nervy close and brutal mismanagement from Gregg Berhalter after a dominant start to advance out of the group stages in the World Cup. Their reward, a round of 16 battle with a talented, but also beatable Netherlands team. You know, had someone told me before the games began – hell, before the GROUPS were picked – that the US would advance to the knockout stages, I’d have signed on the dotted line. Wouldn’t care how they got there, who they beat, who they lost to, etc. Or after the groups were announced, I wouldn’t care that they drew against Wales, easily the weakest team of the group. Or that they looked like the better team for much of their draw against England, easily the group’s powerhouse. Or that it took a nervy finish against a tough and resilient Iran squad. It’s weird that I care now.
Anyway, I digress. Let’s take a look at our individual performers and (barf) the coach from today’s game. As always, a half point scoring system will be used because I feel like it.
GK Matt Turner – 5.0
I wouldn’t say that Turner made any huge errors, but after two games in which he was solid, authoritative, decisive, a little nuts, and mostly confidence inspiring, he just seemed unsure of himself today. Especially late on, it seemed he could have come for a couple crosses, marshalled his back line more effectively and be more assured of his positioning. Hey, a clean sheet is a clean sheet and he deserves some credit for that, but he will hope for a more commanding performance against the Netherlands.
LB Antonee Robinson – 8.0
This might be his coming out party as one of the world’s best left backs. Fulham, I suspect, will be getting some calls in January. Once again he was a terror all along the left wing, and once again he was virtually unbeatable as a defender. And before you say anything regarding the quality of opponent, Iran is much better than you think they are, and even if they weren’t, then he did what he was supposed to do anyway. As always the caveat with him is that his final ball is poor, and there was nothing today to indicate it wasn’t, hence the 8.0 instead of even better.
CB Tim Ream – 7.0
I’ve seen enough. He’ll be 39 when the 2026 World Cup is hosted in North America and I’m ready to name him to the squad there already. You didn’t hear his name much today, but that was game script rather than anonymity. No mistakes. The right play every time. Held firm in the dying moments. He isn’t the captain here like he is at Fulham, but he’s a veteran leader and he’s acting and playing like it. Another good one from him.
CB Cameron Carter-Vickers – 6.5
A (maybe?) surprise starter ahead of Ream’s normal partner in crime, Walker Zimmerman, CCV didn’t look out of place. I suspect he got the nod over Zimmerman because he’s more of a threat on offense, not any kind of punishment for a shaky cup so far from Zim. Sure enough, he looked threatening on offense, and was good enough on defense. Maybe got lucky not to concede a penalty in stoppage time – not because he committed a foul. He absolutely didn’t. But because the referees were abysmal today and virtually every call of consequence went in favor of Iran. Nothing to be ashamed of from him today.
RB Sergino Dest – 8.5
Another marauding performance on the right wing from the dynamic Dest. Much like his countepart on the opposite wing, Dest was a constant menace against a durable Iranian defense. Also defended better than he generally gets credit for, and crucially assisted on the game’s only goal with an inch perfect headed pass. Also like Robinson, you’d probably sacrifice your firstborn to see his cross delivery improve, but now you’re wanting your cake and to eat it too.
LM Weston McKennie – 6.5
Solid, if unspectacular from him. Not that he was bad by any stretch, but after dominating in the game against England, he was merely… good-ish today. You wonder if fatigue is becoming a factor with him. Match fitness was going to be a question before the games started, and he’s given a tremendous effort. Visibly flagging after an hour, Berhalter correctly subbed him off.
CM Tyler Adams – 8.5
He’s irreplaceable, for his calmness and leadership as much as his play. Asked to be more involved in the offense with today’s formation, he was, and sacrificed zero of his defensive excellence to do so. I’m running out of superlatives for him. He’s simply special.
RM Yunus Musah – 9.0
Ok, son. I see you. Everyone and their mom was gushing about Musah’s play the first two games, to the point of annoyance and tedium. He was indisputably one of the team’s weaker players on the field. Which brings us to today’s man of the match performance. Borderline flawless. Excellent defensively, creative and aggressive offensively, all that was missing was a goal. If he can put in performances like today at age 19, the sky is the limit in 2026. He can be that good, and better.
LF Christian Pulisic – 8.0
He keeps playing like this, I might have to start liking him. Another guy who wasn’t wearing the armband, but led by example. Even had his dick and balls not been smashed on his game-winning goal, it was still a courageous finish with a heavy collision all but certain. After receiving treatment, he gutted out the last few minutes of the first half in hopes of recovering enough to play the second. It wasn’t to be. The dick trauma was understandably too acute for him to continue and he was subbed off to start the second half. Hell of a 45 minutes though from the US’ most recognizable player.
CF Josh Sargent – 6.0
I wish I had better things to say about Sargent. He’s certainly trying hard, and he’s been fine defending from the front on set pieces. He’s just not the sort of greedy, goals by the bushelful center forward this team needs. Nobody on the roster is, to be fair, but still. Never seemed likely to score today, and you just can’t have that from your center forward if you have designs on getting very far. Other than that, he was decent enough.
RF Tim Weah – 7.5
Let’s just get this out of the way. He was onside. This isn’t sour grapes. This isn’t an accusation of cheating, favortism, or gambling by the officials, though let’s be honest, they probably do. At least some of them. But the review technology for offside is fatally flawed. FIFA has fucked with the rule over the years to the point where it’s absurd now. But back to the automated screen, the graphic we were shown was not representative of reality. It was a good goal. If it was even debatable, I would tell you that. It wasn’t. In the live replay we were shown Weah as level at worst with the Iranian defender. Last I will say on it is this. I am in favor of technology helping officials get calls right. Ok? I am. But the technology has to be accurate. And this isn’t. It’s a shitty rule in its current form, and it has shitty technology to help enforce it. Ok, I’m done.
Back to Weah, he was a constant threat. Apart from his goal that should have counted, he could have at least two more with better finishing – the only wart on an otherwise sterling performance.
Brenden Aaronson – 6.0
Came on for the injured Pulisic and made himself a constant nuisance to the Iranians. As Berhalter abandoned any endeavor to get a second goal, Aaronson was in the unfamiliar role of having to almost exclusively defend. It’s not his ideal application but he didn’t look out of place and gave it his usual 100% effort.
Kellyn Acosta – 5.0
Replaced an exhausted McKennie in about the 65th minute. Didn’t do a whole lot wrong, but was in the wrong role for the formation. He’s essentially a not as good Tyler Adams, so you either play two defensive mids when they’re both on – an option – or you’re fucking doing it wrong. Not his fault. Just saying. Not many opportunities for his signature set piece delivery either. Also not his fault.
Walker Zimmerman – 6.5
Replaced Weah late on with Iran attacking for their tournament lives. Another sub that made sense with the game script, but could have turned disastrous due to formational application. Not his fault. In fact, had a crucial block and clearance late on with Iran posing a real threat. Didn’t seem out of place as a sub after starting the first two games.
Haji Wright – 4.5
Came on for Sargent and was almost entirely anonymous. Not all his fault, but he’s just not the caliber of player that plays center forward for a team that’s going to win anything big. I hope I end up being wrong.
Shaq Moore – 1.5
Shaq Moore is a perfectly fine right back in MLS. Especially if the game is low pressure. In a World Cup scenario, he’s simply awful. Came on for Sergino Dest. Made poorly timed runs. Didn’t close down attackers. Needlessly conceded corners. There is absolutely no reason for him, apart from injuries to the first dozen guys who would play a better right back than him, for him to ever see the field again this World Cup.
Coach Gregg Berhalter – 3.5
Wow. Just, wow. How this team has managed to succeed at all inspite of their coach is actually inspiring. If we’re being fair, the decision to start CCV in place of Zimmerman was a good one, and tactically logical and sound. GGG also deserves credit for sticking with the guys that have worked well so far. And that’s where the plaudits end. Yes, it sucked to have Pulisic have to leave injured. But it’s unconscionable for him to abandon all pretense of attacking and just park the bus the entire second half. You want to talk about chicken shit?
Now, while it does make sense late LATE on to bring on guys like Zimmerman and Acosta in place of more attack-minded players like McKennie and Weah, you have to adjust your formations accordingly. Because otherwise you’ll end up with three center backs, two defensive center mids, and two outside fullbacks, and only two of these players (two of the three center backs) will know where they need to be. Simply throwing on another defender in place of an attacker without a plan beyond that isn’t enough.
Lastly, we come to the Shaq Moore debacle. When he was included on the final roster, the incredulous looks were likely accompanied by “well, does it REALLY matter who the 26th guy is? Not like he’ll see the field.” Well, he has now. And no sane man or woman will have seen his appearance against England and thought, “that guy needs to be on the field again.” Yet here we were. Berhalter really looked at Joe Scally, the Borrussia Moenchen Gladbach right back whose sterling performances against Alphonso Davies of all people elevated him to national awareness. And he really looked at the rugged and dependable veteran DeAndre Yedlin, a guy with actual world cup experience. And he thought, “nope, I’m going with Moore!” It’s indefensible.
This team is too talented to be saddled with the brutal ineptness of Berhalter’s in-game management. Once again, yes, the team qualified with him as coach, and ADVANCED with him as coach. But it’s becoming more and more clear that any success this team attains will be in spite of him, not led by him.
Not for the first time today, I hope I’m wrong.