U.S. squad prepares for gamesmanship from Iran in must-win match

AL RAYYAN, Qatar – In case you haven’t heard, there’s a big game for the United States Men’s National Team coming up on Tuesday.

A big game, the biggest American men’s soccer has played for at least eight years, the biggest it will have for four more. This is a game of simplicity — where a win is golden and nothing else will do against Iran (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App).

And yet, at Al Thumama Stadium, there will be a game within the game, one that will play a role of its own. It’s a game specifically designed to throw an opponent off their game, which is why they call what they do: gamesmanship.

Iran, the team Gregg Berhalter’s USA must beat to make their way out of Group B and into the round of 16, is a master of gamesmanship.

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Alexi Lalas and David Mosse react to Iran’s win over Wales and what their passionate win means for the United States in the final game of group stage play.

Carlos Queiroz’s side are a high-quality team, good enough to be ranked 20th in the world, compared to the USMNT’s 16th, and they did a superb job of overpowering Wales 2-0 on Friday. It is also an experienced group filled with veteran players who are highly skilled in the mysterious art of luring referees and gaining any available advantage.

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“They worked the referee,” former USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann told the BBC after Iran’s impressive win, which salvaged its campaign after a 6-2 defeat by England in their opener. “They work the line judge and fourth official, they are constantly in their ear. There were many incidents that we did not see. This is their (soccer) culture, they take you off your game.”

Let’s be real here, this is not “their” football culture. Yes, the Iranians play to the extremes of the rules, and sometimes cross them, and they are far from the only ones to do so. Many teams in the World Cup embrace such methods, especially when their backs are against the wall.

The American team won the hearts of their home crowd, but it would be a blink to fool ourselves into thinking that there aren’t times when a slight bit of exaggeration, or wasting time protecting a lead, or protesting against the referee also becomes part of the agenda.

These are professional players with a fierce competitive streak. That’s how it is.

“Every single team in the World Cup, they all have a different kind of style and different ways of playing, and that’s the nature of this sport,” US defender Tim Ream said. “That’s the nature of our game.

“It’s not something you can prepare too much for. It’s an understanding that it’s going to happen. We just have to stay calm and not let it bother you.”

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There is virtually no limit to the things teams can do to slow the pace of a game, to disrupt their opponent, to try to get an edge – fair or foul.

Iran’s bench were extremely vocal and animated in pressuring the referee during their match with Wales, although this is by no means an unusual sight in this tournament.

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It’s worth remembering Iran only need a tie to progress. Anything that affects the rhythm of the game, or chews up some clock, will be like gold dust to them.

It’s not like the do-or-die situation the USA faced against Algeria in 2010, when the Algerians also needed a win and threw players forward in search of a goal, which only opened enough space for Landon Donovan’s famous breakaway.

The US has faced difficult situations with regularity. The CONCACAF region is known as one of the toughest in world football, where road games present a particularly difficult challenge.

“I don’t think you can do anything other than normal – you come across playmaking and different styles all the time in CONCACAF,” Ream added.

As for Klinsmann’s comments, they were quickly – and angrily – noted by Iran’s Portuguese head coach, Queiroz.

“No matter how much I can respect what you did on the field, those comments about Iran’s culture, Iran’s national team and my players are a disgrace to football,” Queiroz tweeted at Klinsmann.

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Klinsmann responded by promising to reach out to Queiroz to try to fix things.

Ream is part of a stout defensive lineup that will have to use its own brand of intelligent physicality on Tuesday, as a deficit will drastically increase the difficulty.

Most of the current USMNT players were either not born or not old enough to remember the last time the USA faced Iran at the World Cup, a 1998 clash that ended in a demoralizing 2-1 defeat in a tournament in which the Americans ran out of steam. last out of the 32 teams.

However, they all remember the 2010 and 2014 campaigns, when there was still work to be done in the last round of group action, and the US found a way out.

Everything will be determined by who the night is better, tougher and more skilled and the chance to become a hero awaits.

But how the Americans keep their composure, when faced with some of the difficult art of football, could also have a seismic impact on whether the campaign ends in disappointment, or continues with all possibilities that remain.

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