USA World Cup mailbag: Predicting USMNT’s best lineup for win-or-go-home game against Iran

CBS Sports soccer analyst Grant Wahl is in Qatar covering the men’s eighth World Cup. He will write email columns for CBS after every USMNT group stage game. The rest of his writing, including magazine-style stories, interviews and breaking news, can be found at GrantWahl.com.

DOHA, Qatar – I’m still upset after Friday’s defeat between the USA and England, which set up an important must-win clash for the USA and Iran on Tuesday. Let’s get into your questions!

“What’s the winning US lineup for Tuesday?” — @Workingonup2

I’ll give you the order I’d go with and the order I think US coach Gregg Berhalter will go with:

My line: Matt Turner; Sergiño Dest, Walker Zimmerman, Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson; Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie; Gio Reyna, Tim Weah, Christian Pulisic.

The lineup I think Berhalter will go with: Turner; Hands, Zimmerman, Ream, Robinson; Adams, Moses, McKennie; Weah, Jesús Ferreira, Pulisic.

The US obviously needs to score in this game, and I believe Weah would be a better option at center than any of the US’s famous number 9s, who may also “Spinal Tap” drummer. Taking Weah up top will give Reyna the chance to step in and be the difference maker he has yet to be allowed to be at this World Cup. When you need a goal, you should maximize the goal-generating creativity you have (at least within reason). Iran will park the bus knowing that a deal is leading them to summit rounds, and Reyna could be the man to unlock that situation.

“Will anyone but Pulisic take free kicks?” — @akjoeroy

Pulisic was slightly better at delivering his corner against England, but he is still lacking in that area this tournament. Other options include Brenden Aaronson and Kellyn Acosta, but neither has started in this tournament, so they didn’t get any real opportunities. I hope they get the chance at some point on Tuesday.

“Any legal issues FIFA needs to address? Looks like overtime is working. Are there any new issues they need/want to address?” — @Todd9115

I decided I liked the new policy of having extra-time points at the end of the half. It avoids wasting as much time as we’ve seen in the past, and as a result it seems fairer to the game. What I want to see is when a referee goes to the VAR monitor to review a call. There have been a few times in this World Cup where I was surprised that a call was reviewed without the referee going to check. It should happen often.

“Given the low value of the money, do you feel the USA took enough risk against England to try to get three.” — @itschazhello

No, I don’t think the US did. Look, Berhalter got his tactics right in this game by adding some important wrinkles — going 4-2-2-2 in defense and playing McKennie more than usual in attack — and thus surprised England. The English scored six goals in Game 1, so it was really impressive to have a clean sheet against them. That said, I wish Berhalter had brought his subs much sooner than he did. His first goal did not come until the 77th minute and Reyna did not enter the game until the 83rd, which was about 23 minutes late. I wish the US had tried harder to win the game and have a chance to win the group (which will be important in the overall scheme of trying to win the tournament).

“What’s the key to unlocking the USMNT’s attack? Of course it’s bigger than just changing strikers.” — @dougadams25

In training, the U.S. worked largely on two things: 1. trying to draw out defenders and create space for players like Pulisic to run into the opening created in the center, and 2. attacking vertically wide and then shooting. throwback passes at players. like Moses on top of the ark. We saw No. 1 win when the USA scored against Wales, but it was a pass on a night when the USA barely got through the middle. And we saw the number 2 get one against England in the second half, but Moses couldn’t do anything with it. They know what they want to do, but they have trouble doing it.

“Now that we’ve seen Iran play twice, do we really know what their strengths and weaknesses are? Or is this a very small example?” — @jshecket

The sample size available on Iran in this tournament is very small and varied: a 6-2 defeat in which they were beaten by England (who scored with almost all their chances) and a 2-0 win against Wales in which it was regrouped. Iran improved from the start and benefited from the addition of Sardar Azmoun. Their coach, Carlos Queiroz, has become a park-bus specialist in recent years, even when he coached Mohamed Salah’s Egypt during the World Cup qualifiers. But what they need against the US is a tie, so I don’t expect them to play with any kind of compromise. Also, I don’t think I would say they are a master class defensive team, so there will be opportunities for the US to create scoring chances.

“What do you think US Soccer should do at the youth level to start promoting the No. 9?” — @thomastortora1

The truth is that almost every country is having a hard time developing elite centers these days. There are fewer of them in world football than there used to be, just as there are fewer elite-level centre-backs in today’s game. I remember a year ago during the World Cup qualifiers when we saw Ricardo Pepi score and wondering if the US had finally found a world number 9. Pepi isn’t here – but that’s a big question. Goal scoring is the hardest thing in sports.

“If it was possible to put the controversy aside, how did Qatar host this World Cup for the fans, players and media?” — @GalaxyDude96

It is really impossible to leave human rights aside, but I will answer your question. Security guards are oppressive in terms of harassing people with colorful shirts and symbols and confiscating signs from Iranian women’s rights protesters. Everything is bad, obviously. From an organizational perspective, things have gone very well. Logistics are easier when the World Cup is basically in one city and you don’t have to fly from place to place. Not having beer or wine in our private residence is a bummer, but I respect the laws here and occasionally have a drink when I go to a hotel restaurant or bar that has one. I feel safe here, that’s good.

“What do you think it will take for Berhalter to continue after this tournament? Is it enough to get out of the group or does he have to win a tie game? If he continues after the tournament is it a lock. team of the year Manage 2026 without qualification?” — @zach13090

My understanding was that the USA would need to advance to the knockout stages for Berhalter to have any chance of making the next round. i am pony he wants the job at home for the 2026 World Cup, though he hasn’t said so specifically. My personal feeling is that I am not a big fan of national team coaches having more than one cycle. If you look at history, teams tend to perform worse in the second round than in the first. But you want to make sure you have an update when you hire someone else. Since the USA does not have to qualify in 2026, whoever is the coach in 2023 determines who is in charge of the World Cup.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the World Cup!

CBS Sports soccer analyst Grant Wahl is in Qatar covering the men’s eighth World Cup. He will write email columns for CBS after every USMNT group stage game. The rest of his writing, including magazine-style stories, interviews and breaking news, can be found at GrantWahl.com.



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