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

CBS Sports soccer analyst Grant Wahl is eighth in his men’s World Cup in Qatar. He writes mailbags for CBS after every USMNT group stage game. Her other writing, including magazine-style stories, interviews and breaking news, can be found at

DOHA, Qatar – I’m still buzzing after the draw between the USA and England on Friday, which has created a monumental must-win scene for the USA on Tuesday against Iran. Let’s dive into your questions!

“What’s the winner-take-all USA lineup on Tuesday?” — @Workingonup2

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

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

Lineup I think with Berhalter: Turner; Dest, Zimmerman, Ream, Robinson; Adams, Musah, McKennie; Weah, Jesús Ferreira, Pulisic.

The USA clearly need to score goals in this game, and I remain convinced that Weah would be a better option at center forward than any of the USA’s nominal nines, who might as well be ‘Spinal Tap’ drummers. Moving Weah up top would allow Reyna to come in and be the difference maker he has yet to be at this World Cup. When you need goals, you need to maximize your goal-producing creativity (at least within reason). Iran will park the bus knowing that a draw will get them into the playoffs, and Reyna could be the guy to break it open.

“Is anyone other than Pulisic going to take free kicks?” — @akjoeroy

Pulisic was slightly better with his corner kicks against England, but he has still been worse in that area this tournament. Other options include Brenden Aaronson and Kellyn Acosta, but neither has started this tournament so they haven’t had a real chance. Hopefully they get a chance at some point on Tuesday.

“Any industry issues that FIFA needs to address? It looks like the overtime mandate is working. Are there any new issues they need/want to address?” — @Todd9115

I have decided that I like the new policy of having more extra time minutes at the end of the half. It prevents teams from wasting time to the extent we’ve seen in the past, and as a result, it just seems fairer to the game. I would like to see more situations where the referee goes to the VAR monitor to review the call. There have been a few times at this World Cup when I was amazed that a call was reviewed without the referee going to the monitor. It needs to happen more often.

“Given the minimum value of a draw, do you think the US took enough risks against England to try to get the full three.” — @itschazhello

No, I don’t think the US did. See, Berhalter got his tactics right in this game, adding a couple of important wrinkles – a 4-2-2-2 in defense and, in McKennie’s game, wider than usual in attack – and surprised England by doing so. The English scored six goals in Game 1, so to get a clean sheet against them after that was really impressive. However, I wish Berhalter had brought his submarine much earlier than he did. His first sub didn’t come until the 77th minute, and Reyna didn’t come on until the 83rd minute, about 23 minutes too late. I wish the US had done more to try and win the game and earn a chance to win the group (which would be important in the overall scheme of winning the tournament).

“What’s the key to unlocking the USMNT offense? It’s definitely bigger than just switching strikers.” — @dougadams25

In practice, the U.S. worked extensively on two things: 1. try to draw defenders and create space for players like Pulisic to run into the gap created in the middle, and 2. attack vertically with width and then hit pull-back passes to players. like Musah at the top of the box. We saw a number one when the US scored against Wales, but it was an outlier on a night where the US got little to no average penetration. And we saw the No. 2 reach once in the second half against England, but Musah couldn’t do anything with it. They know what they want to do, but they have trouble making it happen.

“Now that we’ve seen Iran play twice, do we understand their strengths and weaknesses? Or is this too small a sample size?” — @jshecket

The sample size we have of Iran in this tournament is very small and varies greatly: a 6-2 defeat where they were beaten by England (who scored from almost every chance they had) and another 2-0 win against Wales where Iran were improved from the start and it benefited from the addition of Sardar Azmoun at the top. Their coach Carlos Queiroz has become something of a park-the-bus expert in recent years, despite coaching Mohamed Salah’s Egypt in World Cup qualifying. But they only need a draw against the USA, so I don’t expect them to play with any kind of abandon. At the same time, I don’t think they will be a champion-class defending team, so the USA will have opportunities to create scoring opportunities.

“What do you think US Soccer needs to do at the youth level to start developing number 9s?” — @thomastortora1

The truth is that almost every country is struggling to develop elite centre-forwards these days. There are fewer in global football than there used to be, just as there are fewer elite level centre-backs in today’s game. I remember a year ago in the World Cup qualifiers when we saw Ricardo Pepi scoring goals and asking if the USA had finally found a world class 9. That hasn’t been the case – at least not since then. Pepi isn’t here – but that’s a great question. Scoring goals is still the most difficult thing in sports.

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

Human rights cannot really be left aside, but I will answer your question. Guards have arrogantly harassed people with rainbow shirts and symbols and confiscated signs for women’s rights from Iranian protesters. All of this is bad, of course. From an organizational point of view, things have gone quite smoothly. Logistics are easier when the World Cup is essentially in one city and you don’t have to fly planes from one place to another. It’s confusing not having beer or wine in our private apartment, but I respect the laws here and occasionally have a drink when I go to a hotel restaurant or bar that has it. I feel safe here, which is good.

“What do you think it will take for Berhalter to keep his job after this tournament? Is getting out of the group enough or does he need to win the playoffs? If he keeps his job after the tournament, is he a lock to manage the 2026 team without qualifying?” — @zach13090

My feeling has been that the USA needs to make the playoffs for Berhalter to have a chance to stay as coach next season. I to think he wants a job for the 2026 World Cup at home, although he hasn’t specifically said so. My personal feeling is that I’m not a big fan of national team coaches having more than one cycle. If you look at history, teams tend to do worse in the second period than in the first. But you want to make sure you have an upgrade if you hire someone else. Since the U.S. doesn’t have to go through qualifying for 2026, whoever is the coach in 2023 is responsible for the World Cup.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the World Cup!

CBS Sports soccer analyst Grant Wahl is eighth in his men’s World Cup in Qatar. He writes mailbags for CBS after every USMNT group stage game. Her other writing, including magazine-style stories, interviews and breaking news, can be found at


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