The United States Men’s National Team is off to the knockout stage after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
The USMNT advanced thanks to Christian Pulisic putting his body on the line for his game-winning goal. In the process of scoring, Pulisic suffered an abdominal injury that sent him to the hospital.
Without Pulisic in the second half, Iran came oh-so-close to tying the game several times. A draw would have sent Iran to the next round and sent the Americans home.
Alexi Lalas, a FOX Sports broadcaster and former member of the USMNT, knew the Americans needed to keep their foot on the pedal after Pulisic’s goal.
“I said, ‘This is good, but we’ve got a whole second half,’” he told “The Brian Kilmeade Show.” “We knew that Iran was gonna make some changes, and they did. Having said that, there was a sense of relief, especially in that first half. The U.S. played really, really well. And then, second half came, and yes, those changes happened, and it was just kind of, ‘Hold on for dear life, bend but don’t break,’ and ultimately, they did. But there were some nervy moments. …
“Keep in mind the strategy involved where the U.S. had to win the game. Iran didn’t have to win the game. So that put the ball in the U.S.’ court a whole lot more. But then they got the goal, and obviously, Iran has to attack, and then at halftime, they made some changes. Christian Pulisic was wonderful in the moment.
“Even though he went off hurt and basically gave his body for his country in that moment, he was really, really good, and I think was a huge part of the success in that first half. And then, it was just about gutting it out in that second half. Some of the stuff didn’t quite work out great for Gregg Berhalter and the U.S in the second half, but ultimately, they bent plenty, but they ultimately didn’t break. They got the goal that they needed, they got the win that they needed and they’re going on. That’s all that matters.”
The Americans are now off to face the Netherlands and will be underdogs and likely will remain underdogs as far as they advance.
However, that’s a role that has been common for United States men’s soccer.
“We have been to World Cups where we have gotten out of groups before, so I think there is a higher expectation, which is I think right and fair to do with this team,” Lalas said, noting that the only goal the USMNT allowed in group play was a Gareth Bale penalty kick. “This Netherlands game is going to be difficult, but the U.S. is going to be in this wonderful, comfortable underdog role, which, traditionally, we thrive in.”
At the same time, Lalas understands the Netherlands is “on paper” the better team, and the United States will “have [its] hands full.”
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“This is a team that is certainly not going to fear the U.S. This is a team that is going to look to impose themselves on the U.S., but I also think this is certainly a winnable game for the U.S.,” Lalas said. “You’re gonna need obviously to play a very good game. You’re gonna have to be very smart. The substitutions are going to have to be better. The set pieces, which have been horrible — let’s be honest — throughout this tournament, are going to have to be better.
“And, yes, you’re going to have to get a little help from the soccer gods, but everybody is going to have to get a little help at a certain point, regardless of how good you are. But this is not a team on the level of Brazil or France right now that the U.S. is facing relative to the Netherlands.”
The Round of 16 match kicks off Saturday at 10 a.m. ET.
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