DOHA, Qatar — Ever since April 1, when the 2022 World Cup’s Group B took shape at a glitzy draw here in Doha, there has been a tentative assumption, derived from history and the contour of this group, that four points might be sufficient.
The U.S. could, the thinking went, draw with Wales, lose respectably to England, beat Iran and advance on goal differential. Similar outputs, after all, have taken the U.S. men’s national team to World Cup knockout stages in the past. Win-loss-draw was the formula in 2002 and 2014.
But Iran’s dramatic victory over Wales on Friday, seven hours before the Americans kick off against England, changed the calculus.
In fact, a draw likely wouldn’t matter.
The USMNT, at 10 p.m. up in Al Khor, Qatar (2 p.m. ET, Fox/Telemundo), should go for a win.
Two stoppage-time goals lifted Iran to three points and left Wales lagging on one point. And they meant that, unless the U.S. beats England on Friday, it will have to beat Iran next Tuesday on the final day of the group to advance.
The only scenario in which a draw with England is useful is the one in which Wales upsets England on the final. In that unlikely scenario, a draw tonight would be the difference between the U.S. topping the group and crashing out.
It’s unclear whether the USMNT might alter its approach based on Iran’s victory, which concluded mere hours before U.S. players will board a bus at their team hotel and make the hour-long drive up to the Al Bayt Stadium. Months of planning have already been implemented over the past few days of training. And according to one USMNT player last week, a starting lineup is often penciled by the morning of the game at the latest.
There were immediate suggestions among fans and pundits that the U.S. should rest key players against England, to maximize freshness for a likely-must-win game against a tough Iran team. But that’s unlikely — the expectation here is that the U.S. lineup will be largely unchanged.
What’s clear, though, is that Iran’s win should change how head coach Gregg Berhalter manages in-game, and especially in the second half. If the game is tied, there is nothing to protect, no reason to play cautiously.
So, in summary: The England game isn’t win-or-bust, because the worst-case scenario is that the Iran game is win-or-bust. But that’s how the USMNT should treat it.