The United States men’s national team will play their last Group Stage match against Iran on Tuesday, with a ticket to the knockout round on the line.
The USMNT currently sit in third place of the Group B standings with two points, after drawing with Wales and England. While Iran holds the advantage in second, beating Wales and losing to England to earn three points.
The American side must win in order to qualify for the round of 16. Any other result would see them eliminated from the tournament.
But USMNT defender Walker Zimmerman insists the team can take on the high stakes of the situation.
“Our goal is obviously to win the World Cup, and in order to do that, we have to get to the knockout stages,” Zimmerman said.
“For us, our knockout game comes one game earlier. You look around at a lot of different teams and groups and they’re all going into their third game, most of them having to get a result. Whether that’s a tie or win, there’s going to be pressure, there’s going to be an intensity. For us, that’s a win. And we have no problem with that, starting our knockout a little bit earlier.”
The backline will play a crucial role in Tuesday’s game. Though the United States has conceded just one goal throughout the tournament, after Gareth Bale rocketed a penalty past goalkeeper Matt Turner, defender Tim Ream insists must maintain composure in front of Iran’s offense.
“Obviously there are a couple of very good players up front [including Mehdi] Taremi with his finishing, so he’s one to be aware of. But this game is going to be about us and about what we need to do and what we have to do to advance and to win. Being aware of their compact shape and their counter attacking is going to be key,” he said.
“There have been a lot of moments in transition where we can be a little bit sharper,” echoed Zimmerman. “We can pick out that final pass, and hopefully create more. But set pieces is a huge strength for this team. And so, having to go back and look at the plays, watch all of them, see what we can do differently, see what areas we can hit…we want to make sure everyone is doing their job.
“It’s going to come down to the little things on set pieces and so we definitely need to work on those, and make sure that that can be a real strength of ours, because I think we have the personnel to score goals off of set pieces.”
The USMNT last reached the World Cup’s round of 16 in 2014, earning four points in the group stage before losing to Belgium in the knockout rounds.