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These Are The 3 Things That Could Happen To The USMNT In Its Final Group Stage Game At The 2022 World Cup

The group stage of the World Cup is almost over. Beginning on Tuesday, teams will start playing their final games in an effort to learn who will move on to the knockout stage. For the United States men’s national team, that means a matchup with Iran where the mission is simple: win and you’re in.

Heading into Tuesday afternoon’s game, which kicks at 2 p.m. ET, here’s how things stand in Group B:

England: 4 points
Iran: 3 points
U.S.: 2 points
Wales: 1 point

Every team is technically still alive, even if Wales…well, I’d probably not feel especially good if I was a Wales supporter right now. I am, however, a supporter of the United States, and as such, here are the three ways things could go for them on Tuesday afternoon.

The USMNT is heading home if…

…they don’t beat Iran. Obviously, it would have been preferable if the team didn’t need to get three points in order to move on — only drawing against Wales, where Walker Zimmerman’s clumsy and unnecessary challenge on Gareth Bale led to a penalty that remains the only goal the team has allowed in Qatar, looms quite large.

Having said that, a consolation is that the team is going into its final game knowing exactly what it will need to do from start to finish, and the objective will never change, no matter what happens. At no point will they need to switch their approach to the game up, as they will need to play to win the entire time. So, I guess that’s nice.

Is a draw or a loss possible? Extremely! The Americans have one goal and two total shots on target in group play. Both of these things have been a problem for a few months now, and while Iran got torn apart by England, that was more of a case of England having a really good day while Iran had a really bad day. Their defensive stinginess and organization played a major role in them getting to the World Cup, and they only need a draw to advance. It is not hard to imagine a gross, 0-0 slog that sends the Americans home and the Iranians into the knockout round. If I were Gregg Berhalter, I would simply tell the lads to score a lot of goals. My hunch is he is going to do this.

Assuming an England win over Wales, here’s how things would break down for the United States with a draw and a loss:

Draw: England 7, Iran 4, U.S. 3, Wales 1
Loss: England 7, Iran 6, U.S. 2, Wales 1

It goes without saying, but this wouldn’t be especially good for the Yanks. Let’s get to the better options.

The USMNT is finishing in second if…

…they beat Iran and nothing weird happens in England vs. Wales. The maximum number of points the United States can get is five. England is almost certainly going to beat a Wales team that looked terrible against Iran, listless against the United States, and will not have its starting goalkeeper, Wayne Hennessey, due to a red card he received in the last game. Hennessey’s backup is a starter in the Premier League, Leicester City’s Danny Ward, but regardless, it is extremely difficult to imagine a world where Wales can get all three points here.

Wales is in a position where a win and a draw in the other game would put them through, so they have to go for it. Doing that against an England team that is much better, however, might be a terrible idea, especially if Gareth Southgate wises up and plays Phil Foden.

As for the U.S., the last section focused on their biggest issue, so let’s get to the good stuff. Their defense has not given up an open play goal, allowing 1.55 expected goals (which includes the penalty) against Wales and 0.77 against England, per FotMob. The center back pairing of Zimmerman, aside from that one bad decision in the box, and Tim Ream has been stout — Ream, in particular, has been outstanding — Antonee Robinson seems to have an unlimited gas tank at left back, and Sergiño Dest, whose best asset is his attacking nous, has generally been ok on the right. The midfield trio of Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, and Yunus Musah has done everything asked of them and then some, while Christian Pulisic and Timothy Weah have been dangerous on the wings, even if that last little something have evaded them save for Weah’s goal against the Welsh.

They have the talent to beat an Iran team that can be quite dangerous. Mehdi Taremi and Sardar Azmoun have been two of the top players at World Cup by non-penalty expected goals, but if the Americans can continue to defend and sniff out dangerous moments before they really get a chance to develop, they should be ok, especially if Matt Turner is as good as he has been when he’s been called upon. As for the whole “need to score goals” thing, keep your fingers crossed that Giovanni Reyna — who is the team’s best player at just making stuff happen — plays. (It’s been weird!)

Anyway, this is the most likely outcome. As of this writing, the fine folks in Las Vegas have the USMNT as -105 to win, while a draw is +240 and an Iran win is +310. England and the United States winning would mean the group ends with England on seven points, the U.S. on five, Iran on three, and Wales on one.

The USMNT is winning the group if…

…they beat Iran and stuff gets weird in England vs. Wales. Like, extremely weird. Like, weird in a way that makes me wonder if wasting your time by writing up this section is worth it. If the United States and Wales win, the U.S. wins the group, that simple. England would still make it through unless Wales pumps in a ton of goals. I am extremely confident that this will not happen, even with Harry Kane’s fitness being a question, but hey, England at a major tournament.

The other weird scenario: The United States wins while England and Wales play to a draw. If this occurred, the U.S. and England would have five points each. Basically, there is an extremely narrow path, should this happen, where the United States can overtake England. You can read this if you are interested in learning how tiebreakers work at the World Cup, and here is every single thing that can happen on Tuesday, according to the New York Times.

This scenario is mostly for fun. A good 99.9 percent of the realistic ones are the first two. That means, in all likelihood, Iran or the United States would play the team that wins Group A in the knockout round, which would mean one of Ecuador, Senegal, or The Netherlands. That group will get all sorted out earlier in the day — the first two teams play one another, while the Dutch take on Qatar, which has already been eliminated.

The Group A winners and the Group B runners-up would play on Saturday at 10 p.m. EST in the first game in the round of 16. We’re 90 minutes and stoppage time of soccer away from learning if the United States will be in that game.