DOHA, Qatar (AP) — American soccer hopes to be ascendant, to challenge the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA in the competition for U.S. market share.
Reaching the final 16 with Tuesday night’s 1-0 win over Iran was another step for a team whose success is measured in television viewers and buzz along with final scores.
“I don’t know the final numbers, but I’m sure there was a lot of people watching,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “You see how resilient this group is. You see how unified this group is. You see what type of energy and output they put into every single game. And then along the way, there’s some pretty good soccer. That’s the American spirit, the way this group plays, and I think people will appreciate that, especially back home.”
The Americans opened with a 1-1 draw with Wales that was seen by 11.7 million on English- and Spanish-language U.S. broadcasts and followed with a 0-0 tie against England that was viewed by 19.98 million on Black Friday, when schools were off and many offices closed.
President Joe Biden took note of the victory over Iran when speaking in Bay City, Michigan.
“They did it! God love ’em,” Biden said.
A victory on Saturday against the Netherlands would put the U.S. in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002. The status of Christian Pulisic is uncertain after he bruised his pelvis crashing into the goalkeeper while scoring against Iran. The U.S. Soccer Federation did not make Pulisic available to media on Wednesday but posted a video of him dribbling a ball.
“We may be the underdog,” said Brenden Aaronson, who replaced Pulisic at the start of the second half. “The Dutch are a world power and they’ve been that for many, many tournaments. So I think for us, it’s just going in there with no fear and playing the way we have been this entire tournament. And I think good things will come out of it.”
Matt Turner, the first U.S. goalkeeper with consecutive World Cup shutouts since 1930, was overcome with emotion at the final whistle. Turner thought back to how the U.S. performance in 2010 helped convert him to soccer.
He was a high school baseball player who played soccer fulltime, then switched emphasis. Turner's journey took him to a Major League Soccer debut in 2018, a transfer to Arsenal last summer and now success on soccer’s biggest stage.
“This is just an unbelievable experience for me, given my story,” he said. “Almost everything is a carbon copy of the feelings that I felt as a fan in 2010. And to be able to have a say in the result that gets us through to the next round is huge — it was just very emotional for a lot of reasons for me.”
The American lineup against Iran was the youngest of any team at this year’s tournament and the youngest for the Americans since 1990, averaging 24 years, 321 days. Iran coach Carlos Queiroz, a former U.S. Soccer Federation adviser, praised their pace, which forced his team to adjust.
“When we play a team with Ferraris who need space to accelerate, the best way to play against them is to close the highways so they can’t gain speed," he said.
A daunting task against the Dutch is ahead: The U.S. has five losses and six draws in 11 World Cup matches against European opponents since upsetting Portugal 3-2 in a 2002 opener.
“It’s a great opportunity but it’s not something that we’re going into it thinking it’s an honor. We deserve to be in the position we're in and we want to keep going,” Berhalter said. “So for us, it’s about how we recover from this game and prepare to play against a very good Dutch, very well coached, ton of quality all over the field, and we have to come up with an idea of how to beat them.”
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