On the eve of the World Cup match, the USMNT tackles a social media storm it didn't create

On the eve of the World Cup match, the USMNT tackles a social media storm it didn’t create

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RAYYAN, Qatar — Getting through a World Cup without any diversions is nearly impossible as the most popular sporting event on the planet transcends the game and invites conversation — and argument — about geopolitics, culture and national pride. It’s all part of what England coach Gareth Southgate recently called “the outside noise tournament”, and it reached cacophony on Monday for U.S. men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter and his players.

Since arriving here more than two weeks ago, Berhalter and the U.S. Men’s National Team have navigated topics including Qatari workers’ rights and LGBTQ+ issues. And on the eve of an inescapable proposition against Iran in the Group B final, he and captain Tyler Adams fielded questions fueled by controversy created by their own governing body, the United States Soccer Federation.

In recent graphics posted on social media, the USSF removed a symbol in the middle of the flag associated with Iranian religious leaders – its way of supporting “women in Iran who are fighting for basic human rights”, he said. declared. By Sunday’s end, the federation had backtracked, deleting the posts and saying that in future it would fly the official Iranian flag.

American football briefly changes Iran flag on social media

The blowback has been fierce in some international circles and there have been calls in Iran for FIFA to punish the United States. When Berhalter and Adams appeared at a tense press conference on Monday, they were forced to answer — at times uncomfortably — a series of questions from mostly Iranian reporters who did not focus on football.

Berhalter said the coaching staff and players had no prior knowledge of the USSF’s plans to alter the flag. He and Adams seemed bothered not by the questions, but by the fact that they had been put in this position by the federation.

“All we can do…is apologize on behalf of the players and staff,” Berhalter said. “It’s not something we’re a part of.”

Adams, who is black, was asked about representing a country where discrimination against minorities is widespread, the reporter said. He was lectured by the same journalist on how to pronounce “Iran”.

Seemingly unfazed, Adams, a 23-year-old midfielder who was voted captain by his teammates, answered questions, apologized for mispronouncing “Iran” and wasn’t shy about discussing racial issues in America.

“One thing I’ve learned, especially living overseas for the past few years and integrating into different cultures and assimilating into different cultures, is that in the United States we continue to progress every day,” Adams said. “I grew up in a white family with obviously African American heritage and background. So I had a bit of different cultures. And I was able to easily assimilate into different cultures. Not everyone has that ease and ability to do it. It takes more time to understand, and through education, that’s super important.

Addressing his comment to the reporter, he added: “As you have just educated me now on your country’s pronunciation. So yeah, it’s a process. As long as you see progress, that’s the most important thing. .

Tyler Adams, a leader ‘by deeds and words’, named USMNT captain

Berhalter was asked about the support given to his team at home amid economic problems in the United States and his reaction to the inability of Iranian citizens to enter the United States.

“I don’t know enough about politics,” he says. “I am a football coach. I don’t know international politics well.

The 30-minute session also included a number of football-related topics: How will the United States solve their scoring problems? Will Iran play defensively? Will he be up to beating Iran and claiming one of the group’s two places in the round of 16?

The flag kerfuffle, however, delivered a curveball to a team that, at this critical juncture, would have preferred to focus exclusively on football.

World Cup schedule, standings and groups

“A lot of other voters have a different feeling about him, but for us it’s a game of football against a good team,” Berhalter said. “And it’s not much more than that. …I don’t want to appear distant or indifferent [about Iranian human rights issues] saying that, but the guys have worked very hard for the past four years.

Later at the press conference, he reiterated that point, saying, “What I see from the band is this huge focus. There are no real distractions. I know there’s a lot going on here, but the group is focused on: how to win? »

The United States (0-0-2, two points) sit in third place, one point behind Iran (1-1-0). England (1-0-1, four) will face Wales (0-1-1, one) in the other group game.

“We support the Iranian people and the Iranian team, but we are focused on this game, as they are too,” Adams said. “We continue to show our support and empathy for what is obviously happening to the Iranian team and the people.”

In solidarity with government protesters at home, Iran’s players did not sing the national anthem before their opener against England on Monday. They sang ahead of their second game against Wales.

Iran’s World Cup win sparks joy, but tensions over protests linger

“We know they’re going through things right now,” USA defender Walker Zimmerman said Sunday night. “They are human. We sympathize with this human emotion. We can feel for them.

Before Berhalter and Adams answered questions, Iran coach Carlos Queiroz hit the high road. Given the multiple opportunities to criticize the USSF, he spoke at length about the importance of the game and the harmony that sports can often promote.

“We stand in solidarity with all humanitarian causes around the world, whatever they are, who they are,” he said. “Human rights, racism, children being shot to death in schools – we stand in solidarity with all of these causes, but our mission here is to bring smiles to people’s faces for at least 90 minutes.”

Queiroz, who is Portuguese, is a sage in international football. His travels took him to the United States, where he coached the New York/New Jersey MetroStars of MLS, now the New York Red Bulls, in 1996, and was a consultant to the USSF which came close to becoming coach of the US national team in the mid-1990s.

He coached Real Madrid and assisted Manchester United, guided Portugal to the 2010 World Cup and spent eight years managing the Iranian side before returning this fall for a second tour.

Queiroz praised Team USA – “the most consistent of the bunch” – and marveled at the growth in MLS. He also played down the use of the flag controversy to motivate his players.

“If after 42 years in this game as a coach I still believe I could win games with these mental games, I think I haven’t learned anything from the game,” he said. “That’s not the case. I hope these events surrounding this World Cup will be a good lesson for all of us in the future.

For young USMNT, it’s ‘we win, we’re in’ at the World Cup

Even without the flag dust, the US-Iran game had political overtones. The countries have no formal diplomatic relations and have been at odds since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Tensions were high when the teams met at the 1998 World Cup in Lyon, France. With a 2-1 victory, Iran eliminated the United States from the knockout round.

At the time, Berhalter was a professional player in the Netherlands. For this match, he was an analyst on Dutch television.

“That match sticks in my memory and burns in my head,” Berhalter said. “What I saw at the opening whistle was a team that really wanted to win the game and a team that didn’t really want to win the game. Iran wanted to win the game with everything. played really engaged, really focused. For us to have any chance of advancing tomorrow, that’s going to have to be the mindset of our group.

World Cup in Qatar

The last: The World Cup continues on Monday in Qatar with the end of the second round of group stage matches. Follow our live coverage for the latest World Cup news, updates and highlights.

USMNT: The United States faced England in their second World Cup match on Friday. The match ended in a 0-0 draw, leaving the United States satisfied with their performance, but also leaving Group B extremely unsettled ahead of Tuesday’s finals.

Political protest: The looming backdrop to Iran’s World Cup campaign is a nationwide protest movement targeting its religious leaders, and tensions, inevitable and lingering, are spilling onto the pitch.

Perspective: The beautiful game is good. Suitcases full of cash are better. Read Sally Jenkins on Qatar’s human rights controversy.

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