AL-RAYYAN, Qatar — United States manager Gregg Berhalter has said he and his players had no part in U.S. Soccer Federation social media posts that removed the central image of Iran’s flag, apologized for them, and insisted that the focus of his team is on the decisive Group B match.
The USSF eventually took down the offending posts, but not before Iran filed a complaint with FIFA’s Ethics Committee. Berhalter added that his thoughts are with the Iranian people, many of whom have engaged in protests over the treatment of women following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by the country’s morality police.
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“The players and the staff knew nothing about what was being posted,” Berhalter said. “Sometimes things are out of our control. We believe that it’s going to be a match that the result will depend on who puts more effort in, who executes better on the field. And we’re not focused on those outside things. All we can do on our behalf is apologize on behalf of the players and the staff, but it’s not something that we are part of.
“We had no idea about what U.S. Soccer put out — the staff, the players had no idea. And for us, our focus is on this match. I don’t want to sound aloof or not caring by saying that, but the guys that worked really hard for the last four years, we have 72 hours between England and Iran, and we really are just focused on how to get past Iran and [how] we can go to this knockout stage of the tournament.
“Of course, our thoughts are with the Iranian people… the whole country, the whole team, everyone, but our focus is on this match.”
The news conference took some unexpected twists and turns, with Berhalter and captain Tyler Adams asked about discrimination in the U.S., whether former U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann was engaging in “psychological warfare” against Iran with his comments about the nation’s culture, the negative effects of inflation in the U.S., whether the nation is behind the team, and whether they are aware that U.S. citizens are allowed to travel to Iran but not vice versa.
Adams was also chided by an Iranian reporter for mispronouncing “Iran.” Adams apologized before he and Berhalter took the high ground on the other topics.
“Sport is something that should bring people together, bring countries together,” Berhalter said. “When you look at the Olympics, to see all those countries competing at the same time, is a wonderful event. The World Cup is very similar, where people come from all around the world. Fans come from all around the world, and you get to compete on the field, as brothers, so sport does have the ability to do that.”
Asked about discrimination in the U.S., Adams said it is everywhere.
“It’s a process,” Adams said of combatting discrimination. “I think as long as you see progress, that’s the most important thing.”
As for the game itself, the U.S. is facing a must-win situation while Iran can progress with a draw.
“Make no mistake about it, this is a knockout game for both teams, so it’s going to be a high level intensity,” Berhalter said. “I love what Iran’s done so far, especially the last game. A lot of commitment, really good counter-attacking and we expect it to be a hotly contested game.”
Berhalter was also asked about allegations by former U.S. international and Sirius XM broadcaster Eric Wynalda that the U.S. manager lied to the media about Giovanni Reyna’s condition after he did not feature against Wales, and that he asked Reyna to lie as well.
“I’ll leave it to [the media] to decide if I asked Gio to lie about it,” Berhalter said. “That’s just not who I am. That’s not what I represent. If you have to take Eric’s word or my word or whatever, feel free, but I know what happened. That’s not what I represent. And like every other person, Gio is a member of this team that we care deeply for, and we know he can help the team. It’s a matter of when he can help us and how he can help us.”
Berhalter was also asked about his central strikers’ performance, and whether Reyna might be an alternative. Berhalter said that Josh Sargent and Haji Wright “have done a decent job for us” and said it was up to their teammates to give them better service.
He added: “I think in terms of alternatives at the striker position, we’re comfortable with the three that we have. We haven’t necessarily thought about putting Gio there or Christian [Pulisic] there, or Timmy Weah there, or Jordan Morris there. We’ve been more focused on the three that we have in camp.”