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Ahead of US-Iran match, team faces tense, political press conference

USA’s midfielder Tyler Adams (R) and coach Gregg Berhalter give a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center in Doha on November 28, 2022, on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football match between Iran and USA.

Patrick T. Fallon | Afp | Getty Images

The U.S. men’s soccer team faces its make-or-break World Cup match Tuesday night against Iran. If it wins, it advances to the next stage – and if it loses, it’s heading home.

But despite needing to focus on the most important game this team of players has ever faced, the lead-up has been fraught with political drama. On Monday, Team USA’s players sat through a surreal and politically-charged press conference, during which they were bombarded with questions and criticism of their country.

In response to months of violent crackdowns on anti-government protests in Iran, the U.S. Soccer Federation over the weekend briefly made an alteration in its social media posts, showing the Iranian flag without its emblem of the Islamic Republic. The change, the federation said, was made for 24 hours to show support for women protesting for their rights in Iran.

Iranian media reacted swiftly, with state media agency Tasnim calling for the U.S. team to be kicked out of the tournament.

Iran’s flag was changed to its current version in 1980, after the 1979 Islamic Revolution ushered in a theocracy led by conservative Muslim clerics. The U.S. and Iran have been ideological foes with severed diplomatic ties since then.

While many Iranians and activists supportive of the protesters welcomed the U.S. Soccer Federation’s move, saying they associate the Islamic Republic’s emblem with oppression and torture, Iran’s state media slammed it, accusing the U.S. of hypocrisy and grilling the team’s players with political questions during the Monday press event.

A reporter from Iran’s state-controlled Press TV criticized U.S. team captain Tyler Adams for mispronouncing Iran, and asked him how he felt about representing a country that the reporter described as being rife with racial discrimination. Adams is mixed race.

“Are you okay to be representing your country that has so much discrimination against Black people in its own borders?” the Press TV reporter asked.

“My apologies on the mispronunciation of your country,” Adams responded. “That being said, there’s discrimination everywhere you go … in the U.S. we’re continuing to make progress every single day … as long as you make progress that’s the most important thing.”

USA leave a team huddle led by Tyler Adams of USA during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between England and USA at Al Bayt Stadium on November 25, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar.

Simon M Bruty | Anychance | Getty Images

Another Iranian state media reporter asked U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter: “What percentage of the world’s population will be happy if Iran wins this match [versus the U.S. team]?”

Berhalter replied, “For us it’s a soccer game against a good team — it’s not much more than that.” 


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