US Soccer coach, player grilled by Iranian journalists on politics at World Cup

Ahead of the third group stage matchup between the US and the Islamic Republic, Iranian reporters had questions that had nothing to do with the game.

 FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - United States Press Conference - Main Media Center, Doha, Qatar - November 28, 2022 Tyler Adams of the U.S. and coach Gregg Berhalter during the press conference. (photo credit: REUTERS/JOHN SIBLEY)
FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - United States Press Conference - Main Media Center, Doha, Qatar - November 28, 2022 Tyler Adams of the U.S. and coach Gregg Berhalter during the press conference.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JOHN SIBLEY)

US Men’s Soccer team coach Gregg Berhalter and team captain Tyler Adams were questioned on political topics pertaining to US-Iran relations at a Monday press conference ahead of their much-anticipated matchup with Iran on Tuesday.

Ahead of the third group stage matchup between the US and the Islamic Republic – one that will likely determine which of the two will advance to the Round of 16 – Iranian reporters had questions pertaining to issues that did not exactly have any relation to Tuesday’s matchup.

The press conference featured Berhalter being asked “why he hasn’t asked the US government to remove a Naval ship from around Iran,” by an Iranian reporter, according to USA Today Sports’ Nancy Armour. Berhalter was further pressed regarding US immigration policies and why people with Iranian passports are subjected to restrictions on visiting States, to which he replied, "I don’t know enough about politics, I'm a soccer coach."

Later on, Adams was chided for mispronouncing Iran, questioned about the US economy in regards to inflation, and pressed on how he felt about representing a country “that has so much discrimination against black people.” Adams apologized for the mispronunciation before adding that ​​"the US (is) continuing to make progress every single day.”

US vs Iran 

 IRAN’S FOOTBALL team remains silent as the national anthem is played ahead of their match with England at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar on November 21 (credit: MARKO DJURICA/REUTERS) IRAN’S FOOTBALL team remains silent as the national anthem is played ahead of their match with England at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar on November 21 (credit: MARKO DJURICA/REUTERS)

While the results of the match will see either one of the sides advance to the knockout stages of the World Cup – sending the other side home in the process – that is far from the only implication of this matchup, which has been mired in geopolitics and controversy since the World Cup groups were announced in April.

While the US-Iran relationship continues to deteriorate and the political situation remains muddled, Iran will also be playing amid the backdrop of protests that have rocked the Islamic Republic since the death of Mahsa Amini in September. 

Players from Iran’s national team seemingly supported protestors at the start of their first matchup of the tournament, as they decided not to sing when the Iranian national anthem was played. 

Further, US Soccer’s official social media scrubbed the Islamic Republic emblem from Iran’s flag on a graphic in what was ostensibly a show of support for protestors, leading the Iranian federation to file a complaint with FIFA calling for the US to be kicked out of the world cup entirely, per Tasnim News Agency.

When pressed on the social media controversy, Berhalter said the players and staffers “had no idea about what US Soccer puts out” on social media.

"Our thoughts are with the Iranian people ... but our focus is on this match."

-Gregg Berhalter, USMNT coach.

"Of course, our thoughts are with the Iranian people ... the whole country, the whole team, everyone, but our focus is on this match," Berhalter declared.