On the eve of a critical World Cup match with abounding political and competitive ramifications, Adams, his teammates and their coaches on the United States national team on Monday found themselves caught in the middle of a diplomatic feud they had neither started nor wanted. At their prematch news conference, amid questions that ranged from soccer tactics to U.S. Navy maneuvers, they distanced themselves from social media posts made by their soccer federation over the weekend that showed support for the women of Iran by doctoring that country’s flag.
Gregg Berhalter, the United States coach, said that neither he nor any players were involved with the decision to remove Iran’s official emblem and two lines of Islamic script from its flag in posts on Twitter and Instagram, but offered an apology on behalf of the team anyway.
“We had no idea about what U.S. Soccer put out — the staff, the players, had no idea,” Berhalter said.
But he also tried, in vain, to steer the conversation away from politics.
“Our focus is on this match,” he said. “I don’t want to sound aloof or not caring by saying that, but the guys have 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 go to the knockout stage of this tournament. Of course, our thoughts are with the Iranian people, the whole country, the whole team, everyone, but our focus is on this match.”
Iran condemned U.S. Soccer’s decision to use an incorrect flag, an action that it said violated the statutes of FIFA, world soccer’s global governing body. The American federation, which has acknowledged the decision to use the altered flag was intentional, deleted the posts Sunday and said it would use only Iran’s official flag going forward.