USMNT team captain Tyler Adams had a ready response after an Iranian reporter criticized his pronunciation of the country's name and then asked how it felt to be Black and represent the U.S. during a press conference earlier this week.
"You say you support the Iranian people, but you are pronouncing our country's name wrong," the unidentified reporter said on Monday, a day before the two countries faced off, and then asked: "Are you OK to be representing a country that has so much discrimination against Black people in its own borders?"
After apologizing for mispronouncing "Iran," Adams, 23, did not hesitate, and pivoted to the reporter's loaded question.
"There's discrimination everywhere you go," the midfielder said. "One thing that I've learned, especially from living abroad in the past years and having to fit in in different cultures and kind of assimilate into different cultures, is that in the U.S., we're continuing to make progress every single day."
The New York native, who plays for Leeds United in the English Premier League, added that he believes education is an essential tool in the process.
— USMNT Only (@usmntonly) November 28, 2022
"Not everyone has that ease and the ability to do that, and obviously, it takes longer to understand, and through education, I think it's super important," he said. "Like you just educated me now on the pronunciation of your country. So, yeah, it's a process. I think as long as you see progress, that's the most important thing."
Adams' exchange with the reporter capped a weekend of controversy between the two teams, with Iran calling for the United States to be ousted from the 2022 World Cup after U.S. Soccer removed Iran's flag emblem on a social media post.
On Saturday, the U.S. shared a graphic listing the tournament's Group B standings, including England, Iran, the United States and Wales. However, the post featured Iran's national flag without the emblem of the Islamic Republic.
U.S. Soccer told CNN that the edited graphic was only intended to stay up for 24 hours in an attempt to "support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights."
Moreover, they said, the edited flag "was a one-time graphic" and U.S. Soccer has "the main flag" on its "website and other places."
The post featuring the emblem-less flag has since been deleted and U.S. Soccer added the emblem back to social media posts shared on Sunday.
"We look forward to a peaceful and competitive match on the field," the State Department told CNN at the time. "The United States continues to find ways to support the Iranian people in the face of state-sponsored violence against women and a brutal crackdown against peaceful protestors."
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The State Department told CNN it was not involved with US Soccer's decision to edit Iran's flag.
In response, Iran state media called for a 10-game suspension for the United States and immediate disqualification from the tournament.
Two days later, the U.S. beat Iran 1-0 to oust them from the World Cup. The U.S. now moves on to the knockout stage and will play the Netherlands on Saturday.