After a brief hiatus from programming on Tuesday, the USA soccer team will return to their familiar role on the world stage when they take on England on Friday in Al Khor, Qatar: as huge World Cup underdogs.
Perhaps that’s a good thing for the Americans, who just won an unsatisfactory 1-1 draw with Wales on Monday in the first of their three Group B matches, taking just one point instead of three.
Although the United States, ranked 16th in the world, were hardly a strong favorite against 19th-placed Wales, they did not manage prosperity well after playing a solid first half. The Americans took a 1-0 lead before looking like the least fit team in the final 45 minutes.
The United States were foiled by Wales in the second half, playing to protect the lead instead of maintaining their more aggressive first-half approach, and Wales had the Americans on the back foot for the rest of the game. If we’re honest, USA was lucky not to lose the game.
The draw with Wales left the Americans in a precarious position, needing a win over England or Iran to all but guarantee passage to the knockout stage. At least four points are essential to advance.
England, ranked fifth in the world, crushed Iran 6-2 in their Group B opener and looked dominant in the process.
“They’re probably one of the favorites to win the World Cup,” USA captain Tyler Adams said. “We know we are probably underdogs.”
Adams can remove the “probably” from these two sentences.
That’s okay, though, as there’s a youthful brashness to the USA team, which is the second-youngest team at this World Cup and seems to be embracing the underdog role.
“We have always been the underdogs in America’s eyes,” said striker Tim Weah, who scored the USA goal against Wales. “They kind of wonder if we know how to play football. And I think it’s time for us to show the world that we can play with the best and beat the best.
Here’s the thing about this World Cup: some of the so-called “top teams” have already been knocked out by underdogs: Saudi Arabia, ranked 51st in the world, stunned No. 3 Argentina and the Japan, ranked 24th, beat No. 11. Germany.
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Don’t think these results aren’t on the minds of upstart Americans, who are more in “why not us?” mode. “.
Another factor in Team USA’s favor is the fact that so many of its players are contemporaries – and in some cases club-mates – of England players, playing in the Premier League.
Christian Pulisic, considered the best American player, plays for Chelsea. Goalkeeper Matt Turner plays for Arsenal. Defenders Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson both play for Fulham. Adams plays for Leeds United, as does midfielder Brenden Aaronson. Striker Josh Sargent plays for Norwich City.
Midfielder Yunus Musah was born in New York but grew up in London, was a member of Arsenal’s youth system and captained the England Under-18 side. American defender Cameron Carter-Vickers was born in England and, like Musah, was eligible to play for England or America.
All of this lessens the element of intimidation, if there is one. The Americans will enter the game without fear. They just need to play better than they did against Wales to come away with a positive result.
“We’ve always carried a chip on our shoulder,” Adams said. “Playing against a lot of these guys week in and week out gives you a bit of familiarity before the game.”
A victory would virtually guarantee the United States a ticket to the knockout stage as one of the top 16 in play to win it all. A draw, while a big confidence boost for the Americans, would still leave the United States needing a win over Iran in the final Group B game on Tuesday.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” said Turner, a New Jersey native who played at Fairfield University. “You see the world of football stabilizing in many ways. I think the message is that when you have a team that sticks to the same message, you can beat anyone any day.
England will clearly come into the game wary of the Americans. The lopsided victory over Iran was barely over when England coach Gareth Southgate chastised his side for their “sloppy” play at the end of the match, warning that the United States would come in “full throttle” on Friday. Southgate was already sending a message to its players that they will have to be even better against the Americans.
“It’s a top nation with a lot of top players who have played in the Premier League that we’ve come up against,” said England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Pickford then referred to the World Cup upheavals already on the books, following defeat to Argentina and Germany.
“That’s what the FIFA World Cup is all about,” he said. “There are going to be surprises.”
New York Post