College football and soccer analyst
AL RAYYAN, Qatar – This United States men’s national team was on a mission to change the way the world views American soccer.
And what better way to change his mind than to beat England, the favorites to win it all, at the World Cup?
The USMNT has a chance to do just that on Friday when they take on England at Al Rayyan Stadium in their second group stage game (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App).
Gregg Berhalter’s band is fearless and ambitious. He has an undeniable swagger and confidence. Much has been said and written about them being the second youngest team at this tournament (Ghana is slightly younger) and that only one player – defender DeAndre Yedlin – has previous World Cup experience. Now with one game under their belt — a 1-1 draw against Wales earlier this week — the Americans have a huge lead going into Game 2 against big, bad England.
On Thursday, US captain Tyler Adams acknowledged his team has a chance to make a statement here.
“I think it’s obviously a huge opportunity to fast-track the impact we can have,” Adams said. “These are high pressure, [high] a privilege to step on the field against some of these guys. We respect them – it’s probably a mutual respect between the two teams. When you get a result in a game like this, people start to respect the Americans a little bit more.”
Star winger Christian Pulisic: “We have to prove ourselves. We may not have been at the level of some of these world powers in recent decades – but we’ve had good teams with a lot of heart in us.” if we can take it to the next step with a successful World Cup, it could change a lot of things.”
In Monday’s tournament opener against Wales, Berhalter’s starting line-up included 10 players who play in Europe. Only defender Walker Zimmerman of Nashville SC plays in MLS. Although he didn’t rule out playing overseas one day.
The English Premier League, where Adams plays for Leeds United, has been incredibly popular in the States for the past 15-20 years. It fascinates and influences young players, especially of this generation who used to leave their homes in America as teenagers with big plans to play for top European teams. Many did, with Pulisic being the only player to actually play and win a Champions League final.
Adams grew up in New York and played for the Red Bulls academy before later joining RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, where he became the first USMNT player to score in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League. After three and a half years in Germany, he joined Leeds United in July 2022, playing alongside American teammate Brendan Aaronson.
Adams said on Thursday that he grew up watching and admiring Theyra Henry play for the Red Bulls and Arsenal. It was easy for him to tune into Premier League games on Saturday mornings and dream of doing that one day.
“I remember telling my mum at a young age that I wanted to play in England,” Adams said. “There will always be something special about the Premier League. There always has been and I think there always will be.”
Berhalter, who played for Crystal Palace in the early 2000s, added: “Everyone in America seems to have [Premier League] the team they support. It’s an incredible leap. We’re really proud of our players playing in this league, and to me it’s similar to the NFL in terms of how dominant it is and how commercial it is.”
Having so many Americans overseas helps to get to know the World Cup opponents better and gives each team little advantages here and there. Japan, one of the Cinderellas of this tournament, upset Germany 2-1 with eight players playing in the Bundesliga. USA have six players in EPL – will that make a difference against England?
“I don’t think it was predictable by any means,” Adams said. “You’re going to play against a lot of quality players, no matter how many times you’ve played against them before. They’re going to be able to adapt to the game and what you’re doing and come up with solutions.”
“But that being said, it’s nice to have that experience and play some of those big games against some of the best teams against some of the best English players. And to have the opportunity to learn and grow and develop and understand the game differently.” I would say international football is completely different to the club game, but to have the opportunity to play against some of these players [in club games] will be useful.”
Adams rejects the notion that the USMNT will be intimidated by a team like England – in fact, he said he is intimidated by nothing “other than spiders”. He just hopes that this particular match will show that the Americans are capable opponents and “that American soccer is growing and developing in the right direction.”
Now, if the US can beat England, a squad full of players like Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish that Premier League-loving Americans root for on the weekends, what kind of message will that send home and beyond? world?
“That would mean a lot,” Adams said. “We’ve been trying to move this thing forward over the last couple of years and we’ve been moving in the right direction. So I think ultimately capitalization would mean we’re continuing to move in the right direction.”
Berhalter added: “As a group we haven’t achieved anything on the world stage. We have to use this World Cup to establish ourselves and then hopefully move on to the next World Cup and do the same.”
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Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 for the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
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