College football and soccer analyst
AL RAYYAN, Qatar — This United States men’s national team has been on a mission to change the way the world perceives American soccer.
And what better way to change his mind than to beat England, a favorite to win it all, in the World Cup?
The USMNT has a chance to do so on Friday when it faces England at Al Rayyan Stadium in its second group stage match (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App).
Gregg Berhalter’s group is fearless and ambitious. It has undeniable swagger and confidence. Much has been said and written about the fact that they are the second youngest team in this tournament (Ghana is slightly younger) and that only one player – defender DeAndre Yedlin – has previous World Cup experience. Now that they’ve got one game under their belt — a 1-1 draw with Wales earlier this week — the Americans have a bang for Game 2, against big, bad England.
On Thursday, U.S. captain Tyler Adams acknowledged his team has a chance to make a statement here.
“I think it’s obviously a big opportunity to fast track the impact we can have,” Adams said. “This is the high pressure, [high] privileged moment to go on the field against some of these guys. We respect them – there is probably mutual respect between both teams. When you get a result in a game like this, you know, people start to respect Americans a little bit more.”
Added star winger Christian Pulisic: “We have to prove ourselves. We may not have been at the level of some of these world powerhouses in recent decades – but we’ve had good teams with a lot of heart in them. But I think if we can take it the next step with a successful World Cup, it can change a lot.”
In Monday’s tournament opener against Wales, Berhalter’s starting line-up included 10 players who play in Europe. Only center back Walker Zimmerman of Nashville SC plays in MLS. Although he has not ruled out playing abroad one day.
The English Premier League, where Adams plays for Leeds United, has been incredibly popular in the US for the past 15-20 years. It has fascinated and influenced young players, especially of this generation, who have become comfortable leaving their homes in America as teenagers with big plans to play for Europe’s top teams. Many have done just that, with Pulisic being the only player to have actually played and won 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 a UEFA Champions League quarter-final. After three and a half years in Germany, he joined Leeds United in July 2022, where he plays alongside American teammate Brenden Aaronson.
Adams said on Thursday that he grew up watching and admiring Theirry 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 it 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. It always has been and I think it always will be.”
Added Berhalter, who played for Crystal Palace in the early 2000s: “Everybody now in America seems to have a [Premier League] team they support. That’s an incredible leap. We’re very proud to have our players playing in that league, and to me it’s similar to the NFL in terms of how dominant it is and how commercially oriented it is.”
Having so many Americans abroad helps with familiarity with World Cup opponents and gives each team small advantages here and there. Japan, one of the Cinderellas of this tournament, upset Germany 2-1 with eight boys playing in the Bundesliga. USA have six players in EPL – will that make a difference against England?
“I don’t think that makes it predictable in any way,” Adams said. “You’re going to play a lot of quality players no matter how many times you’ve played them before. They’re going to be able to adapt to the game and what you’re doing and figure out solutions.
“But having said that, it’s nice to have that experience and play some of the big games against some of the top teams against some of England’s best players. And to have the opportunity to learn, grow, develop and understand the game differently. I will say that 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 dismisses the notion that the USMNT would be intimidated by a team like England — in fact, he said he wasn’t intimidated by anything “other than spiders.” He just hopes this match will show that the Americans are capable contenders and “that American football is growing and developing in the right way.”
Now, if the U.S. can beat England, a squad filled with players like Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish that Premier League-loving Americans cheer on at weekends, what kind of message will that send back home and to the rest of the world?
“It would mean a lot,” Adams said. “We’ve been trying to move this thing forward for the last few years, and we’ve been moving in the right direction. So I think ultimately capitalization will mean we continue to move in the right direction.”
Added Berhalter: “We haven’t achieved anything as a group on the world stage. We need to use this World Cup to establish ourselves and hopefully go 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 has previously written for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
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