After a brief break from programming on Tuesday, the US soccer team will return to its familiar role on the world stage when it plays England on Friday in Al Khor, Qatar as big underdogs in the World Cup.
Perhaps that’s a good thing for the Americans, who on Monday, after an unlucky 1-1 draw with Wales, scored just one point instead of three in the first of three Group B matches on Monday.
While the US, ranked 16th in the world, was hardly the clear favorite against 19th-ranked Wales, it did not fare well with prosperity after a strong first half. The Americans took a 1-0 lead before looking like a less prepared team in the last 45 minutes.
Wales outplayed the US in the second half, playing to defend the lead rather than maintaining their more aggressive approach from the first half, and Wales kept the Americans in the shadows for the remainder of the match. To be honest, the US was lucky they didn’t lose the match.
The draw with Wales left the Americans in a precarious position: they needed a win over England or Iran to effectively guarantee a playoff spot. A minimum of four points is required to advance.
England, ranked fifth in the world, thrashed Iran 6-2 in their first Group B match and looked dominant in the process.
“They may be one of the favorites to win the World Cup,” said Team USA captain Tyler Adams. “We know we’re probably underdogs.”
Adams can remove “probably” from both of these sentences.
That’s okay, though, because there’s a youthful sass on Team USA that is the second youngest team in this World Cup and seems to be taking on the underdog role.
“We’ve always been underdogs in America’s eyes,” said striker Tim Weah, who scored Team USA’s goal against Wales. “They kind of wonder if we can play football. And I think it’s time to show the world that we can play with the best and beat the best.”
Here’s something about this World Cup: Some of the so-called “best” teams have already lost to underdogs: Saudi Arabia, ranked 51st in the world, stunned 3rd Argentina, and Japan, ranked 24th, beat 11th. Yu. Germany.
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Don’t think these results don’t appeal to upstart Americans who are constantly in “why not us?” mode.
Another factor in favor of the American team is the fact that many of its players are contemporaries, and in some cases teammates, of England’s Premier League players.
Christian Pulisic, considered the best player in the United States, plays for Chelsea. Goalkeeper Matt Turner plays for Arsenal. Defenders Tim Rome and Anthony Robinson play for Fulham. Adams plays for Leeds United, as does midfielder Brenden Aaronsohn. Forward Josh Sargent plays for Norwich City.
Midfielder Yunus Musakh was born in New York but grew up in London, was a member of Arsenal’s youth system and captained the England under-18s. American defender Cameron Carter-Vickers was born in England and, like Musa, was eligible to play for either England or America.
All this reduces the element of intimidation, if any. The Americans will go to the match without fear. They just need to play better than they played against Wales to come away with a positive result.
“We always had a chip on our shoulder,” Adams said. “Playing against a lot of these guys week after week, you get a little familiar with the game.”
A win would effectively guarantee the US a playoff spot as one of the top 16 in the game to win it all. A draw, while giving the Americans a strong boost of confidence, would still leave the US without a win against Iran in Tuesday’s Group B final.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” said Turner, a New Jersey native who played at Fairfield University. “You see that the world of football is leveling off in many ways. I think the idea is that when you have one team that believes in the same thing, you can beat anyone on any given day.”
England will clearly enter the match with apprehension towards the Americans. The lopsided victory over Iran was barely over when England manager Gareth Southgate chided his team for a ‘sleazy’ late game, warning that the US would be ‘to the fullest’ on Friday. Southgate was already sending the message to his players that they needed to be even better against the Americans.
“This is a leading nation with many of the best players that have played in the Premier League and that we have faced,” said England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Pickford then referred to the World Cup setbacks already in the books after Argentina and Germany lost.
“That’s the whole point of the World Cup,” he said. – There will be surprises.