Undaunted USMNT plays to a draw against England but faces an unsettled World Cup future
Nov. 25, 2022 Updated Fri., Nov. 25, 2022 at 6:52 p.m.
Antonee Robinson and the U.S. men’s national team played England to a scoreless draw Friday in Qatar. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
KHOR, Qatar – Some seven months ago, when the World Cup draw dropped the United States and England into the same group, the countdown to Friday’s clash at the tent-inspired Al Bayt Stadium commenced. The young Americans had made headway in their rebuilding efforts, but with this delicious matchup, they could measure their headway and engage with global soccer nobility.
They were undaunted by the luminous opponent and created two delightful opportunities to go ahead before halftime. They were disciplined and composed, never veering from the plan hatched by coach Gregg Berhalter.
Alas, the match ended in a 0-0 draw, leaving the United States feeling good about its performance but also leaving Group B wildly unsettled heading into Tuesday’s finales.
The Americans (0-0-2, two points) must defeat Iran (1-1-0, three points) to secure one of two berths in the round of 16. England (1-0-1, four points) will face Wales (0-1-1, one point) in the other match.
The Americans grew into the match after a slow start. They increasingly made things difficult for the Three Lions and enjoyed the better scoring opportunities. Dare anyone say, they were the superior side.
The United States is 2-8-2 all time against England, the last victory coming 29 years ago, but in three World Cup meetings, it’s unbeaten (1-0-2).
The day before the match, England coach Gareth Southgate, a former World Cup defender for the Three Lions, lowered expectations – and perhaps further fueled motivation by saying: “Have we ever beaten the States in a major tournament? No, I didn’t think so. … We’re good at talking highly of ourselves as a nation and on the basis of very little evidence.”
Berhalter played down the U.S. program’s place in the global soccer family, saying: “We haven’t achieved anything as a group on the world stage. When you’re talking about England coming in fourth (at the 2018 World Cup) and then coming in second (at the 2021 Euros), there’s tangible things you can say, ‘ OK, this group achieved something,’ and we’re just not there yet.”
While Southgate stuck with the same starters that bashed Iran 6-2, Berhalter made just one change from the 1-1 draw against Wales: Striker Haji Wright, who a month ago seemed like a long shot to even make the 26-man roster, replaced Josh Sargent.
Wright is bigger and stronger than Sargent, factors that promised to enhance set-piece threats and add a target on crosses. The Los Angeles native arrived at the World Cup in fine form for his Turkish club, Antalyaspor, with nine goals in 12 matches.
Gio Reyna, a 20-year-old attacker with marvelous technical skills, was left out of the starting lineup again. Whether he is fully fit remained unclear. After the Wales game, Berhalter cited muscle tightness and the team’s cautionary approach, but on Thursday, he said it was a coach’s decision.
U.S. player ties to England were all over the field: Antonee Robinson and Yunus Musah were once eligible to represent the Three Lions, while Matt Turner, Tim Ream, Tyler Adams and Christian Pulisic are employed by Premier League clubs.
Methodical England set the tone, shifting the ball side to side. Center back Walker Zimmerman blocked Harry Kane’s dangerous bid from close range. Otherwise, England failed to create any solid threats.
For the United States, spells of optimism gave way to sustained possession and two glorious opportunities. Unmarked 9 yards from the target, Weston McKennie pumped a cross badly off-target. He grabbed his wedge of red-white-and-blue dyed hair in frustration, knowing such chances would probably come along infrequently.
Seven minutes later, Pulisic worked himself into a pocket of space just inside the penalty area and targeted the top near corner. His left-footed 16-yarder beat goalkeeper Jordan Pickford but crashed off the crossbar.
England pressed for a breakthrough in stoppage time, which lasted just one minute – a blink of an eye in a tournament that has feared enormous amounts of additional time.
Mason Mount provided the threat. Turner offered the solution, springing to his right to push aside the low, 19-yard bid.
Early in the second half, the Americans kept their shape and remained disciplined in their defensive tasks. They picked their spots to attack. On his walk to take a corner kick – the first of five in a quick burst – Pulisic gestured to the U.S. supporters behind the goal, encouraging them to raise the volume. They obliged.
Inspiration was also provided by captain Tyler Adams, who, from his defensive midfield position, won loose ball after loose ball and executed a superb tackle in the penalty area.
While Berhalter saw no reason to change anything, Southgate needed a jolt.
In the 69th minute, he brought on midfielder Jordan Henderson and winger Jack Grealish. The Three Lions picked up the pace; the American slowed them down.
Berhalter made his first moves with about 15 minutes left, replacing McKennie with Brenden Aaronson and right back Sergiño Dest with Shaq Moore. Both exiting players were carrying yellow cards from the opener and at risk of missing the Iran game on suspension.
Reyna made his long-awaited entrance in the 83rd minute, along with Sargent, providing fresh legs in the attack.
In stoppage time, the ever-dangerous Kane won an aerial duel on Luke Shaw’s free kick but drove his 8-yard header wide.
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