No one expects the U.S. to beat England.
The oddsmakers say the World Cup matchup Friday in Al Khor on the edge of the Qatari desert is a huge mismatch, like leading lambs to slaughter. England is ranked fifth in the world. It made the semifinals of the last World Cup and the final of the last European Championship.
And the U.S.? Well, it has done nothing comparable.
“We haven’t achieved anything as a group on the world stage,” coach Gregg Berhalter conceded.
Before you go out and bet the farm on the Three Lions, here’s a fact to consider: The Americans have never lost to England in a World Cup, winning in 1950 and playing to a draw 12 years ago in South Africa. And they’re not conceding anything going into this game.
“I don’t think anything intimidates me. Other than spiders,” captain Tyler Adams said Thursday.
Adams is one of eight members of the U.S. team who plays club soccer in the U.K., and that has helped erase some of the mystique surrounding the English game. While the Americans respect England, they no longer fear it.
“England are currently one of the favorites to win the World Cup. People would probably say that we’re the underdogs,” Adams said. “But we carry that with pride. We have to perform in the games and show up. We know that our quality can show and our determination can show.”
If it doesn’t, the show might soon be over for the U.S. After a tournament-opening draw with Wales, a loss to England would be a significant blow to the Americans’ chances to reach the knockout stages. Conversely a win would move them a big step closer to advancing.
Berhalter said Thursday he expects to have a full squad, with forward Gio Reyna, midfielder Weston McKennie and outside back Sergiño Dest — who have all been dealing with fitness issues — available to play.
Adams, meanwhile, said he sees opportunity for the U.S. to exploit the way England plays. In the U.S. opener, Wales set up in a low block and allowed the U.S. to have the ball most of the night while holding it to just a goal. England, on the other hand, plays a possession-based, short-passing game. In its first match it had the ball for 70 of the 90 minutes and completed 716 passes, the third-most in a regulation-length game in World Cup history, while routing Iran 6-2.
“I think it sets up to our strengths in a way,” Adams said. “We feel that one of the qualities of our team, that we’ve built over the past three years, is our pressing. The amount of guys that we have on the team that can get in and around the ball, the athleticism to cover spaces and cover ground. And we play in a very aggressive way against the ball.
“That ultimately sets us up to create a lot of transition moments.”
Despite the Americans’ favorable record against England, they have mostly struggled against European teams at the World Cup, winning just once in their last 19 games. That means a win Friday would not only move the U.S. that much closer to the next round, it would also serve notice that this team, like spiders, can be intimidating.
“It’s obviously a huge opportunity to fast track the impact that we can have,” Adams said. “High pressure, a privileged moment to step on the field against some of these guys. We respect them.
“And when you get a result in a game like this, you know, people start to respect Americans a little bit more.”