Yet football ties between countries have strengthened, intrinsically linked by exposure to the English game in the United States, the desire of many American players to have a career in England, and a greater respect in England for how US soccer has grown.
With these dynamics at work, Friday comes a World Cup collision in Bayt, Qatar between an English contender firing on all cylinders and a boyish American team looking to join the clan of giant killers in this tournament unpredictable.
Brimming with talent, the Three Lions are banking on their first world championship since 1966. Learning and evolving, the United States have the modest aim of progressing to the knockout stages after failing to qualify for the tournament four years ago.
They have met in the World Cup only twice before and the Americans are yet to lose (a 1950 defeat in Brazil and a 2010 draw in South Africa). A win or draw would not only fuel the immediate cause of the United States, it would boost larger ambitions to become a formidable footballing country in men’s soccer. (The women’s program came along a long time ago.)
“It’s obviously a huge opportunity to accelerate the impact we can have,” said Captain Tyler Adams. “These are the games where it’s a prime, high-pressure time to take the field against some of these guys. … It means a lot to the team because we’ve been trying to move this thing forward for the past three years and we’ve been moving in the right direction.
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Links between the programs start with the coaches, Gregg Berhalter and England’s Gareth Southgate, who have become good friends over the years. Both have taken over teams in need of direction, Berhalter after their 2018 qualifying fiasco and Southgate after poor performances at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Euros.
After their teams were grouped together in the World Cup draw, they didn’t have much contact.
“I WhatsApped him, but I didn’t see the blue check,” showing that Southgate has read the message, Berhalter joked on Thursday. “We took a break. We will resume our relationship the day after tomorrow.
Southgate said, “I have enjoyed my interactions with Greg over the last few years. I learned a lot from him and it was really interesting to see the progress of the team under his guidance ”.
Nearly half of the 26-man U.S. roster has ties to England. Sons of American fathers, defenders Antonee Robinson and Cameron Carter-Vickers were born and raised in England. New York midfielder Yunus Musah lived there from the ages of 9 to 16, grew up in the Arsenal youth academy and played for England’s youth national teams.
Losing Musah hit England. “Obviously he took one of ours, which we weren’t too happy with,” said Southgate. “Correctness.”
Musah, 19, said: ‘I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to feel [Friday]. It’s definitely a special match, because I played for both teams.”
Carter-Vickers, 24, said: ‘My family, half want us to win and half want England to win.’
Forward Gio Reyna, 20, was born in Sunderland, England, while his father, Claudio, the former United States captain, was in the prime of his European career.
Adams, goalkeeper Matt Turner, forward Brenden Aaronson, defender Tim Ream and forwards Josh Sargent and Christian Pulisic are employed by the English clubs. Forward Jordan Morris has spent time on loan at Welsh side Swansea City in the English second division league, and midfielder Luca de la Torre began his career with London’s Fulham.
Berhalter, a former defender, played one season for Crystal Palace in London.
The Premier League is “the game I grew up watching, and I’ve experienced it firsthand” playing for Arsenal, said Turner. “It was an eye-opening experience to see it from both sides.”
Three of Turner’s Arsenal teammates were selected for England’s World Cup squad: goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, defender Ben White and striker Bukayo Saka. “Friends off the pitch,” said Turner, “and then when you come onto the pitch, it’s all concentrated for 90 minutes.”
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As a youngster, Adams idolized Arsenal star Thierry Henry – he became Henry’s teammate with the New York Red Bulls – and was drawn to the Premier League. This summer, Adams joined Leeds United from German RB Leipzig. His trainer, Jesse Marsch, is American, as is his teammate Aaronson.
“I remember telling my mother at a very young age that I wanted to play for England,” said Adams, 23. “There is something special about the Premier League: it always has been and I think there always will be.”
Berhalter, Turner and Adams cited the popularity of the Premier League in the United States, thanks to extensive coverage by NBC Sports.
“Waking up to watch the Premier League and everyone in America seems to have a team they support,” Berhalter said. “It’s an incredible championship. We are really proud to have our players playing in that league.”
Southgate said: “We know a lot about the [U.S.] players in our league, and we know the quality they have and the athleticism they have.”
With so many Americans playing in England, the awe at the Three Lions is perhaps lessened. Every member of the England squad, with the exception of German midfielder Jude Billingham, is employed by a Premier League club.
“I wouldn’t say there are a lot of things out there that intimidate me, aside from spiders,” laughed Adams during a news conference at the Qatar National Convention Center, one floor below a huge sculpture of a spider.
“So it’s fine for me to have the opportunity to play against all these great players, but we also want to show what we’re capable of and that American soccer is growing and developing in the right way.”
The British also came to the United States. Wayne Rooney starred at DC United in 2018 and 2019 and now coaches the club.
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Asked at the end of this season whether he had split loyalties, the England international’s all-time top scorer replied: ‘No. I am English. I want England to win, of course.
But he joked that if the Three Lions stumble, ‘I have to call it football for all the next [MLS] season.”
Qatar World Cup
real-time updates: The bottom eight teams making their Qatar debuts take to the field in Group G and Group H matches on Thursday. Follow us for the latest news, updates and highlights.
USMT: Upon their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw against Wales in their Group B opener. The US men’s national team faces a tougher task on Friday against Group B favorites England , who demolished Iran, 6-2, earlier on Monday.
Qatar controversy: Football fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusiveness, said they were refused entry to World Cup stadiums and were confronted by members of the public about having the emblem removed.
Group guide: The United States men’s national soccer team, led by head coach Gregg Berhalter and forward Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement on their disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a closer look at how all the teams in each group accumulate.