United States vs. England could change the world’s perception of American soccer

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 your mind than to beat all-time favorites England at the World Cup?

The USMNT have a chance to do that on Friday when they take on England at Al Rayyan Stadium in their second group stage match (2pm ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

Gregg Berhalter’s group is fearless and ambitious. He has undeniable swagger and confidence. Much has been said and written about them being the second youngest team in this tournament (Ghana are a little younger) and how only one player, defender DeAndre Yedlin, has previous World Cup experience. Now that they’ve got one match under their belt – a 1-1 draw against Wales earlier this week – the Americans have a huge success for Game 2, against big, bad England.

On Thursday, United States captain Tyler Adams acknowledged that his team has a chance to make a statement here.

“I think it’s obviously a huge opportunity to quickly follow up on the impact we can have,” Adams said. “These are high pressure, [high] privileged moments to take the field against some of these guys. We respect them, it’s probably mutual respect between the two teams. When you get a result in a game like this, people start to respect the Americans a little bit more.”

Star winger Christian Pulisic added: “We have to prove ourselves. We may not have been at the level of some of these world powers in recent decades, but we’ve had good teams with a lot of heart in us. But I think if we can make the step Next with a successful World Cup, that could change a lot.”

In Monday’s tournament opener against Wales, Berhalter’s starting lineup included 10 players who play in Europe. Only center back Walker Zimmerman, of Nashville SC, plays in MLS. Though he hasn’t 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 last 15-20 years. He has fascinated and influenced young players, especially of this generation, who got used to leaving their homes in America as teenagers with big plans to play for the best European teams. Many have done just that, with Pulisic the only player who has actually played in and won a Champions League final.

Adams grew up in New York and played for the Red Bulls academy before joining RB Leipzig of 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 US teammate Brenden Aaronson.

Adams said on Thursday he grew up watching and admiring Theirry Henry’s play for Red Bulls and Arsenal. It was easy for him to tune in to Premier League matches on Saturday mornings and dream of doing so one day.

“I remember telling my mother at a young age that I wanted to play for England,” said Adams. “There will always be something special in the Premier League. There always has been and I think there always will be.”

Berhalter, who played for Crystal Palace in the early 2000s, added: ‘Everyone in America now seems to have a [Premier League] team they support. It’s an incredible leap. We’re really proud to have our players play 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 overseas helps with familiarity of 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 the EPL – will that make the difference against England?

“I don’t think that makes it predictable in any way,” Adams said. “You will play against a lot of quality players no matter how many times you have played against them before. They will be able to adapt to the game and what you are doing and find solutions.

“But having said that, it’s great to have that experience and play some of those great matches against some of the best teams against some of the best players in England. And to have the opportunity to learn and grow and develop and understand the game differently. I would argue that international football is completely different from the club game, but having the opportunity to play against some of those players [in club games] it will be helpful.”

Adams rejects the notion that the USMNT would be intimidated by a team like England – in fact he has said he is not intimidated by anything ‘other than spiders’. He just hopes this particular matchup proves that the Americans are capable contenders and “that US soccer is growing and developing in the right way.”

Now, if the United States can beat England, a team full of players like Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish, who Premier League-loving Americans root for on the weekends, what kind of message will that send home and the rest of the world?

“It would mean a lot,” Adams said. “We’ve been trying to move this thing forward for the past few years and we’ve been moving in the right direction. So I think ultimately, capitalizing on that would mean we’re continuing to move in the right direction.”

Berhalter added: “We haven’t achieved anything as a group on the world stage. We have to use this World Cup to establish ourselves and then hopefully move 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. He has previously written for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman”, released in spring 2022 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakeLitman.


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