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USMNT embraces underdog status in World Cup clash vs. England

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After a brief hiatus from programming Tuesday, the US soccer team returns to its familiar role on the global stage when it faces England in Al Khor, Qatar on Friday: as huge underdogs in the World Cup.

Perhaps this is a good thing for the Americans, who are coming off an unfulfilled 1-1 draw with Wales in the first of their three Group B games on Monday to pick up just one point instead of three.

While the USA, ranked 16th in the world, was hardly a heavy favorite against Wales in 19th, things didn’t go down well with prosperity after a strong first half. The Americans built a 1-0 lead before looking like the less fit side in the last 45 minutes.

The US were outmaneuvered by Wales in the second half, playing to protect the lead rather than maintain their more aggressive approach from the first half, and Wales had the Americans in the background for the rest of the match. If we’re honest, the US was lucky not to lose the game.

The draw with Wales put the Americans in a precarious position, who needed a win over England or Iran to almost guarantee passage to the knockout stages. At least four points are essential to continue.

England, ranked fifth in the world, crushed Iran 6-2 in the first Group B match and looked dominant in the process.

Tim Weah in practice prior to the USMNT's clash with England.
Tim Weah in practice prior to the USMNT’s clash with England.

“They are probably one of the favorites to win the World Cup,” said US captain Tyler Adams. “We know we’re probably underdogs.”

Adams can “probably” get it out of both sentences.

That’s OK, though, because there’s a youthful brashness about the US team, which is the second-youngest team at this World Cup and seems to be embracing the underdog role.

“We’ve always been the underdog in America’s eyes,” said striker Tim Weah, who scored the American goal against Wales. “They wonder if we even know how to play football. And I think it’s our time to show the world that we are capable of playing with the best and beating the best.”

Here’s the problem with this World Cup: some of the so-called “best” teams have already been knocked down by underdogs: Saudi Arabia, ranked 51 in the world, stunned No. 3 Argentina and 24th-ranked Japan defeated No. 11 Germany.

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Don’t think those results aren’t on the minds of American novices, who are very much in the “why not us?” mode.

Another factor in the American side’s favor is the fact that so many of its players are contemporaries – and in some cases club teammates – of the English players playing in the Premier League.

USMNT goaltender Matt Turner
USMNT goalkeeper Matt Turner will play many of the England players with club side Arsenal in the Premier League.

Considered the best American player, Christian Pulisic plays for Chelsea. Goalkeeper Matt Turner plays for Arsenal. Defenders Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson both play for Fulham. Adams plays for Leeds United, as does midfielder Brenden Aaronson. Striker Josh Sargent plays for Norwich City.

Midfielder Yunus Musah was born in New York City but grew up in London, was part of Arsenal’s youth system and captained the England under-18 team. American defender Cameron Carter-Vickers was born in England and, like Musah, was eligible to play for England or America.

All this reduces the intimidation element, if any. The Americans will enter the game without fear. They just have to play better than against Wales to come away with a positive result.

“We’ve always worn a chip on our shoulder,” Adams said. “Playing against a lot of those guys week in, week out gives you a little familiarity in the game.”

USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter
USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter
Getty Images

A win would virtually guarantee the US a ticket to the knockout stage as one of the top 16 in the game to win it all. A draw, while it would be a strong confidence boost for Americans, would still require the US to win against Iran in Tuesday’s final Group B game.

“It’s going to be a big challenge,” said Turner, a New Jersey native who played at Fairfield University. “You see that the football world is leveling in many areas. I think the message is that when you have one team that has adopted the same message, you can beat anyone on any given day.”

England will clearly be wary of the Americans. The lopsided victory over Iran was barely over when England coach Gareth Southgate chided his side for “sloppy” play at the end of the match and warned that the US would go “full throttle” on Friday. Southgate already sent a message to his players that they have to be even better against the Americans.

“They are a top country with many top players who have played in the Premier League and who we are up against,” said England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Pickford then referred to the World Cup setbacks already on the books, after Argentina and Germany lost.

“This is what World Cup football is all about,” he said. “There will be surprises.”

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