World Cup: U.S. gains confidence but not win in scoreless tie against England
Soccer isn’t always about winning and losing. Sometimes it’s about how you play the game.
Take Friday’s World Cup match between the United States and England, the No. 5 team in the world. Not so long ago, that would have been one the U.S. had all but conceded before kickoff.
Not anymore. On this night, in a game that ended in a scoreless tie, it was the Americans who were in control. They outfought the English and outshot them, outhustled and outmuscled them.
That used to happen the other way around.
And though the U.S. lacked the exclamation point of a goal, the draw earned it something just as important as a win. It earned the Americans the confidence to know they have a place in the conversation when the best teams in the game are being discussed.
“This team has come a very long way,” Chelsea and U.S. midfielder Christian Pulisic said. “We should be proud of the performance, but most of all it should spark confidence.”
There have already been five times as many scoreless draws in this year’s World Cup in Qatar as there were in the entire 2018 tournament. What gives?
The U.S. got here by rewriting a narrative that once said the Americans weren’t good enough, savvy enough or technical enough to compete with the world’s top teams. That’s clearly a myth that has been busted with 17 members of the U.S. roster playing either in England or for a major first-division club in Europe.
“I’m not sure who’s thinking that. You look at the team, they’ve got some really good players,” English midfielder Jordan Henderson said.
“Tonight,” England coach Gareth Southgate said of the U.S. performance, “didn’t surprise me one bit.”
It shouldn’t. Two games into this World Cup, the U.S. has already played the top two teams in the U.K., where the sport was invented. And the Americans are undefeated.
They also are winless because the games against Wales and England both ended in draws. But the two points leave the U.S. in control of its own destiny heading into Tuesday’s group-play finale with Iran. Win that game and the Americans are on to the round of 16 for the fourth time in five World Cups.
Anything short of that and their tournament is over.
“Anytime you’re in a World Cup and you get to go into the last group game controlling your destiny, that’s a pretty good thing,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said.
Chef Giulio Caccamo joined the U.S. men’s national soccer team at its hotel in Qatar, where he makes players and staff three buffet-style meals a day.
The Americans said before the match they would cede possession and try to exploit England on the counterattack, and they did just that in an entertaining first half. Although England had the ball nearly twice as long as the U.S., the Americans had the best chances with Yunus Musah, a former England youth international, and Pulisic each putting headers just wide, Weston McKennie chipping a shot from the center of the box over the net, and Pulisic banging a left-footed shot off the crossbar.
The U.S. was especially dominant in the midfield, where Wright, McKennie and Tyler Adams, with a lot of help from Pulisic, harried England all night.
England’s most dangerous opportunities came at either end of the first half, with Walker Zimmerman blocking a shot from Harry Kane that looked to be headed for the back of the net in the 10th minute and U.S. keeper Matt Turner diving to push Mason Mount’s low right-footed blast just wide in stoppage time.
⚽ 2022 Qatar World Cup
That was a good omen for the U.S. because England hasn’t won a World Cup game that was scoreless at the half since 2006. It wouldn’t win this one either — nor would it lose it, though Kane threw a fright into the Americans with a header in second-half stoppage time that went just wide of the post.
Friday’s match was the 20th World Cup game the U.S. has played against a European rival since beating England in the 1950 tournament, and it has won only one of those 20. That didn’t change Friday, but the shutout was the first over a European rival in the World Cup in 72 years.
“We’re making progress,” Adams said, “and moving in the right direction.”
Still, the mood afterward was one of frustration, not elation.
“We played well enough to get three points, defended well enough to get three points,” Fulham and U.S. defender Tim Ream added. “To not have that, it lets them off the hook.”
The U.S. has only three days to rest and recuperate before facing Iran, which leads the U.S. by a point in the group standings after beating Wales on a pair of goals late in stoppage time Friday. The top two teams in the four-team group advance to the knockout rounds, and the U.S. can’t get there without a win.
“It’s been a three-year journey of a lot of ups and downs. Now that we’ve gotten here and tested ourselves against good, quality opponents, it feels good,” said Adams, who plays in England with Leeds United. “But we can’t be too happy with ourselves.”
Pulisic added: “The job’s not even close to done. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”