USA vs. England could change world’s perception of American soccer

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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 his mind than to beat England, favorites to win it all, at the World Cup?

The USMNT has a chance to do just that on Friday when they take on England at Al Rayyan Stadium in their second game of the group stage (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

Gregg Berhalter’s group is fearless and ambitious. He has an undeniable swagger and confidence. Much has been said and written about how they are the second youngest team at this tournament (Ghana is slightly younger) and how only one player, defender DeAndre Yedlin, has previous World Cup experience. Now that they’ve got a game under their belt, a 1-1 draw against Wales earlier this week, the Americans have a big surprise coming up against big, bad England in their second game.

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

“I think it’s obviously a great opportunity to accelerate the impact that we can have,” Adams said. “These are the high pressure, [high] prime times to step on the field against some of these guys. We respect them, it’s probably a mutual respect between the two teams. When you get a result in a game like that, you know, 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 take the next step with a successful World Cup, that could change a lot.”

In Monday’s tournament opener against Wales, Berhalter’s starting line-up included 10 players who play in Europe. Nashville SC’s only center back Walker Zimmerman plays in MLS. Although he has not ruled out playing abroad one day.

The English Premier League, where Adams plays for Leeds United, has been incredibly popular in the United States for the past 15-20 years. It fascinates and influences young players, especially of this generation, who have settled by leaving their homes in America as teenagers with big plans to play for Europe’s top teams. Many have, as Pulisic is the only player to have played in and won a Champions League final.

Adams grew up in New York and played in the Red Bulls academy before later joining Bundesliga side RB Leipzig, where he became the first USMNT player to score in a quarter of final of the UEFA Champions League. After three-and-a-half years in Germany, he joined Leeds United in July 2022, where he plays alongside American team-mate Brenden Aaronson.

Adams said Thursday that he grew up watching and admiring Theirry Henry play for the Red Bulls and Arsenal. It was easy for him to tune into Premier League games on Saturday mornings and dream of doing it one day.

“I remember telling my mum as a kid that I wanted to play for England,” Adams said. “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 very proud to have our players playing in this league and to me it’s similar to the NFL in terms of how dominant it is and how business oriented it is.”

Having so many Americans overseas helps with familiarity with World Cup opponents and gives each team small advantages here and there. Japan, one of the Cinderellas of this tournament, beat 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 it makes it predictable in any way,” Adams said. “You’re going to play against a lot of quality players no matter how many times you’ve played against them before. They’re going to be able to adapt to the game and what you’re doing and find solutions.

“But having said that, it’s nice to have that experience and play some of those big games against some of the best teams against some of the best players in England. And to have that opportunity to learn and grow and develop and understand the game of a otherwise. I would say that international football is completely different to club football, but to have the opportunity to play against some of these players [in club games] it will be useful.”

Adams rejects the idea that the USMNT would be intimidated by a team like England; in fact, he said he’s not intimidated by anything “other than spiders.” He just hopes that this particular match will show that the Americans are capable candidates and “that American soccer is growing and developing in the right way.”

Now, if the U.S. can beat England, a squad full of players like Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish, who Premier League-loving Americans cheer on on weekends, what a message that will send back home and to the rest of countries? the world?

“It would mean a lot,” Adams said. “We’ve been trying to move forward on this thing for the last several years and we’ve been moving in the right direction. So I think ultimately capitalization 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 previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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