When it comes to World Cup goals, USA senses dam is about to break

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AL KHOR, Qatar — Christian Pulisic’s laser left-footed shot rattled the crossbar. Weston McKennie missed an open volley that soared over the net. Haji Wright’s first header is wide. Yunus Musah’s shot was blocked by English midfielder Declan Rice.

“It’s hard to score goals,” US coach Gregg Berhalter said after the United States and England drew 0-0 in their second Group B game on Friday night here at Al Bayt Stadium.

This is especially true in a World Cup.

The game was a measuring stick for the U.S. men’s national team, which has done everything it can to change the way the world and Americans back home view soccer. There was no better chance to impress than to not just hang on, but dominate against world number 5 England on this kind of stage.

And while some fans in the United States may have found the scoreless 90 minutes exciting, others may have rolled their eyes at yet another goalless soccer match in a group stage that has been full of them.

So what does the USMNT need to do on offense to put the ball in the back of the net? England may have had more possession, but the USA created better chances. He just couldn’t finish.

“For us, we’re happy with the positions we’re in,” Berhalter said. We had some close chances. At times we wanted to go even deeper and put the ball in front of goal and give them real problems.

“But you know, at this level, goals are not easy. It’s not easy to score.”

England vs. United States

England vs. United States

England and the United States met in the highly anticipated 2022 FIFA World Cup clash.

Against Wales, the U.S. had one shot, Weah’s magnificent goal in the 36th minute. Against England, the U.S. had 10 shots, though only one was on target. The USMNT must score on Tuesday when they play Iran, who beat Wales 2-0 hours before the USA-England match, because a draw or loss won’t do. The Americans must beat Iran to get out of the group stage.

“In the next game we just have to be aware of our chances,” Weah said. “That’s very important. Obviously it’s frustrating that we didn’t score [against England]but I think the goals are coming.”

Berhalter’s starting line-up was largely the same against England as in the opener against Wales, except that Wright started at No.9 in place of Josh Sargent.

Wright, 24, was a late and unexpected addition to Berhalter’s goalscoring roster. He did not play a single qualifying match and only earned his first senior cap earlier this year in a friendly against Morocco in which he scored with a penalty. His career has been notably up and down. Friends with Pulisic and McKennie from playing together at the 2015 U-17 World Cup, Wright caught the eye of Berhalter while having a breakout season in 2021-22 for Turkish club Antalyaspor. He scored 14 goals in 32 games, including eight goals in seven games over a six-week stretch in April and May this year. He is the second top scorer in the Turkish Superliga, just behind the equatorial Enner Valencia, who has already scored three goals in Qatar.

Hoping he could conjure up some of that magic in the biggest game of the tournament so far, Wright got the starting nod. But apart from an early header that went wide of the goal, he wasn’t much of a threat.

Berhalter’s team has struggled to identify this cold-blooded finalist. Jesús Ferreira leads the national team with five goals in 2022 and finished fourth in MLS with 18 goals for FC Dallas this season. He hasn’t come off the bench yet, mostly because his style of play hasn’t meshed well against the USMNT’s first two opponents. He got to see the field against Iran, a team that likes to sit back.

For what it’s worth, the USMNT has never scored a ton of goals in a World Cup. In 1998, Brian McBride had the USA’s only group stage goal in a 2-1 loss to Iran. In 2006, the United States scored two: one by Clint Dempsey in a loss to Ghana and the other was an own goal against Italy. In their last World Cup in 2014, they scored five goals in the round of 16.

Of course, there are many world-class strikers in this tournament. Brazilian Richarlison put on a show with two mind-blowing goals against Serbia. Kylian Mbappe almost had a hat trick for France. Berhalter said of seeing England’s Harry Kane up close: “I didn’t realize how good he was, damn it.” It should be noted, however, that in two games, the USA has not allowed a goal during the game. American centre-backs Tim Ream and Walker Zimmerman, whose foul in the opener led to Gareth Bale’s equalizing penalty, have been calm and intelligent in defence.

But the US will rue so many missed opportunities. The Americans were patient in the build-up, made sharp passes and had clever shots, but the play was always triggered by that last touch and turned somewhere in the final third.

There is a feeling within the team, however, that the dam is about to be broken.

“Obviously every player who gets a chance wants to put it in the back of the net,” McKennie said. “But sometimes it’s not in the cards and that’s the way it is. You can’t really change it after it happens. You can just try to keep getting scoring opportunities.

“If you create 100 chances, at least one of them is going to go long. So I think the biggest thing was that we created the chances and we can be a threat and that will expand over the [the tournament].”

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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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