Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor, Qatar
There were no goals in Friday’s game between the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) and England in a key World Cup game at Qatar 2022, but the result spoke volumes as to where this American team looks to be heading.
Facing an England team full of superstars that reached the European Championship final last year is no easy task, but the Americans looked more than at home.
Indeed, the USMNT players appeared disappointed as they were cheered off the field – frustrated, perhaps, that they couldn’t find the winner they might well have deserved.
“We had the majority of the chances, we were more dangerous, but just couldn’t get in the back of the net,” midfielder Weston McKennie told reporters after the match.
Any annoyance is unlikely to last too long with the USMNT still unbeaten against England at World Cups.
The sides have now met three times on the world stage with the USMNT winning once and the other two matches ending as draws.
The USMNT’s hopes of progressing into the knockout rounds are still very much in its own hands, knowing a win against Iran on Tuesday will see it through to the last 16 from Group B.
Despite England getting the better of the early exchanges, the USMNT grew into the match and looked the most threatening by halftime.
Christian Pulisic saw his effort crash off the crossbar as England struggled to cope with the intensity of the American team.
It felt reminiscent of the USMNT’s previous match against Wales when it started in brilliant form. On that occasion, this young side – with an average age of 25 years 214 days when the World Cup began – struggled to keep up the intensity and suffered a late equalizer through Gareth Bale’s penalty.
But against England, Gregg Berhalter’s side doubled down after the break and continued its waves of attacks against the opposition’s nervous-looking defense.
Pulisic, the player of the match, was orchestrating the US fans behind the goal, whipping them into a frenzy as they started to believe their team could beat England, which is ranked fifth in the world.
The breakthrough never came but the USMNT coped well with a late surge from England, which finally seemed to wake up with no more than five minutes to play.
“I thought it was a really solid performance from the team against a good opponent,” Pulisic told reporters after the game.
“A draw is not the worst thing but I felt there were stretches of the game where we showed dominance […] We even could have won the game.”
He added: “This team has come a very long way and I think we should be proud of the performance but most of all, it should spark confidence in the team.”
England missed the chance to qualify for the next round but would need to lose heavily to Wales to miss out on a place in the knockout stages.
For the USMNT, all eyes turn to the game against Iran, which beat Wales 2-0 in the earlier Group B match.
“Pleased with the performance of the group and most importantly the belief of the group – that never wavered,” Berhalter told reporters after the match.
“We win [against Iran] or we’re out of the World Cup. That will be the focus for us.”
The match against Iran will have added significance given the political tensions between the two countries.
Berhalter, though, says the team’s focus is not on the politics but more on rewarding its fans with a place in the knockout stages.
“The thing about soccer is you meet so many different people from around the world and you’re united by the common love of the sport of soccer,” he said.
“I see the game being hotly contested for the fact that both teams want a place in the next round, not because of politics.
“We are soccer players and we are going to compete and they are going to compete and that’s it.”
Along with Canada and Mexico, the US will host the 2026 World Cup.
And Berhalter said that growing the men’s game is something that the whole squad and staff take very seriously.
“We’re not done, our focus it to keep going and hopefully by the end of the tournament we’ll give people something to talk about,” he added.