The situation is not looking good for the United States men’s soccer team. After squandering the lead in a 1-1 tie with Wales Monday, next up is England Friday. Another tie would put the US in position to advance from Group B, but the Americans are solid underdogs and will have to perform over their heads to stay with the English.
Although US coach Gregg Berhalter selected his roster with an emphasis on Premier League-based players, the idea that they will be used to matching up with England could work both ways. England coach Gareth Southgate and his team are not likely to underrate the opposition, and won’t be caught off-guard.
A plus for the US is that the entire 26-man roster is available, while England’s Harry Kane (right ankle), Kalvin Phillips (shoulder), and Kyle Walker (groin) have been limited in practice. Before the World Cup started, Kane was described as “fatigued” by Tottenham coach Antonio Conte after playing 24 games in three months. European leagues loaded the early part of their schedules to accomodate the World Cup, which is being held in autumn for the first time. Several players apparently are feeling the effects.
Judging by the opener, the US is fine physically. It still has a ways to go tactically, knowing how to adjust against savvy opposition — especially European foes. The US has an all-time 3-13-6 record against Euro teams in the World Cup, with only one win since 1950.
The US started strong against Wales, effective wing play via Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah complementing a solid midfield. But once the Welsh started raising their urgency level and playing direct through striker Kieffer Moore, the US failed to adjust.
The talent level of the US team is improving, but the mind-set not so much. It’s all-out, 100 miles per hour, at all times. And that is a difficult pace to maintain for 90 minutes — plus another 15 or so minutes of added time, a new wrinkle to this World Cup.
England can match the US for athleticism and foot speed, so trying to outrun the English will not work well. Also, England can play fast, meaning it will move the ball cleanly and quickly through the middle and on the wings. No amount of chasing is likely to disrupt the Three Lions’ game, so the US should try to get into a possession mode and practice patience.
Berhalter kept potential game-changer Gio Reyna on the bench against Wales. A better option, according to some longtime observers of the team, would be someone like Reyna’s father, Claudio, who brought composure and an ability to slow the game down. But this US roster does not have anyone who can control the midfield in that way.
Defeat against England would mean the US facing a must-win situation against Iran Tuesday, and even victory in that match might not be enough for it to finish in the top two in Group B.
England vs. US: Who has the edge?
Goalkeepers — Matt Turner (Arsenal) vs. Jordan Pickford (Everton).
Edge: England. Pickford has big-game experience, performing in the 2018 World Cup semifinals and 2021 European Championship final.
Center backs — Tim Ream (Fulham), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC) vs. Harry Maguire (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City).
Edge: England. Maguire and Stones have been contending with the Premier League’s best strikers for years. Ream has even more experience than they do, but Zimmerman’s lack of sophistication was exposed by Wales.
Outside backs — Sergino Dest (Milan), Antonee Robinson (Fulham) vs. Luke Shaw (Manchester United), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United).
Edge: England. Shaw is a polished left back, and he is left-footed. The US does not have a left-footed left back on the roster.
Wings — Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Tim Weah (Lille) vs. Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea).
Edge: England. This is one position the US can count on. Pulisic and Weah combined on the goal against Wales, and should threaten in this match. Both teams will go to the bench for a spark, and England has the advantage with Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) over Brenden Aaronson (Leeds) and Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund).
Central midfield — Tyler Adams (Leeds), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Yunus Musah (Valencia) vs. Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Declan Rice (West Ham United).
Edge: England. Another US strength, but still a notch below the English, who have Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, and Jordan Henderson in reserve.
Forwards — Jesus Ferreira (FC Dallas), Josh Sargent (Norwich) vs. Harry Kane (Tottenham), Callum Wilson (Newcastle United).
Edge: England. A surprise callup, Wilson has scored once for the national team — in his debut, a 3-0 win over the US in 2018.
Coaches — Gregg Berhalter (US) vs. Gareth Southgate (England).
Edge: England. Southgate has been coaching in the national-team system since 2013 and has developed a team confident of advancing in tournaments.
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.