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Heartening US performance against England leaves expected task: Beat Iran, or go home

Christian Pulisic rang the crossbar in the first half of the Americans' scoreless draw with England on Friday, making a loud statement about their worthiness on the world stage before a must-win group stage finale with Iran.Luca Bruno/Associated Press

They won’t be erecting any monuments to it, but in soccer terms, the US men’s scoreless draw with favored England in their World Cup showdown on Friday in Qatar was a Bunker Hill moment. Yankee Doodle Dandy may not have won, but he carried the day and lives to fight again.

What was most impressive about this young US team is that it kept coming even as the clock ticked down and one untimely slip might have been fatal. While the Americans were content with a deadlock against a superior side, they were going for the victory because they believed they could get one.


That’s the attitude they’ll have to have in Tuesday’s group finale against Iran, which the US team has to win in order to advance to the round of 16, where it would likely meet the Dutch.

“We’re proud, but our work isn’t done,” said coach Gregg Berhalter, whose squad produced the first US shutout of a European rival in the World Cup since 1950, when the Americans shocked the English, 1-0, in what still is regarded as the biggest upset in the sport’s history. “We have to win on Tuesday.”

It was Iran that knocked the US team out of the 1998 tournament in France. And it was Iran that scrambled the group mathematics earlier Friday by beating Wales, 2-0, on two stoppage-time goals after Welsh goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was sent off in the 86th minute for a reckless foul well off his line.

Nobody foresaw that result after England hammered the Iranians, 6-2. And it seemed that only coach Gareth Southgate and his players sensed that they were in for a demanding day against Uncle Sam.

England, after all, never had beaten the United States in the Cup, giving away a 1-1 draw in 2010 after scoring in the fourth minute. So it was England that was hoping to make history in Al Khor, as Southgate pointed out.


“We are good at talking highly of ourselves as a nation on the basis of very little evidence,” he observed before the match.

Yet there was no question the Three Lions were decided favorites. They were an extra-time goal away from playing for the championship in 2018, and last year lost the European title to Italy on penalties.

The Americans, who sweated mightily to qualify for the tournament after missing out last time, didn’t appear to have the quality to stay with England. Unless, of course, you happened to play against them week in and week out.

A half-dozen US players perform in the English Premier League — captain Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson for Leeds, Antonee Robinson and Tim Ream for Fulham, Christian Pulisic for Chelsea, and Matt Turner for Arsenal. Except for Jude Bellingham, the teenager who plays in Germany, there’s nobody on the English roster whom they haven’t seen up close.

After a tentative opening 20 minutes, the Americans began asserting themselves. Weston McKennie was unmarked in front, but soared his bid. Then in the 33rd, Pulisic slammed one off the crossbar. That was a star-spangled calling card, and there were more to come in the second half.

The Americans kept pressing, putting the English on their heels, battling in the area and earning corners. Southgate, who’d warned his men that the United States would come at full-throttle, wasn’t surprised.


“It was exactly the sort of game I thought it would be,” he said.

And in the final half-hour when the English regained their footing, the Yanks kept their composure while fighting for possession and seeking to reverse direction.

“To come away with a draw against them is obviously a pretty good result,” said Pulisic, who played superbly throughout and was named Man of the Match. “But we felt we could have even won the game.”

It’s a telling sign of progress that the Americans drew their first two Cup matches and still pronounced themselves unfulfilled. No doubt they should have been able to hang on to beat the Welsh after leading with 10 minutes to go.

But this draw, which could well have been a loss had English terminator Harry Kane’s 93rd-minute header off a free kick been on target, was commendable.

Getting six points from the first two matches was a fantasy for the Americans. The English, who were booed by their fans after the final whistle, couldn’t pull it off either.

“People thought after our first performance we would landslide every team, but that’s not the case,” said Kane.

As it is, the English, who’ll play Wales on Tuesday, are happy to be at the top of the group with four points, one ahead of Iran.

“We dug in and got the clean sheet,” observed English defender Harry Maguire, whose mates need only another draw to advance. “We stay in control of the group.”


The Americans always figured that they’d have to beat Iran to make it to the knockout stage. Even with a victory over England, they’d still have had to get a draw to make sure. Now they have complete clarity.

“We know five points gets us in,” said Berhalter.

In 2010, after tying England and Slovenia, the Americans had to go to the wire with Algeria before Landon Donovan’s killer strike in the 91st minute put them on top of the group. It was the only time they’ve ever won their finale. Now they have to do it again.

“We win or we’re out of the World Cup,” said Berhalter.