AL RAYYAN, Qatar — The United States won’t be playing for a moral victory when they face mighty England. They will play for a real one.
A day before their Group B match at the World Cup on Friday (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App), USA coach Greg Burhalter and captain Tyler Adams dismissed any notion that the Americans would they could use a conservative, defensive strategy against one of the tournament favorites. The Three Lions opened their opening round at Qatar 2022 earlier this week with an emphatic 6-2 win over Iran.
“For us, the focus,” Berhalter said Thursday during his pre-match press conference, “is on ‘How do we beat England?'”
It’s a good question. But the fact that he’s asking at all says a lot about his team’s approach to what promises to be the toughest of the three U.S. group stage games. After securing a point in Monday’s 1-1 draw with Wales, Berhalter could be tempted to hang back against England in the same way the Welsh did to them.
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Two points from two games would secure the USA a place in the knockout stages if they can get past the Iranians on Tuesday.
On the other hand, going all-in for victory against England comes with risk. Try to take on the mighty English and the US could leave itself vulnerable to a blow from which it cannot recover. The attacking pressure of Gareth Southgate’s side would leave them more vulnerable defensively against an opponent who have forwards capable of ruthlessly exploiting open space, even if the injured Harry Kane is not one of them.
Friday’s match is likely to play out differently than the Americans’ first. While Wales’ hyper-defensive approach left little room for the USA to capitalize on a huge first-half possession advantage, England’s high-octane attack will create a more free-flowing game. If they can bend but not break defensively, the USA will have more space to create danger when they are on the ball.
“We think it plays to our strengths,” Adams said.
“There are areas we can exploit and we’ll want to hurt them,” Berhalter added. “We know they’re a very good team. We know they have threats. We know we’ll have to be careful with their threats. But we want to play our game.”
They also want to be sharper. They should have any hope of pulling off the upset. Aside from Tim Weah’s superb goal from a perfect set-up by Christian Pulisic, the USA squandered the few chances they had on Monday.
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The ‘FIFA World Cup Live’ crew discuss England striker Harry Kane and his ankle injury. They discuss how the United States could benefit from the striker’s injury if he doesn’t play on Friday.
“It’s always hard to break down a solid defense,” Berhalter said. “I think we can improve some of our moves. I think we can put the ball in the penalty box a little quicker.”
One thing the US will not be afraid of.
As many as seven Friday starters are or have been employed by Premier League clubs. And while England are almost 5-1 favorites to win, the Americans are embracing the underdog role.
“I wouldn’t say there are many things out there that scare me apart from spiders,” said Adams, who plays for Leeds United. “Having the opportunity to play against some of those players [in the Prem] I think it will be useful.”
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The ‘FIFA World Cup Live’ crew discuss England striker Harry Kane and his ankle injury.
Instead of fear, the US sees opportunity. With Friday’s high-profile meeting falling on a holiday weekend, it’s expected to be one of the most-watched men’s soccer games in American history.
Adams and his teammates know that an improbable win against an elite team resonates with the crowd in some way. He called it “a huge opportunity to fast-track the impact we can have.”
“When you get a result in a game like that,” he said, “people start to respect the Americans a little bit more.”
As long as this result is a victory.
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Doug McIntyre is a football writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and has covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @By DougMcIntyre.
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