USA vs. England can change the world’s perception of American football

AL RAYYAN, Qatar — This U.S. men’s national team has been on a mission to change the way the world perceives American soccer.

And what better way to change his mind than to beat England, a favorite to win it all, in the World Cup?

The USMNT has a chance to do this on Friday when it takes on England at Al Rayyan Stadium in its second group stage match (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App).

Gregg Berhalter’s group is fearless and ambitious. It has undeniable swagger and confidence. Much has been said and written about the fact that they are the second youngest team in this tournament (Ghana are a bit younger) and how only one player – defender DeAndre Yedlin – has previous World Cup experience. Now that they’ve got one game under their belt — a 1-1 draw against Wales earlier in the week — the Americans have a huge shot at Game 2, against big, bad England.

On Thursday, U.S. captain Tyler Adams acknowledged his team has a chance to make a statement here.

“I think it’s obviously a huge opportunity to track the impact we can have,” Adams said. “It’s the high pressure, [high] privileged moments to step on the field against some of these guys. We respect them – it’s probably mutual respect between the two teams. When you get a result in a game like this, people start to respect the Americans a little more.”

Added star winger Christian Pulisic: “We have to prove ourselves. We may not have been at the level of some of these world powerhouses in recent decades – but we’ve had good teams with a lot of heart in us. But I think if we can take it to the next step with a successful World Cup, it can change a lot of things.”

In Monday’s tournament opener against Wales, Berhalter’s starting line-up included 10 players who play in Europe. Only center back Walker Zimmerman of Nashville SC plays in MLS. Although he hasn’t ruled out playing overseas one day.

The English Premier League, where Adams plays for Leeds United, has been incredibly popular in the US for the past 15-20 years. It has fascinated and influenced young players, especially of this generation, who have become comfortable leaving their homes in America as teenagers with big plans to play for Europe’s top teams. Many have done just that, with Pulisic being the lone player to have actually played and won a Champions League final.

Adams grew up in New York and played for the Red Bulls academy before later joining RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, where he became the first USMNT player to score in a UEFA Champions League quarter-final. After three and a half years in Germany, he joined Leeds United in July 2022, where he plays alongside American teammate Brenden Aaronson.

Adams said on Thursday that he grew up watching and admiring Theirry Henry playing for the Red Bulls and Arsenal. It was easy for him to tune into Premier League games on Saturday mornings and dream of doing so one day.

“I remember telling my mum at a young age that I wanted to play in England,” Adams said. “There will always be something special about the Premier League. There always has been and I think there always will be.”

Added Berhalter, who played for Crystal Palace in the early 2000s: “Everyone now in America seems to have a [Premier League] teams they support. It’s an incredible leap. We’re really proud to have our players play in that league, and to me it’s similar to the NFL in terms of how dominant it is and how commercially oriented it is.”

Having so many Americans overseas helps know World Cup opponents and gives each team small advantages here and there. Japan, one of the Cinderellas of this tournament, upset Germany 2-1 with eight guys playing in the Bundesliga. USA have six players in EPL – will that make a difference against England?

“I don’t think that makes it predictable in any way,” Adams said. “You’re going to play against a lot of quality players, no matter how many times you’ve played them before. They’re going to be able to adapt to the game and what you’re doing and find solutions.

“But having said that, it’s nice to have that experience and play some of the big games against some of the top teams against some of England’s best players. And to have that opportunity to learn, grow, develop and understand the game differently. I would say that international football is completely different to the club game, but to have the opportunity to play against some of these players [in club games] will be helpful.”

Adams dismisses the idea that the USMNT would be intimidated by a team like England — in fact, he said he’s not intimidated by anything “other than spiders.” He just hopes that this match will show that the Americans are capable contenders and “that American soccer is growing and developing in the right way.”

If the US can now beat England, a squad full of players like Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish that Premier League-loving Americans are cheering on this weekend, what kind of message will that send back home and to the rest of the world?

“It would mean a lot,” Adams said. “We’ve been trying to develop this thing for the last couple of years and we’ve been moving in the right direction. So I think ultimately capitalization would mean we continue to move in the right direction.”

Added Berhalter: “We haven’t achieved anything as a group on the world stage. We need to use this World Cup to establish ourselves and then hopefully move to the next World Cup and do the same.”

Read more from World Championship:

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She has previously written 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 mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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