AL KHOR, Qatar — Christian Pulisic came within inches of giving the USA perhaps the biggest victory in its soccer history, as the Americans settled for a morale-boosting 0-0 World Cup draw with England on Friday.
Pulisic, who was named player of the match, slammed a first-half effort into the woodwork as the US dominated for long stretches at Al Bayt Stadium. The team’s situation is now very clear ahead of the final round of B Group Action: Beat Iran on Tuesday (2 pm ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App) and advance to the Round of 16; if it doesn’t, deletion is assured.
USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter’s young team will be very confident in Friday’s effort, a forceful, decisive and somewhat unfortunate performance against the fifth-ranked team in the world and one of the top favorites for the World Cup.
This exhibit mattered, both for what it was and for what it represented. To come up against England, the founding nation of modern football, like that, and do it with a group so inexperienced that it hasn’t been tested on this stage? To do it at a time when American soccer has already reached a position of stability? Very encouraging.
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Yes, a victory would have seismic, the kind of thing that no one who saw it would ever forget. But World Cup campaigns are not supposed to be easy. Just know this: If you had offered Berhalter the chance to seal progress to the knockout stage by beating Iran before the tournament, he would have gleefully jumped at it.
Before that, the good things are worth pondering, and there were plenty of them here.
I like it yunus musah, 19, outdueling Jude Bellingham, one of the best midfielders in the world. Tyler Adams, finding his voice and verve for him as a captain. Walker Zimmerman, the only Major League Soccer player in the starting lineup, unflinching after his penalty against Wales to face, alongside Tim Ream, the ever-present threat of England’s Harry Kane.
Now comes more work. Win or bust, live or die, all the marbles are there for the taking. The coming-of-age performances are nice. Being face to face with one of the best is great. But such things need to be followed, clinically and mercilessly.
Berhalter made just one change from the first match against Wales, introducing haji wright up front in place of Josh Sargent.
England manager Gareth Southgate made no changes to a confident line-up after the resounding victory of his team by 6-2 over Iran, one that gave them a lead at the top of Group B.
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There were some early nerves perhaps for the goalkeeper. Matt Turnerwho parried a punt after receiving a pass back from Zimmerman, and England lived up to their reputations in the opening moments.
In the 10th minute, it was Bellingham’s run that allowed Bukayo Saka to cross for Kane and the England captain, who reportedly went to have a scan on an injured ankle after the Iran game, struck towards goal, only for Zimmerman to block the effort with a great lunge.
The first proper opportunity for the USA came in the 16th minute. weston mckennieWright’s perfect cross from the right met Wright’s head, but the incoming striker, who carved his way through the team with nine goals in 12 games for Antalyaspor in Turkey, could only deflect Jordan Pickford’s goal.
The Americans played well in the contest. Bellingham did not enjoy Musah’s company, and when another chance presented itself on 26 minutes, he fully deserved it. A smart construction saw tim weah whip into a firm cross, but while McKennie found it first, this time he could only direct it well over the bar.
Just after the half hour came the highlight. Pulisic received the ball in the box and moved to his left, scoring a clean shot. But it wasn’t like that, with the effort of him leaving the bar.
England was holding on, but it was still dangerous. Just before the interval, mason assembly he fired low and hard, and Turner was wise to nudge him with his fingertips.
Overall, it was an empowering night for American soccer. US fans chanted “It’s called soccer!”, a fun twist on the soccer vs. soccer debate. football. And when they yelled, “I think we’ll win!”, they meant it.
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After the break, there was little drop. McKennie had another chance gone awry, and the Americans won five corners in quick succession, all to no avail.
They continued to press, and why not, with a draw that did not provide much more help for the qualification than a defeat.
Perhaps inevitably England got things under better control. Southgate was beginning to figure things out, and the bank of him, with stars as Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford, he was loaded.
However, a central back line that some might have considered shaky (Ream was out of the national team for a year and Zimmerman had his tough time against Wales) remained steadfast and collected. Until, right at the end, Kane got the kind of opportunity he usually accepts, a free header from luke shawFree kick shot, but missed deflected.
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And so the status quo remained, between two teams that weren’t always even, but certainly were tonight.
There is everything to play for now.
America has earned its chance. Fate calls.
After a draw that felt like a loss came a draw that felt like a win.
A moral victory is on the books; now the US needs a real one.