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

AL RAYYAN, Qatar – This United States men’s national team has been on a mission to change the way the world views American football.

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

The USMNT has a chance to do just that Friday when it takes on England at Al Rayyan Stadium in its second group game (2pm 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 them being the second youngest team in this tournament (Ghana is a tad younger) and only one player – defenseman DeAndre Yedlin – has previous World Cup experience. Now with one game under their belt – a 1-1 draw against Wales earlier in the week – the Americans have a whopper for Game 2, against big, bad England.

On Thursday, US captain Tyler Adams acknowledged that his team has an opportunity to make a statement here.

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

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

In Monday’s tournament opener against Wales, Berhalter’s starting line-up consisted of 10 players playing in Europe. Only center back Walker Zimmerman, of Nashville SC, plays in MLS. Although he does not rule out that he will one day play abroad.

The English Premier League, where Adams plays for Leeds United, has been incredibly popular in the United States for the last 15-20 years. It fascinates and influences young players, especially of this generation, who have left their home in America as teenagers and have big plans to play for top European teams. Many have done just that, with Pulisic being the only player to actually play in and win a Champions League final.

Adams grew up in New York and played for the Red Bulls academy before later joining RB Leipzig of 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 he grew up watching and admiring Hunry Henry who played for Red Bulls and Arsenal. It was easy for him to tune in to Premier League games on a Saturday morning and dream of doing so one day.

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

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

Having so many Americans abroad helps with the prominence of 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 boys playing in the Bundesliga. The US has six players in the EPL – will that make a difference against England?

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

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

Adams rejects the idea that the USMNT would be intimidated by a team like England – in fact, he said he is intimidated by nothing but spiders. He only hopes that this game will show that the Americans are capable contenders and “that American football is growing and developing appropriately.”

If the US can now beat England, a squad filled with the likes of Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish, whom Premier League-loving Americans cheer for on weekends, what message will that send home and to the rest of the country? send? the world?

“It would mean a lot,” Adams said. “We’ve been trying to move this thing forward for the past few years and we’ve been moving in the right direction. So I think ultimately capitalization would mean we keep moving in the right direction.”

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

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Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball, and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of ‘Strong Like a Woman’, published in Spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @Lake Litman.

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