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World Cup: USMNT go toe-to-toe with England in 0-0 draw, but ‘still have work to do’

Photo courtesy U.S. Soccer / USMNT Twitter

The United States Men’s National Team went toe-to-toe with England ending its long-awaited showdown in a 0-0 hard-fought draw where the young Americans outplayed its heralded opponents for large stretches of the match on Friday night in Qatar.

As a result, the U.S. still sits in third place in the World Cup Group B standings with two points, sitting behind England (4 points) and Iran (3 points).

The U.S. will now face Iran on Tuesday, with one simple task: win and they get through to the Knockout Round.

The USMNT will need a win to get through, while Iran can get through on a win or a draw thanks in large part to its inspired 2-0 win against Wales earlier on Friday.

Following the result, USMNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter and his players took plenty of satisfaction from their performance despite being unable to break through for a goal despite having the edge in shots, crosses, corners and carrying more dynamic action into the final third.

Prior to the match, a one-time USMNT head coach and Pittsburgh soccer coaching icon, John Kowalski said on Pittsburgh Soccer Now‘s Sounding Off on Soccer podcast, that the U.S. team has the talent and ability to play with England.

“It’s simple, but it’s true, they have to believe they can win,” Kowalski said.

Hounds Academy East Director James Meara, a former English professional player, reiterated Kowalski’s sentiment later on the same podcast.

“The U.S. should go right at England,” Meara said. “The front four attackers are talented. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t hold anything back.”

Sure enough, on the big stage, in the highly anticipated match on ‘Black Friday’ the U.S. did not back down, playing with tons of confidence.

In fact, they looked like more dynamic squad for large portions of the match, even as England started the first 20 minutes with most of the possession.

The U.S., which has largely played a lot of 4-3-3 formation under Berhalter’s direction, switched things up for this match-up to a 4-4-2, as Haji Wright joined Tim Weah at the top of the formation, while Christian Pulisic dropped into the left outside midfield spot, with Weston McKennie on the right side, while Tyler Adams and 19-year old Yunus Musah were in the middle.

On the same ‘Sounding Off on Soccer’ podcast, Peter Smith, a former pro soccer player from the Pittsburgh area who once played for the USMNT under Kowalski and with the US Men’s National Futsal squad that won the Silver Medal in 1992 World Championships, suggested that Berhalter change the formation.

Following the match, Smith chuckled.

“Gregg switched to a 4-4-2!  He must have listened to the podcast.”

Early on, the U.S. shape remained solid and resilient, despite the Three Lions carrying confident bouts of possession into the final third.

Walker Zimmerman’s sliding deflection of a Harry Kane close range shot in the 10th minute was the first real nervy moment for the Americans.

Forward Bukayo Saka created some danger on the right wing for England as well, making some good runs and sending in menacing crosses, but U.S. defender Antonee Robinson did well to help contain the Arsenal winger while Sergino Dest for the most part kept the clamps on England star winger Raheem Sterling.

There were interceptions, there were blocks, and in all, the U.S. made it difficult for the English attack, which scored six goals in the opening match vs Iran.

The midfield held its own thanks to solid positioning and winning numerous duels.  The U.S. also showed its ability to intiate transitional moments and opportunities, as they started to take its chances and would get forward when they had the space to get into countering moments.

McKinnie was set up the first real U.S. chance of the evening in the 17th minute, sending in a cross for forward Haji Wright that he headed wide.

McKennie had a golden chance of his own in the 26th when forward Tim Weah sent in a cross from the right side, but his half-volley skied over the crossbar.

A driving run by McKennie down the right side sparked an attack which led to the ball at Pulisic’s feet in the left side of the penalty area in the 33rd minute. Pulisic made space to shoot where there seemingly was none, and then ripped a left-footed shot from the edge of the box that skipped hard off the top the crossbar.

In the right outside back spot, Dest was another catalyst for the attack, using his speed and skill on the ball to open things up. In the 42nd, he dribbled the ball well up the right wing and then glided into the box, but his shot was deflected by England defender Harry Maguire and out for a corner kick. He sent another cross into the box in the 43rd and while Pulisic got his head on the ball, his attempt went wide.

Despite the U.S.’s lively play in getting forward, they would still have to contend with the high-priced English arsenal.

Eventually goalkeeper Matt Turner would be tested.

That moment came at the end of the first half.

Turner was forced to make a diving save from Mason Mount to his right to parry the shot out of danger and send things to halftime scoreless.

Things opened up even further in the second half with England threatening on the break in the early going, but the U.S. earned some solid moments of possession, which helped minimize and limit England’s chances to create more pressure.

Pulisic continued to show his creativity, driving the ball forward whenever he saw open field ahead. In the 58th minute, he ripped a shot that was deflected out of bounds by England, leading to a string of corner kicks and set piece opportunities in front of a raucous stand full of American fans.

England went to its bench first, looking for a bit more of a spark.

Berhalter held firm for a bit, as his starting group were controlling play in the middle of the second half, but eventually some legs started to grow weary.

England star striker Harry Kane was held in check for the most part in the final third, although he showed numerou moments where he was indispensible to his team in denying U.S. chances, winning balls deep into the midfield and when defending on numerous U.S. corner kick opportunities.

Pulisic took each of the seven corner kicks for the U.S., most which were pinpoint balls into the crowded box, but each time, the U.S. couldn’t find a clean, quality chance.

Berhalter did finally bring on midfielder Brenden Aaronson  in the 77th minute, right back Shaq Moore in the 78th and Gio Reyna and Josh Sargent in the 83rd,  the trio helping the U.S. earn the final result.

At the end of the match, the U.S., who were a 2-1 underdogs in the match, came away with what they needed as they now enter the part of the tournament where they have win, or go home.

‘Both teams worked hard. Both teams gave each other difficulties,” Berthalter said. “All-in-all, pleased with the effort. Any time you can get a shutout, in the World Cup, that’s a good thing.”

Two matches for the U.S., and they’ve come away with two draws.

Now, they’ll have to save their best for the final match of the Group stage, against Iran.

Twenty-four years after one of the worst defeats in U.S. Soccer history, a 2-1 loss to Iran in the final match of their group in the 1998 World Cup, the US will have to defeat an Iranian group that will be looking to get through to the knockout round for the first time ever.

USMNT POST MATCH REACTION 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysYUus-Bvxk

“We are not done,” Berhalter said.

“We need to get to five points. That’s our focus, on getting the five points.”

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

PItt MF Michael Sullivan

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