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USMNT embracing underdog role against England ahead of Friday’s match


AL RAYYAN, Qatar — The United States was the favorite in its World Cup-opening draw against Wales. The Americans are also the bookies’ pick to win their group stage finale against Iran. But in the monumental Black Friday clash against England (2 p.m. ET, FOX and the FOX Sports app), it’s a different story. 

“They’re probably one of the favorites to win the World Cup,” U.S. captain Tyler Adams told FOX Sports of the Three Lions. “We know we’re probably underdogs.”

There’s no probably about it. The Americans are a long shot to beat Jude Bellingham, Harry Kane & Co. It’s no secret. It could even be a good thing. After all, it’s long been the role the USMNT has felt more comfortable in.

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“I think we’ve always been the underdog in the eyes of America,” said forward Tim Weah, scorer of the U.S. goal in Monday’s deflating 1-1 tie with the Welsh. “They kind of wonder if we know how to play football. And I think it’s our time to show the world we’re capable of playing with the best and beating the best.”

Getting even a point — let alone all three — on Friday would be a triumph for Gregg Berhalter’s side. Perhaps Weah’s optimism betrays the naivety of youth. While the second-youngest team in the tournament respects England and knows full well what it’s capable of, the Americans also don’t fear them. That’s not a bad starting point at a World Cup that has already seen two monumental upsets through the first 12 games — Saudi Arabia topped Lionel Messi and Argentina on Tuesday, a day before Germany lost to Japan.

“When you have one team that’s bought-in to the same message,” U.S. keeper Matt Turner told reporters Wednesday, “You can beat anyone on any given day.”

The Americans’ all-time 1W-0L-1T World Cup record against England proves Turner’s point, even if it has nothing to do with the current U.S. squad. More relevant is the fact that this USMNT has significantly more experience playing in England than any before it. Five starters against Wales — Adams, Turner, Christian Pulisic, Tim Ream and Jedi Robinson play in the Premier League. So does Brenden Aaronson, who could spell banged-up midfielder Weston McKennie on Friday (a USMNT spokesman said all 26 players, including McKennie, would be available for selection).

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Forward Josh Sargent was in the Prem last season before Norwich got relegated; he’s among the leading scorers this season in the second-tier English Championship. New York City-born starting midfielder Yunus Musah spent his formative years in London, where he was a member of Arsenal’s youth system. Musah also captained England’s under-18 team before a call from Berhalter convinced him to rep his birth nation instead (Musah reiterated Wednesday that he’s never spoken to England manager Gareth Southgate).

“It’s a special game for sure because I’ve played on both sides,” said Musah. England-born-and-raised pair Robinson and Cameron Carter-Vickers were also eligible to rep Southgate’s team before opting for the U.S.

“When I saw the group drawn and saw [the U.S.] was in the same group as England, I was excited,” Carter Vickers said Wednesday. “They’re one of the top teams in the world. To be able to play against them and match up against them and see where you’re at is a good thing.” 

Facing Wales in the opener was good preparation, too. While England has more talent than its U.K. neighbor, Musah suggested that the off-the-charts intensity and physicality are similar.  

“Now that we’ve got our first game out of the way, everyone has a feel for what the games are like, what the atmosphere is like,” Musah said of his first World Cup experience. “It’s higher stakes now. We know what we’re in for.” 

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They also know the opportunity at hand. Beating England would all but assure the Americans’ passage to the knockout stage, but that’s only part of it. Toppling one of the faves in front of what could be record-setting streaming and Television viewership on Thanksgiving weekend would capture the imagination of the country’s mainstream sports fans and lure America onto the bandwagon of a humble, exciting, wholly likable squad. A tie would work, too. Either way, the U.S. isn’t in a bad spot. Nobody expects much from them this Thanksgiving weekend. The pressure is on England. That’s just fine with the U.S.

“It’s going to be a big challenge,” said Turner. “It’s going to take tremendous focus, but we’re looking forward to it. 

“We’ve always carried a chip on our shoulder,” Adams said. “Playing against a lot of those guys week in and week out gives you a little bit of familiarity going into the game.

“We want to give the fans something to be thankful for.”

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Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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