England 0-0 USA: expectations

There was a moment during the buildup to yesterday’s Engalnd-USA World Cup match where Alexi Lalas gave a speech which was obviously meant to be similar to Michael Sheen’s rousing pre-Wales pep talks but which ended up sounding more like something a drunken uncle would say at Thanksgiving. He basically just yelled that the USA needed to play with heart and fierceness, or something. What he said wasn’t memorable, but the reaction of the other three folks in the studio was: Clint Dempsey looked like he was going to laugh, Rob Stone did laugh and former Arsenal and England international Kelly Smith just looked on in disbelief. Stone asked the panelists what they thought of Lalas’ rant (while Lalas stayed in character, his lips firmly shut, jaw tight) and Kelly Smith tried to answer but was cut off by someone behind her in the crowd yelling out “USA!”

That rant kicked off an hour long segment of coverage on Fox which was one of the more hilarious pieces of nationalism I’ve seen so far in this tournament. There was a piece on Harry Kane which directly linked his success to watching a documentary on Tom Brady. That piece of course ended with a question about whether he wants to play as a kicker in the NFL when he retires from football. There was a five minute Frito-Lay commercial “it’s called soccer” which was the highlight, not because it was well done or interesting, but because it was like a Saturday Night Live sketch in the way that it had one joke and just kept ramming it home. I tuned out most of it but it was an exhausting hour of buildup to the game.

Maybe the England team was watching the Fox pre-match buildup? It would explain why they looked so listless for most of the match.

I say that, but it’s one of those jokes which is meant to both be an exaggeration and point to the truth. The truth isn’t that the England team watched the Fox segment, but that after a really good start, they did look a bit tired. But there’s another layer here as well: I think that much of the handwringing by England fans and pundits after the match and the celebration of the USA by fans and pundits is hilariously overblown.

To be clear, I was born here in the USA but I’m not a fan of the US Men’s* National Team. And while I do love Saka, White, Ramsdale, Musah, and Matt Turner – and hold no particular animus toward most** of the other players on either team, while actively appreciating talent like Bellingham and Weah – I feel like this is a game which I can judge fairly objectively. And I think that both sides are overplaying their hand a bit.

For England, this draw is being treated almost like a loss with folks (which is my putting pundits and fans into a new group) angry that Southgate didn’t do more to attack the USA. For the USA, this draw is being treated like a win with folks saying that they were the better team and “should have won”.

From the England perspective, I get it. If the USA had Saka, Kane, Sterling, Bellingham, Grealish, Foden, and Trent Alexander-Arnold I think we would demand more than 8 shots in pretty much any game. And with that talent on the roster it’s reasonable to expect that your team would top the group and get far in the elimination stages.

But at the same time England needed just a draw to go through and are in position to win the group (unless the USA crushes Iran and Wales beat England – both possible). It’s also true that tournaments like the World Cup, FA Cup, etc. etc. reward teams which are more conservative and punish teams which are too expansive and every coach worth his corn knows this.

This World Cup is also suffering from a lack of preparation time and it’s not a surprise that there have been more 0-0 draws so far than at similar points in previous World Cups. It’s easier to organize a defense than an attack.

That said, England had the two best chances in the game. One for Saka in the 45th minute and one for Kane at the end of the match. Could they have taken more chances? Probably. Did they play to make sure they didn’t lose, absolutely.

I think that Southgate made some odd choices. That is not a question. Phil Foden, for example, seemed superglued to the England bench while Mason Mount was turning the ball over constantly up top. Mount was probably the USA’s best defender. I had to check to see if Foden was injured (he’s not). I get that Mount was better than Foden last year but Mount was having a terrible game and it was a surprise that Southgate left him on the field for the full 90 minutes. A draw was fine for England but a win would have guaranteed first place in the group.

For the USA, they did exactly what they needed to do and made the game physical rather than technical. They closed space, they played tight, and the referee allowed the game to flow rather than handing out a ton of cards. They played exactly like you’d like to see an underdog play.

I will give credit to the USA midfield. While it wasn’t quite a “dominant” performance like some would have you believe, I think that they did edge the England midfield and special mention goes to Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie for their defensive work and assured passing.

That said, USA only created one real chance ( a “dominant” midfield would create more in my opinion). That fell to Weston McKennie who spooned the ball over. And while Pulisic had his best game of the tournament so far (4 shots and 1 key pass) he was limited to just 0.14 xG and none of his chances threatened Pickford.

Folks’ reaction to this match comes down to expectations before the game. In the pre-match buildup Stone asked Smith, Dempsey, and Lalas for their predictions. Lalas continued his faux bravado proclaiming a 2-0 win for USA. Dempsey predicted a 1-1 draw. And Kelly Smith continued her pre-match hubris (which was a widely held belief on all the pods I listen to) and predicted a 2-1 win for England. It makes sense, then, that most of the England folks are disappointed and most of the USA folks are happy.

One last bit here: what I’m saying above might seem to contradict Alexi Lalas both claiming that he thought USA would win 2-0 and also after the match calling it a terrific performance. But it’s obvious that Lalas never really believed the USA would win 2-0 because if he did, he would have been deeply disappointed by a 0-0.

A draw sets up a final day where every match matters. Wales can’t get through but they can play spoiler against England and help either USA or Iran win the group. Meanwhile, USA needs a win over Iran to go through while Iran can just take a draw.

Realistically I expect England to top the group and for USA to finish 2nd. Iran has had a number of off-field problems. Their religious dictatorship is being challenged and there are riots along with police and military crackdowns. That has reached the World Cup squad as one of their players was arrested for speaking out against the government. They will have the crowd in their favor, I’m sure, but that can’t be a good place for a team to be, mentally. I expect USA to win.


*I am a fan of the USWNT!
**Kane, Dier, and Pulisic are the exceptions


  1. Kane didn’t look particularly useful…probably should have been subbed for Rashford much earlier. And credit to Harry M…while he’s looked terrible for United he’s played decently for England in the last two matches without a lot of match fitness.
    Both Adams and Musah look like they would useful at Arsenal.
    I think Wales can still go through if they beat England by 4 goals. Very unlikely, but technically possible. In all likelihood, it will be England and the winner of the US/Iran match. I’ll cheer for the US, but wish there was a way for Iran to go through so their fans could continue sticking it to the theocratic government.

  2. As long as teams hoof balls into the penalty area Maquire will be happy. He has a head made of rock. Any other defending requirement, he will likely be found wanting. Only Southgate would pick defenders of his ilk and a few others in the England team. Any forward looking manager, who lives in 2022, would not.

    Arteta, as England manager (perish the thought), with the talent in that squad, would have won convincingly.

    This opinion from a friend ‘over the pond’.

    1. Maguire is very good at a few things. Heading the ball is definitely one of them. He’s also a pretty good passer. We forget that he anchored the Leicester back line in their title season before he went to MU and had to deal with a whirlwind of coaches and systems. He seems to have regressed there which is little surprise.

  3. I see where you’re coming from but I don’t get Southgate’s conservatism in this kind of game. It’s not like he’s up against Mbappe or Messi… it’s Pulisic and a guy who plays striker for Antalyaspor. In any case, even if you’re playing for a draw, you still want to control the match and he never did that despite having the tools to do so. I lost a lot of respect for his managerial chops in this game.

    Speaking of Tools: Alexi Lalas, the man who once proclaimed on TV that the MLS actually isn’t that far behind the major European leagues. It beggars belief that they pay people like him to talk about sport; but it’s actually incredibly on brand for Fox.

    1. On the evidence of that match and France’s first two, Southgate would need to be very conservative, as the French attack would run right through the English defense.

  4. I’m almost tempted to watch Iran v USA rather than England v Wales.

    Iran’s second half against Wales was one of the best halves I’ve seen this World Cup, they were superb. Add the political background to the match and USA’s decent showing so far, it’s got the ingredients to be a classic.

    Conversely, Southgate is such a conservative, defensive, cautious manager, I wouldn’t be surprised for him to go for a bore draw seeing as that’s all they need to go through.

  5. I’m still not watching or following myself but Son-of-1-Nil gives me updates (whether I want them or not!)

    Japan losing losing to Costa Rica after beating mighty Die Manschaft?

    Strange results befit a strange tournament.

    Brazil have never won a European -hosted World Cup, so 2022 must be theirs, no?

  6. Some facts:
    1. Harry Maguire joined Leicester from Hull in june 2017. Leicester won the Premier League in 2016.
    2. Brazil won their first World Cup in Sweden in 1958. We do recognize Sweden as a part of Europe.

    1. Should have checked my facts. Speaking of Swedsn, we just lost here in Toronto one of the first great Swedish players in the NHL: Borje Salmimg. As a lifelong Toronto Maple Leafs fan (don’t ask) he was a hero of mine.

  7. Very sad news, I am from Norway and will always remember when Sweden came to Toronto and played USA in the Canada cup in 1976. Børje Salming was met by standing ovations for 20 minutes in Maple Leaf Gardens before the match. He also scored the winning goal. I saw some very moving pics when he was back in Toronto recently. He was a real giant. Rest in peace Børje

  8. A former Iran national team player has been arrested. And that already happened before the Wales match. They have off-field problems, but I reckon that a game against the US will motivate them big time. I expect Iran to win (or draw).

  9. my personal take is this; gareth southgate got out-coached by his yank counterpart. it looks as england did zero strategic prep for the game. it seems they thought all they had to do was to show up and the win would just happen. if that’s what happened, it’s disrespectful. did they even do a walk through?

    maguire was good doing the random that england thought would get them the win. btw, he wasn’t in the leicester team that won the league. they had the big german, robert huth, and that big jamaican guy; i think his name was morgan. why maguire may have looked good on the day, it could have also been dumb luck. i’d be remiss to dismiss that possibility.

    alexi lalas is a moron. i don’t know what appeal he has. i didn’t like him as a player and i don’t care much for him as a commentator. in the ’94 world cup, he stood out because of his red hair and long red beard. he actually was signed by milan but they soon realized how big a jamoke the yank was. at least oguchi onyewu played.

    1. I remember Lalas was providing his insights as a commentator on the Europa league a few years ago. His comments were so banal/repetitive that I ended up watching the games in silence. Unfortunately, Ray Hudson, who is commentating on the Europa league this year, has the same effect on me.

      1. at least ray hudson has a personality. i actually like ray hudson. you can tell he loves the game. likewise, he always says one thing during a match that will have me laughing.

Comments are closed.

Related articles