Why USA vs England is huge: What every fan needs to know about Black Friday World Cup showdown

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USA vs England FIFA World Cup 2022
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Three of the players on the United States men’s national team grew up in England.

Eight of the USMNT’s players earn their living playing soccer in England.

Millions of United States fans were introduced to soccer beyond the World Cup watching England’s Premier League on Fox Sports World or the Fox Soccer Channel or NBC. 

If one follows the game in the U.S. England is practically inescapable. The U.S. and England aren’t so much rivals as they are folks who live in the same community who don’t really like one another, but can’t help bumping their shopping carts at the supermarket every Saturday morning.

When the USMNT meet England on “Black Friday” in the second game of Group B competition at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it will mark the second time they’ve collided in past four World Cups. Given the Americans missed one of those, it’s actually the second time in their past three appearances. 

They’ve got to keep meeting like this, because when they do it’s usually consequential.

Here’s a look at why the Yanks versus the Three Lions is the biggest men’s soccer game in this country since a round of 16 World Cup showdown with archrival Mexico in 2002; maybe even bigger, because more Americans are now starting to understand why soccer is awesome.

This game is big for both teams.

MORE: Watch every World Cup match live with fuboTV (U.S.-only free trial)

England wants to win Group B because it means facing the runner-up in Group A in the round of 16. Beating the Americans would all but assure that finish, given the significant goal differential the Three Lions racked up in their opening-game 6-2 win over Iran.

The U.S. wants to beat England because its first goal is to advance to the knockout rounds for the fourth time in its past five World Cup appearances. A victory would put the Americans in excellent position to advance, and even a draw would be an acceptable result.

The one thing the U.S. cannot afford is to lose badly, as Iran did in failing so badly on Monday.

The U.S. has played well against major European teams before in the World Cup, including a victory over Portugal in 2002 and a draw in 2014, a draw against England in 2010 and a draw against eventual 2006 champion Italy.

Christian Pulisic is going to want his moment

In a 3-1 aggregate semifinal victory over Real Madrid, Pulisic scored the opening goal and created the clincher for Chelsea FC. He was the most important player in that series, which was an essential step toward Chelsea winning only its second UEFA Champions League title.

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That was 18 months ago, in the spring of 2021. Since then, he’s been treated rather capriciously by the club. No matter how consistently he creates opportunities or scores – he had 6 in 22 games last year, averaging less than 60 minutes – his playing time continues to dwindle. Presented a rare start in October against Wolverhampton, he scored in a 3-0 victory. He was on the bench the following week and started only once since.

Chelsea has lost three times and drawn twice in its past five. It’s not like what they’re doing is working.

Pulisic showed again what he’s capable of Monday with a magnificent assist to winger Tim Weah for the opening goal in a 1-1 draw with Wales to open the World Cup. He has said it was his biggest dream to play in the World Cup, and he entered in style. 

“It’s pretty cool that I’m going to get to play against a lot of friends in that game,” Pulisic told reporters at the team’s June media day. “We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a fun one, for sure.”

England is huge here.

The Premier League has become one of the most popular soccer leagues in America, with only Mexico’s Liga MX consistently drawing larger television audiences.

There are fan clubs for basically every top team. The Liverpool USA fan group has 464,000 followers on Twitter and outlets across the country. Chelsea in America is a coalition of 45 groups from Hampton Roads in Virginia to Seattle.

Fans in the U.S. can see plenty of their own players in the Premier League; witness the sudden escalation in popularity of Leeds United, which features USMNT midfielders Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson and a head coach, Jesse Marsch, who was born in Wisconsin and played 14 seasons in Major League Soccer.

But the stars who populate England’s roster have become household names for those who follow the game: striker Harry Kane, forwards Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling. Even the subs are big names: Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson.

Americans have owned England (in a way).

MORE: England World Cup roster: All 26 players in Three Lions squad

English soccer fans don’t necessarily have strong feelings about the USMNT. All public evidence – from newspaper headlines to analyst comments to Aaron Ramsdale jokingly calling American fan and team owner Will Ferrell “Wankerman” on radio – there is more a sense of dismissal or indifference.

English soccer fans don’t much like Americans, though, when they own their favorite clubs.

Manchester United fans have been trying to chase out the Glazer family since before they bought the club in 2005. There’s a verified account on Twitter titled “United Agenda Glazers Out”. The hashtag “GlazersOut” is a fair bet to be trending at any given moment. United fans objected to the way the purchase of the club was structured, the amount of debt assigned to the club and, since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, to its mostly abject performances: an average Premier League finish of fifth place, two runner-up placements, two cups and one Europa League title.

It was much the same with Arsenal and owner Stan Kroenke, which has finished an average of fifth place since Kroenke became majority owner in 2011 – even worse since head coach Arsene Wenger departed in 2018. Although the protests against his ownership were a bit less extreme than those at United, Kroenke Out was a thing as recently as a year ago. Now, though, with Arsenal currently leading the Premier League by five points over Manchester City, there is a greater sense of serenity.

American owners have helped to unlock extraordinary value in Premier League clubs, though. When John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group bought Liverpool FC in 2010, he did it for about $450 million. The club is now being considered for sale, and Forbes places the value at $4.45 billion.

It’s never bad for a league when its teams are worth more money.

It’s not just about money, either

In two prior attempts in the World Cup, England was unable to beat U.S. sides that weren’t nearly as advanced in the game.

In 1950, the United States pulled off what still is considered – even after Saudi Arabia’s victory this week against Argentina and Japan's win over Germany – to be the greatest upset in the history of the tournament. The U.S. went to Brazil for the World Cup with a squad filled with amateur players and minor professionals, including a Haitian-born student named Joe Gaetjens and a captain named Walter Bahr, who would become head men’s soccer coach at Penn State at raise two sons, Chris and Matt, who played as placekickers in the NFL and won Super Bowls.

The U.S. won 1-0.

Exactly 60 years later, the U.S. and England were drawn together again at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The U.S. did not manage to win, but did pull off a draw when Clint Dempsey’s long-distance shot took a hop that caught England goalkeeper Rob Green by surprise and rolled past him into the net. That positioned the U.S. to win the group on the dramatic late goal by Landon Donovan against Algeria that became the most memorable moment in USMNT history.

In 11 attempts against England, the U.S. has gotten only positive results only three times: those two and a 2-0 victory in 1993 in a four-team tournament called the “U.S. Cup”. They’ve lost eight consecutive friendlies

But the Americans have gotten it done when it mattered most.

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Mike DeCourcy is a Senior Writer at The Sporting News
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