National Writer: Charles Boehm

USMNT control World Cup destiny after England battle: "We're not done"

1125 WC US_Advance

AL KHOR, Qatar – For goalkeeper Matt Turner, the lightbulb moment arrived in the 10th minute.

Mighty England were pressing and probing the US men’s national team in the opening of their World Cup Group B affair at noisy Al-Bayt Stadium. A passing combination enabled Turner’s star Arsenal teammate Bukayo Saka to break clear down the left side of USMNT’s penalty box – the proverbial primary assist zone – and find dangerman Harry Kane with a low cross.

Walker Zimmerman saw the danger, blocked the shot out for a corner, and just about everyone in US colors, both on and off the field, caught their breath, fears averted.

“That gave us a boost and it's almost also a bit of a wake-up call in the game. And to know that you can make plays like that, that'll keep you in the game, I think it builds everyone's confidence,” said Turner afterwards. “I think it took us some time to realize, ‘Hey, like, we're in this game and we can compete with these guys,’ and that was definitely a big moment.”

England praise USMNT

They could indeed compete with the fifth-ranked team on the planet. In fact, the USMNT spent most of the ensuing 80-plus minutes doing quite a bit more than that.

The Yanks controlled long stretches of the match, stretching and pulling the Three Lions out of shape with the ball, and disrupted their buildups via an unexpected tactical switch, a twist on the old 4-4-2 formation that the English once made the global standard so many decades ago. By the game's end, the North Americans had produced a superior expected-goals number to their vaunted adversaries in a 0-0 tie.

“It was a really tough opponent. They defended incredibly well,” said Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate of the US. “Their front six make it so difficult to play through and get at their defense … the angles that the USA team press with is unbelievably difficult.

“We lacked a little bit of zip and quality in the final third and we weren't able to open up to create really good chances. But we had to show another side of ourselves in terms of the resilience without the ball, the recovery runs, defending our box well, defending any number of corners and set plays that came in.”

It was a complete performance with one exception: That killer pass that could produce a goal never arrived, and both sides had to settle for a scoreless draw – though Christian Pulisic’s shot that clanged off Jordan Pickford’s crossbar in the first half left the USMNT feeling hard done by, while England had to listen to boos from some quarters of their traveling support as they walked off the pitch.

“It felt like we dominated the game. I think we had the more clear-cut chances,” said Weston McKennie, who produced one of his better performances in a US kit in a smooth, swaggering midfield display. “Obviously it sucks that we couldn't put the ball in the back of the net and come out with the win and three points. But the most important thing is that we control the outcome of our journey in this tournament, with the last game against Iran.”

Win and you're in

Granted, the tie is of limited value in the hard math of group-stage advancement scenarios. The United States must beat Iran on Tuesday if they are to move on to the knockout phase, thanks to Team Melli’s last-gasp win over Wales earlier in the day; only a victory over England would have changed that.

Yet in the hard-to-measure categories of momentum and belief, this draw is worth miles more heading into the final day of group play, where a win sees the Yanks through to the Round of 16. With a loss or draw, they’re out when also factoring in last Monday’s 0-0 draw vs. Wales.

“I think any time you're in a World Cup and you get to go into the last group game controlling your destiny, that's a pretty good thing,” coach Gregg Berhalter said in his postgame press conference. “England has the same scenario, we have the same scenario, and it's fine for us.

“We're not done. Our focus is to keep going. And I think hopefully by the end of the tournament, we'll give people something to talk about.”

The simple fact the United States felt disappointed with this result was striking compared to the pregame conventional wisdom that a significant gulf in quality separated the two sides.

“I mean, it's one of the best teams that we just played, in the world right now. And we were able to go toe to toe with them and maybe even deserve three points out of that game,” said striker Josh Sargent postgame. “So I think that should give all the fans a lot of hope to see how far we can get in this thing.”