Call it football or soccer.  The United States claims it as its own.

Call it football or soccer. The United States claims it as its own.

AL KHOR, Qatar – The chanting came from a far corner of the stadium, echoing loud and clear for a few moments before fading back into the general cacophony of the night.

“It’s called football!” fans in the United States hollered at their English counterparts. “It’s called football!”

While the United States has seen its football culture grow over the past few decades, it has always used Europe’s great powers as a handy yardstick, an indication of how far it has come and how far it still has to go. . Yet it’s England, a country that prefers to call football the sport and definitely believes they’re better than Americans at playing it, that has always served as the benchmark that matters most.

The proof can be seen across the landscape of football in the United States: American fans, old and new, now spend weekend mornings watching English Premier League games on television. In American football stadiums, they borrow generously from English sporting culture, appropriating it, refracting it through an American lens, but leaving no doubt about its DNA. And America’s top players still dream of going overseas one day, anywhere at first, but eventually becoming a star in Britain’s most famous stadiums.

On Friday night, the United States had a rare opportunity to measure the shrinking distance between the nations’ teams and, by most assessments, performed admirably, dropping to a scoreless tie that left the Americans holding their own. of the World Cup in their hands.

The result – and little moments like the sassy chanting of the fans – sent the message that the United States was ascendant and ambitious for more.

“There are a lot of people who obviously thought we were going to blow ourselves up,” said USA midfielder Weston McKennie. “We came into this game, to the outside world, as obvious underdogs. But we didn’t feel neglected at all, because we know our abilities, we know what we can do, we know what talent, what fight and what spirit we have.

In order to qualify for the round of 16 of the tournament, the United States have a simple task: they must beat Iran on Tuesday in the last match of the teams’ first round. The Americans said they felt the knockout round started early.

And USA coach Gregg Berhalter said he liked the simplicity of the task at hand, in a way: “We win or we’re knocked out of the World Cup,” he said.

The English will go into next week knowing they only need a draw to qualify, but they also left knowing the night could have been much worse.

England fans in the stadium expressed their displeasure with the team at the final whistle. Afterwards, coach Gareth Southgate tried to play down the disappointment of the evening.

“We are in a good position,” he said. “We still have a bit of a way to go to qualify, but we also have the opportunity to win the group.” He added: “The players were very depressed and disappointed after the game, but I told them it wouldn’t be like this for the next few days.”

The stakes of a World Cup encounter meant there was a sense of occasion on the evening, which brought together two of the largest groups of traveling supporters at this tournament inside Al Bayt Stadium, a imposing structure designed to look like a traditional Bedouin tent.

Fans from both countries had the match circled on their calendars when the squads were announced earlier in the year. It was hard not to, given the nations’ close ties and history, shared language, common vocabulary of popular culture and, increasingly, sports fandom.

It was also eagerly awaited by the teams. Since taking over as head coach of the U.S. national team in 2018, Berhalter has repeated a single directive — to change the way the world views American football — over and over to his players.

In this regard, the team seems to be making steady progress. It has more players than ever at the big clubs around the world, many of them in England. Old stereotypes about American gamers and their limitations, they hope, continue to dissolve.

“We’re cutting corners on it,” Berhalter said of changing global perceptions of the team. “You need games like tonight to be able to do that. Otherwise, it is difficult for people to have an evaluation of it. We haven’t finished. Our goal is to keep going and hopefully by the end of the tournament we’ll give people something to talk about.

Southgate praised the Americans for the way they pressured his team. The Americans altered their normal formations in the flow of play, pushing players into unexpected areas both in attack and defence, forcing England to react and adapt.

“I think we’re not really afraid of playing against top teams, and I think it works in our favor if people think we’re underdogs in games because then they might take us on the back foot. light or something,” McKennie said. “I think we surprise them every time.”

USA needed confident performances all over the court, and the players mostly delivered. McKennie, in particular, was dynamic, causing persistent problems for the England defence. In the 26th minute he was left open to meet a cross near the penalty spot, but he fired his shot well past the crossbar.

Less than 10 minutes later, a sweet move from McKennie and a sharp combination with Yunus Musah left striker Christian Pulisic with an open eye in a pocket of space on the left just outside the penalty area . He hit a one-shot missile on goal, but it bounced fiercely off the crossbar, the game’s narrowest miss.

“It shows we can play against some of the best teams in the world,” said midfielder Brenden Aaronson.

Just over an hour into the game, the coaches started tinkering. Southgate could call on Premier League stars like midfielder Jordan Henderson and striker Jack Grealish to change the mood of his waning side, which had by then ceded control of the flow of play to young Americans. Berhalter replied a little later with his own attacking options, midfielder Aaronson and striker Gio Reyna.

But the stalemate continued until the final whistle, when the Americans were greeted with appreciative applause and the England players were greeted with a swarm of boos from their side.

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