USA soccer teams have unique chance to deal England a dual blow in men's and women's football

USA soccer teams have unique chance to deal England a dual blow in men's and women's football

If it is true that the United States and England are two countries divided by a common language, that never has been more so than regarding the world’s favorite sport.

One built its entire sporting culture around the game, the other mostly ignored it for the 20th century. One built a powerhouse women’s program behind laws that emphasized female participation. The other had a rule in place that forbade women from playing on club grounds.

These days, they even fight about what English word to use as the sport’s name.

Inside the next two months, the U.S. could deal England a memorable blow on dual fronts — and if it comes to pass, there would be repercussions, both immediate and long-term.

On Friday, the United States women’s national team will take on England at Wembley Stadium in what should be viewed as the biggest women’s soccer game (or football, if you must) ever contested outside official competition.

Tickets for the game sold out inside 24 hours, and a crowd of more than 87,000 is expected. The Americans have won the last two meetings in the series, including the semifinal at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

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On Black Friday, Nov. 25, the U.S. men’s national team will take on England at Al Bayt Stadium in Qatar, in the second game of Group B competition at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It is the second time in a dozen years the two have been drawn together. The previous time, at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the game ended in a 1-1 draw, and the Americans eventually won the group on Landon Donovan’s late, legendary goal against Algeria.

“We’ve talked about the teams that we wanted to play, but it wasn’t settled, and it wasn’t done — all the talks and all the contracts,” USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski told The Sporting News. “But I personally was in England and was able to experience the Euros, the atmosphere, the games, was able to see the teams. And after that, I just know that’s what I wanted for our team. I wanted to play England.”

There still was a technicality: England had to complete its qualification for the 2023 Women’s World Cup in September or it would have been stuck in a playoff for the final UEFA berths in October. The Lionesses won twice more to finish 10-0-0 in their group, freeing up their schedule in the process.

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Andonovski told TSN he wanted to play as soon as possible against England (ranked No. 4 in the world) and Spain (No. 8), the opponent for the USWNT’s second game on its trip to Europe, “in order to give us enough time to fix what may come up as areas of growth or areas of improvement” in advance of the World Cup next July.

“The timing of playing these opponents is perfect for us because I still believe we’ll have enough time to go over and iron out anything that may come up as a flaw,” Andonovski said.

The all-time series between the USWNT and England favors the Americans 6W-2L-2D. They have won both World Cup meetings.

Although their series is a lopsided 2W-8L-1D, the U.S. men’s team also has not lost to England in World Cup competition. They have played only twice, some of that owing to the American failure to qualify for the event from 1954 through 1986. The two games that did occur were 60 years apart, and the U.S. delivered a stunner each time, albeit with different results.

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The first came in 1950, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, when Joe Gaetjens scored a 38th minute goal to deliver a 1-0 victory to the U.S., which entered the game as 500-1 underdogs. “World Cup shock for England — beaten by U.S.” was the headline in the Western Morning News, with a subhead that criticized “poor shooting” by the England forwards. That game still is considered one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history.

In 2010, the BBC lamented goalkeeper Robert Green’s “World Cup nightmare” after he allowed an equalizing goal to USMNT star Clint Dempsey on a shot in the 40th minute that seemed no more than hopeful. The match finished 1-1 despite an inauspicious start for the USA, which allowed a Steven Gerrard goal after just four minutes.

This England team is considerably better, with many of the same players who reached the semifinal (and lost in extra time) at the 2018 World Cup and fell in the final of Euro 2021. “Every international manager would want England’s squad, just because of how deep they are,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said.

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The England women excelled at home in this past summer’s Euros, defeating emerging power Spain and established champions Germany and Sweden to claim the Lionesses’ first major trophy. England’s career scoring leader Ellen White — she also struck against the U.S. in the World Cup semis — retired after that tournament. More than half the England team that started in the 2019 World Cup was either on the bench for the 2022 Euros or was not selected for the tournament. This is a younger, more dynamic England women’s squad.

The same is true for the USWNT, which won its regional CONCACAF W Championship and qualified for the 2023 World Cup with six new starters who weren’t a key part of winning the 2019 World Cup. One of the missing regulars, Crystal Dunn, will return from maternity leave. But Alex Morgan, who was a part of the team that qualified, will miss his game because of a minor knee injury.

“I think the Euros itself was a tremendous event. I think it took the women’s soccer game to a next level, it just raised the standards around the world,” Andonovski said. “The (England) team did incredible. The support of the team and the environment that was created was tremendous. 

“I feel like our team needs to experience that. Our team needs to see that. And I don’t want them to see that for the first time when we go in the World Cup.”

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