In the first round of the 1950 World Cup of soccer football, a semi-professional team of Americans defeated England, where the sport was invented. The BBC described the upset this way:
“You need to think in terms of a British college baseball team beating the New York Yankees. . . . The US lineup included a postman, a mill worker and, appropriately enough from England’s point of view, a funeral director. One or two of their players were not able to make the trip to host country Brazil because they could not get time off work. ”
They’re still talking about that game on the other side of the pond.
“They are,” said US men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter. “Someone mentioned it in Doha last week. It’s still sticks as the biggest upset in England’s history. ”
The “someone” was from the English delegation in Doha, Qatar, where the draw was held for the 2022 World Cup. The US landed in a group with England, Iran, and the winner of a European play-in game (either Ukraine, Scotland or Wales).
The game against England is Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving.
“It’s a great draw because it’s a fantastic opportunity,” Berhalter said. “This is why you want to get to the World Cup – to be in big games.”
The last time the two teams met at the World Cup was in 2010. That game ended in a 1-1 draw, and it sent the Americans through to the knockout round.
Which leads us to a tea-spilling, scone-spitting, historical fact: The Americans are unbeaten (1-0-1) against England in World Cup competition.
Of course, the US game has come a long way since 1950, not to mention 2010. American soccer fans are now rather English in their tastes. They look down on MLS, see doom for the national team lurking beyond every kickoff and believe the coach is an idiot who should’ve been fired last week.
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Berhalter was in good spirits when we spoke Friday, but, then, he is usually in good spirits. He gave a debriefing of the qualifying cycle that ended, for all practical purposes, with a 5-1 victory over Panama in Orlando on March 27.
The final, three-game window was a wicked one for the Americans, who were matched against three teams (Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica) still playing for their World Cup lives. It included two road games (Mexico, Panama) where the USMNT has never won a qualifier.
The US (7-3-4) took four points in the first two games and basically punched their ticket to Qatar. They finished third in the CONCAF standings behind Canada (8-2-4) and Mexico (8-2-4).
They killed the ghost of Couva, Trinidad, where a quarter-century streak of US World Cup qualifying was snapped four years ago.
“It was in the back of everyone’s mind,” Berhalter said. “I know it was, like a cloud hanging above us. You knew it was there. Was it going to rain? The best way to deal with it was to stay focused and in the moment, to shut out the outside noise, the history. ”
There were times in the qualifying cycle when the US left points on the field. There were other times when the Americans rose to meet challenges, particularly when they were short-manned. When I parse through the 14 games played over seven months, here’s where I land:
Given the rigorous nature of the COVID-compressed octagonal – with three games jammed into seven-day windows – the main job (qualifying) got done with one of the youngest international teams in the world.
This American team is now set up for the next two or three qualifying cycles, and they’ll never see again one so grueling.
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For the 2026 World Cup, the US is an automatic qualifier (as a co-host with Mexico and Canada). From there, the tournament is expanding. Starting in 2030, the region will have six automatic qualifiers.
It’s the end of one era and the beginning of another.
In the near-view mirror, Berhalter is still looking to shore up a few areas of his roster.
About his striker, he said, “It’s going to be one of those things that depends on the form of the individual. We’ve got a number of players in contention. As we get toward November, who’s scoring and in the best form? ”
Berhalter basically relied on five strikers – Ricardo Pepi, Jesus Ferreira, Gyasi Zardes, Jordan Pefok and Josh Sargent – during qualifying. Berhalter said he’s keeping his eyes open, and he mentioned Brandon Vasquez of FC Cincinnati and Brian White of the Vancouver Whitecaps as two of the players he might be tracking. Among others. Just finish, man.
Berhalter said he’s still scouting for depth at left back behind Antonee Robinson.
As for goalkeeper, Berhalter leaned on Matt Turner and Zack Steffen. “What we want is one of these guys to be playing regularly and in form,” Berhalter said.
It’s scouting season. It’s a time to wonder what this team of 20-somethings can do, on the big stage, when completely healthy. England is lurking out there in the desert.