The United States’ draw with Wales on Monday is not a bad result. That being said, it is not a stellar result. On one hand, the United States is still alive and well in the competition. On the other, it is far from guaranteed to reach the round of 16.
By the time the USMNT kicks off against England on Black Friday, it will either be in third or fourth place in Group B. Wales and Iran kick off in the first game of the day at 5 a.m. ET. Nine hours later, the United States faces its toughest task of its three games.
Does USMNT go out to win or draw against England?
Therefore, Gregg Berhalter has a decision to make.
Of course, part of the consideration for that stems from the result in the Wales game on Friday. A Wales win against Iran puts the United States even more under the microscope against England. Or, a Wales loss allows the United States to control its fate against Iran.
It is the beauty of round robin play. Loaded possibilities yield a headache for USMNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. Particularly given the unpredictability of this tournament with major sides such as Argentina or Germany losing, Gareth Southgate likely sees this game as a perfect chance to lock up a spot in the round of 16. Doing so, he avoids the stress of a final matchday battle. Plus, he can rest players in England’s third and final game of the group stage.
Berhalter’s choice comes down to actively sending out a side to win and hit England on the front. Either that, or he can play out for a draw and hit England on the counter. Regardless of the plan, the result is what matters.
Scenarios facing US depending on US-England result
If the US gets a win against England, generating four points after two games, the United States is in an ideal spot going into a final group stage game against Iran. In that scenario, US would have four points going into the last game. A win against Iran coupled with an earlier win versus England could see US finish atop the group.
A US draw against England? Two points is not bad, but not necessarily ideal. It gives the United States a lifeline. Hence, a win against Iran in the final game would deliver five points to the US, which certainly should be enough to advance. However, Iran would love nothing more than to defeat the United States. So a win against Iran is hardly guaranteed.
In the worst case scenario, if the United States loses to England, and Wales gets a win earlier in the day against Iran, it is panic time in the American camp. In this scenario, the US would prepare for the final group stage game with just one point under its belt. Hence, a win against Iran would result in a total haul of four points for the United States. That means it’s quite likely that the race for second spot in the group stage may come down to goal difference between Wales and the United States.
Out of all of the scenarios, the above one is most likely.
However, in this final scenario, it means an England team goes into its final group stage game knowing that The Three Lions have already reached the Round of 16. If you’re Gareth Southgate, you rest your star players to save them for the knockout round. For England against Wales, the result doesn’t matter. Psychologically, that’s a huge issue in the back of the mind of Berhalter, knowing that the cards are stacked against you. Similarly, for Wales, it gives them a psychological boost knowing it has a big advantage to defeat its archrivals England.
USMNT approach against England on Friday
On Monday, the USMNT came out fast against Wales. Tim Weah driving down the right, Pulisic dribbling on the left and progressive midfield play created a number of chances. For most of the first half, all of the USMNT outfield players occupied the Welsh defensive half. As a reward, the United States got a goal, and a much-deserved one. Pulisic slotted through Weah after good hold up play from Josh Sargent. Weah tucked the ball past Wayne Hennessey.
The second-half approach was far different. Recluse, defensive, even nervous. Credit to Wales for being more progressive and controlled in its ball possession. It ended up with a total of three shots on target. The USMNT had just one, that goal from Weah.
The contrast in the first and second halves showed the disparity in what the United States can bring to the table. Here is what that means for the USMNT approach against England.
All-out attack: Press for a win, risk defeat
England is one of the deepest and most-talented teams at the World Cup. They are strong at the back with John Stones, Harry Maguire or even Eric Dier. The fullbacks, Luke Shaw and likely Kieran Trippier, are talented, even if they were not on top of their form against Iran.
However, if there is one thing the England starting XI against Iran lacked, it is pace. Iran had consistent runs through the back. While the Iranians still got outshot on target by four, they showed potential. Two goals against England comes on the back of the Three Lions conceding a total of eight goals in its last three UEFA Nations League games.
So, for the United States, the onus falls on Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah, or at least who Gregg Berhalter deploys in that front four in his 4-3-3 formation. England’s relatively slow back line can open doors for the same piercing runs Weah exhibited in the side’s lone goal against Wales. If McKennie, Musah and Adams can find some of the passing touch, there could be opportunities.
Utilizing Gio Reyna in the attack
Or, Berhalter can use a truly gifted talent like Gio Reyna, someone who did not see the pitch against Wales, to be creative against England. Berhalter unintentionally irked the majority of American supporters by leaving the Borussia Dortmund teenager on the bench in a game that needed a spark offensively. He should not make the same mistake if he wants three points against England.
Of course, playing someone like Reyna requires a midfielder to come off. McKennie, Musah or Tyler Adams are the likely replacements in the event Reyna comes on. For all his offensive creativity and brilliance, Reyna is a forward for all intents and purposes. At his club, he has 16 appearances this season. Six of those are at right wing, six at left wing and six at central attacking midfielder. It would be a surprise to see him start over Pulisic, and he sacrifices speed for dribbling when compared to Weah. Therefore, attacking midfielder would be a natural fit.
Having four players devoted to the attack opens doors at the other end for England. Talent, speed, creativity and cohesiveness are the attributes of this England side from the midfield up. It says something when Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish can come off the bench and add a pair of goals. Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice have a knack for getting forward, contributing their size and talent to the attack.
Those last two have an uncanny ability to start an attack out of nothing. If those two catch the United States with numbers forward, few nations can match England’s clinical nature up top.
Playing for a draw with a solid defensive formation
If Wales loses or draws against Iran, the USMNT approach against England can change. Suddenly, the prospect of besting Wales’s result against England versus the US’s result against Iran seems nice. If the United States sees an opportunity to play for a draw, and perhaps only hit England on the counter, there is a chance.
Yes, Walker Zimmerman gave away a silly penalty late that Gareth Bale easily powered home. Yet, the link between him and Tim Ream was calm, at least for the first half. Once Wales started pressing, the back line got under more pressure. Berhalter’s insistence on playing out from the back led to increased Welsh time on the ball. Consequently, Wales had more chances.
Gareth Southgate has one of the best attacking lineups in the world. Harry Kane, who should be healthy for the game, has an inform Bukayo Saka and the always-dangerous Raheem Sterling on either side of him.
Fact of the matter remains, England will want to win this game. With a win, England can relax in its game against Wales as it can lock up a spot in the round of 16. In fact, there is a realistic chance of England solidifying first place in the group, granting nothing to risk in matchday three. If that is the case, Gareth Southgate can send out a raw starting XI.
This affords them experience, while avoiding any injuries to the traditional starters. He did the same thing in 2018 following two wins and Belgium coming up in the third matchday. Kane, Sterling, and Trippier did not even touch the pitch in that game. Each of them started the other games at that World Cup.
Unpredictability of the 2022 World Cup
There is also the likelihood of Berhalter going with one plan in one half, and opting for the other in the second 45. Argentina and Germany dominated in the first halves of their games. Saudi Arabia and Japan, respectively, held on in the first 45. Both nations even profited from disallowed goals.
In the second half, perhaps with the ‘powerhouse’ nations comfortable, the smaller sides kicked into offensive gear. Two second-half goals offset early deficits.
Even England looked lackluster in the second half against Iran. If the same momentum rings true on Black Friday, Gregg Berhalter can alter his approach for the USMNT to find success against England.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Focus Images
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