DOHA, Qatar — The days of England beating the United States just by showing up are over.
The U.S. men aren’t arrogant enough to call themselves England’s equals, or suggest they’re close to it. They know their history against England, all of two wins and a draw in 11 meetings. They know how scary-good these Three Lions are, with a starting lineup that’s a Who’s Who of soccer.
They’ve seen the success England has had recently, reaching the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup and the finals of the European Championship two years later. And they’re well-aware England is one of the favorites here in Qatar.
But the Americans aren’t about to concede Friday night’s World Cup game.
“I wouldn’t say there’s many things out there that intimidate me other than spiders,” U.S. captain Tyler Adams said Thursday. “Obviously I have the opportunity to play against all these big players, and I’ve done it before. We also want to show what we’re capable of, and that U.S. Soccer is growing and developing in the right way.”
There are a number of reasons England no longer has a commanding psychological advantage over the USMNT, but they can be summed up in one word: Familiarity. English soccer is more accessible than it’s ever been for Americans, players and fans alike.
For much of the last decade, young players have been able to wake up early on the weekends, park themselves in front of a screen and watch pretty much every EPL game. Rather than remote figures whose exploits were described in mythical fashion, the game’s biggest stars were suddenly right there, their skills and style of play able to be admired, analyzed and emulated.
Well, those players are in their late teens and early 20s now. They respect Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham, but they aren’t scared of them.
A lot of them also know England’s players personally.
Of the 26 men on the U.S. roster for Qatar, six are playing in the Premier League. They don’t have to wonder or worry how big the gap is between themselves and England’s players because they get a measure of it every game. In some cases, every day.
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Matt Turner knows exactly how good Saka and Ben White are because he goes against them in training at Arsenal. Christian Pulisic is working right alongside Sterling and Mason Mount at Chelsea.
“We had a laugh (after the draw),” Pulisic said. “It’s pretty cool that I’m going to get to play against a lot of friends in that game. We’re looking forward to it, it’s going to be a fun one for sure.”
Oh, and Gio Reyna’s best friend at Borussia Dortmund? That would be Bellingham.
“We really feed off each other, on and off the field. He’s a great player, great guy,” Reyna said.
“What separates him is his ability to really be able to do everything. I don’t think there’s many things that you point at that he can’t do,” Reyna added. “Of course he’s competitive. If you want to make it to the highest level, you do have to be competitive.”
The Americans are, too.
This group is young, but it has a very clear idea of what it wants to accomplish. Its players have broken through the ranks at many of the top clubs in England and across Europe, and now they want to elevate the status of the national team.
That means showing they can go toe-to-toe with the best teams, England included.
“It’s obviously a huge opportunity to fast-track the impact that we can have,” Adams said. “It’s a high-pressure, privileged moment to step on the field against some of these guys. When you get a result in a game like this, people start to respect Americans a little bit more.”
England manager Gareth Southgate doesn’t need to be convinced.
He was asked Thursday about the 2010 World Cup, when the USMNT and England were also drawn into the same group, and most dismissed the Americans’ chances. The U.S. men wound up scratching out a draw against England and went on to win the group.
“Have we ever beaten the States in a major tournament? No, I didn’t think so,” Southgate said, referring to England’s 0-1-1 record against the U.S. men at the World Cup. “We’re very good at talking highly of ourselves as a nation on the basis of very little evidence.”
England has earned the right to brag on itself a bit, and the USMNT will be the first to say that. But there’s a difference between respecting an opponent and fearing them.
England is going to have many advantages over the Americans. Intimidation won’t be one of them.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.