Heart of Football

Qatar World Cup: England vs USA preview interview

Ahead of Friday’s clash between trans-Atlantic rivals USA and England, we spoke to DAZN Sport’s Roberto Rojas to get a stateside lowdown on the second group-stage match.

How concerned are you about the USA’s relative struggles in qualification, and then in throwing away a 1-0 lead against Wales?

I think getting to the World Cup was necessary; not making it to Russia four years ago, the pressure was on this generation of players who’d never played in a world cup aside from one player, DeAndre Yedlin. Having said that this is a very young side, that want to make a solid impression, not just because they want to be one of the best in CONCACAF but because they have a right to be. Being co-hosts in four years’ time means the pressure certainly will be on.

The way that they played wasn’t so bad, I mean there were some issues tactically but I think they can definitely improve that against England when the pressure’s going to be much, much bigger. So you could hope they’d go and impress – not saying they will, but they can probably spring a surprise. I think there’s a level of having to concentrate more. Berhalter knows this, so we’ll see what changes can be made from the first game to the second game. I think they’ll get something, because the aim is to get out of the group.

Describe the pressure on this squad back in the states: what has the mood been like, and how far do fans really expect – or demand – they go in the World Cup?

I think when it comes to pressure, like I said before it’s there; with the draw there was definitely an expectation of “Hey, we’ll definitely get out of the group”, and go from there. For me on a personal level, I think if they reach the quarter-finals, it would be one of the best achievements in US soccer history. The last time they managed that was 20 years ago, when nobody gave them a chance of getting out of that group. 

20 years ago the USMNT reached the World Cup quarter-finals after beating historic rivals Mexico in the Round of 16

Things have changed, the team is better, there is a better coach in terms of how well the side can do at World Cups. Having been to so many, I think it’s only fair enough to say that this side is good enough to go to the next round; because of the talent and quality they have. Of course they way they play… Berhalter isn’t exactly someone who’s adored for the way he plays by fans, but he gets the job done when it’s necessary. It would be very disappointing if they go out at the group stage, but also surprising if they make it to the Round of 16.

Which players will be key for the US against England specifically, and why?

In the first game we did see some impressions of what this side can offer on the biggest stage. With England likely to press the United States and take plenty of shots on target, I think Matt Turner is going to have to step up, because – penalty aside – he showed a really good performance against Wales. He’s definitely going to have to step it up to help the backline.

Christian Pulisic is a key player for the US, despite struggling at club level for English side Chelsea

Going forward trying to press for goals Timothy Weah is useful on this national team, he can be dangerous, but we need to expect more from the likes of Christian Pulisic and Josh Sargeant as the key attacking players. Pulisic was fouled a lot in the game against Wales; depending on where he plays, how Berhalter uses him, he has to show up. He is the main guy; he has to demonstrate that. The likes of Aaronson and Adams have to step it up too if the US are to get anything against England.

How deep is the rivalry against England for US fans? We all remember the famous “USA WINS 1-1” headline from 2010…

I think if anything it’s more tongue in cheek. Yes, we know that the England side is always going to have that rivalry, at least from a political standpoint. From a football perspective, I mean yeah… there’s an obvious answer, England are dominant, the better side, they’ve won World Cups, they’ve had better players, and they’ve demonstrated more than the United States have. 

20 years ago a 1-1 draw sparked wild celebration – will the USMNT demand better this time round?

Having said that, I think with this new social media and the way people reach out to others, with so many people we work with who are English, it kind of runs deep. The English can be a little arrogant saying “Oh the Americans don’t know how to play soccer… what do they know about it?” I think it stems from that. 

I don’t think it’s really that deep. You’re going to see on social media bitterness, and if someone wins you’re going to see bragging rights for some time. But having said that, no I don’t think it’s that deep; aside from the odd bantering and what not, I think there’s a genuine respect for the English, the Premier League and English players – and I think vice versa. 

I think those who have a sophistication and understanding of world football understands that the United States have developed their soccer, and have developed into one of the best teams in CONCACAF over the last 20 years, and it just goes from there. I think Southgate and Berhalter respect each other as well. I don’t think there is a big rivalry, like a Brazil vs Argentina, or a USA vs Mexico.

How much attention have the off-field issues surrounding Qatar as hosts attracted in the US?

It’s interesting because i think for some countries it’s definitely an issue. I think in the United States there is a… not pettiness or bitterness, but a feeling that this is the country that beat you to win the right to host the World Cup 12 years ago. With the controversy surrounding FIFA and what the US government had to do, I think there is that level of apathy. For the average American soccer fan of course they’re excited for the World Cup.

For Qatar, with their record of human rights and the freedoms they should give to their citizens is definitely not the way that I would want a country to be run; there are things we’ve seen already over the last 12 years; things are like that.

People are aware, which I think is good; it shows what a community we’ve grown over the last decade or so. When the United States lost that bid to Qatar there were stories from fans, journalists, and all levels of the community. It’s definitely something that should be talked about, and not ignored at all. You’re going to have some people who say “just stick to sports, let these guys play”, but the reality is there’s something deeply wrong in Qatar and the way that they treat people, how the stadiums were being built and all the controversies. There is that feeling and resentment in a way; not completely, because everyone is different, but it is something that cannot be ignored.

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