Independence Day column: It isn’t your father’s US that England and Wales will see in Qatar


In his second column on Prost International, Kartik Krishnaiyer celebrates American Independence Day by ssessing the chances of the US Mens National Team (USMNT) in the upcoming World Cup.

Broadcaster and author Kartik Krishnaiyer becomes PINT’s second guest columnist

USA fans watch a World Cup qualifier in Nashville
Photo: Kassel Leventhal/Prost Amerika

July 4th is US Independence Day. It is the day in 1776 that thirteen largely insignificant British colonies declared their independence from the mother country. In fact, Britain had 27 total colonies in North America and the Carribean at the time, so less than half left the Empire at that moment. But it stands as the day Americans commemorate as the birth of their country. 

With this in mind, for England to be drawn into FIFA World Cup Group B with Wales and the United States has to be a bit of a nightmare scenario.

Facing a former colony and a constituent nation of the United Kingdom is rife with all sorts of intrigue. But even more, from a football standpoint, it will prove difficult.  Wales is very good and battle-tested, something we have months to ponder over, while the US is a radically changed side from past editions.

Before we get to breaking down the US, it’s worth remembering that England’s track record when matched up with Wales or the US in a major tournament isn’t great.

Wales won its Euro 2016 group that included England (despite losing to England in heartbreaking fashion in the group), and advanced the semifinals of the tournament – while England was embarrassingly put out by Iceland

The last time the US and England were grouped together in a World Cup, the USA had an experienced side that played pragmatically and England under Fabio Capello were trying some new things after missing Euro 2008.

What resulted was one of the worst matches of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, a disjointed affair marred by Rob Green’s howler and England’s inability to stay on the front foot after an early goal. The USA won the group on goal difference, but neither side really left a mark on the tournament.

In 2022, both sides look very different. 

The United States is currently managed by Gregg Berhalter, a former Crystal Palace defender, who is quite frankly a hard-core ideologue when it comes to tactics and style.

Unlike past US teams, which were pragmatic, shifted formations based on opponent and often played defensively, Berhalter prefers an attacking style of football and a positionally-based 4-3-3.

For years, a debate has raged in the USA as to whether the US needed a “distinct style of play,” like Spain or the Netherlands or should just play to its strengths which are desire and fitness.

In Berhalter and his boss, Men’s National Team General Manager Earnie Stewart, the US has implemented a very Dutch style of play, fulfilling the wishes of many who felt the US would never reach an elite level by being a defensive-oriented side.

This has created some difficulty as integrating players into a distinct style at international level, who play in a different manner for their clubs has not been as smooth as perhaps hoped.

Under Berhalter, the goals are often stylistic. His view is if the US plays the right way with strong positional discipline, tactical rigidity and dominance in possession of the ball, results will follow.

His model is very clearly the Ajax school of football and therefore, it’s no surprise he prefers the 4-3-3 formation. Thus far results have been uneven under Berhalter, but it can be argued like in club football, implementing a system takes time though you could argue a national team, with limited training time is not the place for such rigidity. But there is no question that the US tactical discipline and positional play has consistently improved since Berhalter took over in late 2018.

Christian Pulisic in action for the USA
Kassel Leventhal / Prost Amerika

This is in direct contrast to England, where Gareth Southgate has continued to be very pragmatic, and seems to constantly experiment with new formations and ideas.

Southgate is criticized for his perceived conservative approach – but the truth is very few swashbuckling sides, that lack defensive solidity have actually won major tournaments in recent years. 

The US will attack, almost constantly in matches. This is in direct contrast to past US teams. For example in a 2016 Copa America semifinal loss vs Argentina, the US didn’t take a shot.

Now, the US is in a different paradigm, but one which is wholly dependent on tactical nous and increasingly vulnerable to being beaten on the counter-attack, which against Wales in particular could be a dangerous way to setup.

The key figures for the US, generally play for top club sides and all are under the age of 25 – Christian Pulisic of Chelsea, Weston McKennie of Juventus, Sergiño Dest of Barcelona, Tyler Adams of RB Leipzig, Gio Reyna of Dortmund, Tim Weah of Lille, and English-raised Yunas Musah of Valencia.

Brenden Aaronson who has been transferred to Leeds United this summer is an increasingly influential figure as is Fulham’s Antonee Robinson. Robinson grew up in England but opted to play for the US.

However, the USA’s most consistent player at the club level the last few years, John Brooks of Wolfsburg is nowhere to be found in Berhalter’s plans of late. Brooks has been omitted from the past three squads for whatever reason, leaving Berhalter scrambling to find a consistent central defensive pairing.

The other trouble spot as it is today for so many national sides is the number 9.

The US has cycled through five centre-forwards in qualifying and Concacaf Nations League, none of which have made a real impression. The favorite to start for a while was Ricardo Pepi of Augsburg but of late Berhalter has been looking for any player who might stick.

It’s also worth noting that despite Berhalter’s desire for a tactically sound side, US teams today look more disorganized than heading into every World Cup since 1998.

Some of this might have to do with the relative youth of the side, but probably more critical is the need to master another tactical setup in limited national team training sessions. It’s often said, national team managers keep tactics simple for a reason, but Berhalter has an opposite view. It should be noted that Berhalter will have time to drill the squad tactically during the weeks leading into the World Cup.

One last point may be completely unknow to English audiences given their long standing and storied rivalries with Scotland, Germany and Argentina. A rivalry with England exists in the minds of American soccer fans.

Given the interconnected nature of the English and Welsh football cultures in addition to other political factors that fuel rivalry, England’s chief rival in this group is obviously Wales.


Brenden Aaronson celebrates his goal against Canada
Photo: Kassel Levanthal / Prost Amerika


But the United States also views England as a rival, perhaps out of envy, a big brother complex which the states doesn’t share with the likes of France, Germany or Spain. It’s also worth noting at this point that the Premier League is more popular among television viewers in the US, than either of two major US domestic leagues, MLS or USL are. This fuels a greater interest in England and as a result a greater envy.

Group B has the prospect of being super-competitive and marked with different styles of football as well as some real rivalries. It should be fun.

And I haven’t even mentioned Iran!

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