Connect with us

Leagues: MLS

Why Beating England Might Not Be Good For Soccer In The US

CHICAGO - MAY 28:  Fans of the United States unfurl a large flag before the USA v England friendly on May 28, 2005 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Soccer in the United States is poised for a major breakthrough. A win against England would likely bring interest in the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) to an all time high. However, while it may seem counterintuitive, the England v. US game is likely the most overhyped match of the 2010 World Cup group stage.

The cultural connection and the English Premier League being the most popular foreign league in the English speaking United States have led ESPN to hype the game non-stop, both on TV and the Internet. What this hype ignores is the fact that the US’s chances at advancing will be decided primarily by its other two group games. Yes, three points against England would be nice, but if we cannot beat both Slovenia and Algeria, the USMNT will likely be heading home from South Africa early. If the team does beat England on Saturday, it’ll still need at least two draws, if not one win, to have a reasonable expectation of moving on to the Round of 16. If the US wins against England and performs as it has in the past, not only will the hopes of US supporters be crushed, so will soccer’s prospects of finally taking center stage in the United States.

The History

There has been a great deal of attention paid to the USMNT’s 1-0 defeat of England in the 1950 World Cup. While this was certainly a historic upset, what seems to be forgotten every time this win is mentioned is that the United States lost its other two group games in horrendous fashion and was bounced from the World Cup without getting out of group play- not to return for another 40 years. Instead of being celebrated as a shining moment, this should mark the beginning of US Soccer’s Dark Age.

In the past two World Cups, when the US has found itself in a position of upsetting a favorite in a group stage match, it has had a very difficult time winning its other group games. The US team seems to thrive as underdogs, and an early good result against a favored opponent has been accompanied by lackluster results in other group stage games. In 2002, remembered by many as the US’s breakout World Cup, the team was lucky to qualify for the Round of 16 despite a stunning 3-2 win over heavy favorites Portugal. It may be a game that many of us remember for the rest of our lives, but it was followed by a dismal 1-1 draw against the talented South Koreans and an even worse 3-1 loss against a Poland team that was beaten 4-0 by Portugal and 2-0 by South Korea. It was only a 70th minute goal by South Korean star Park Ji-Sung against Portugal in the group’s final game that allowed the US to progress out of the Group Stage. Because of these poor performances, the US went into the Round of 16 and Quarterfinals as the underdog and benefited from strong performances as a result.

In 2006, the USMNT was handed a very tough draw, with a group that included Italy, the Czech Republic and Ghana. Riding the wave of hype created by the US’s unexpected Quarterfinals finish in the 2002 World Cup and a 2005 Gold Cup win, the US were expected to draw, if not narrowly beat a solid Czech side. Instead, the Czech team took control a mere five minutes into the match with an easy goal off a header and finished the US side with two more goals despite having less possession. With very few people expecting the team to win against Italy, the US put in a Herculean effort, finishing the game with 9 men against 10 and holding Italy to a 1-1 tie. Without the help of some creative reffing, the US would likely have won the match. The US had one point, Ghana and the Czech Republic both had three and Italy had four going into the final match of the Group Stage. As long as Italy fulfilled expectations and won against the Czech Republic, the US could advance with a win over Ghana. Italy performed as expected and the US fell flat. The youngest team in the tournament had help from the referee and an injury to Claudio Reyna, but ultimately it was the United States’ lack of cohesion and creative play that led to its downfall. The overhyped United States had only 3 shots on goal the entire game. Somehow the team managed to play well against the heavily favored side and have two abysmal games against opponents that it should have beaten.

The Hype

The last thing the American team needs is to go into the 2010 World Cup overhyped. Much of these expectations are based on an improbable upset of Spain, one of the two best teams in the world and Euro 2008 winners, in the 2009 Confederations Cup. A dismal display in the first two games of the Cup led to an improbable 3-0 win over Egypt that coincided with Brazil’s 3-0 win over Italy, allowing the United States to advance instead of Italy based on goal difference. It was a fantastic turn of events that led a US team, which had no real expectation of staying in South Africa after the group stage, to face off against a heavily favored Spanish team that had not lost in 35 games. Boosted by an amazing performance from Tim Howard and goals from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, the US pulled off its greatest upset in the team’s modern era, beating Spain 2-0 in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup. This was surely an achievement, but it follows the US’s familiar pattern of a great performance on the heels of some serious underachievement.

As in 2006, the team is favored to make it out of their group and the mainstream media is finally paying attention. Skip Bayless and Jim Rome are busy mispronouncing common soccer names on ESPN and Americans are starting to take serious notice of the sport. Unfortunately, when Americans tune in to watch matches, they’re treated to the inane and idiotic analysis of John Harkes and Alexi Lalas. Both of these former USMNT players are quick to turn on the team after the slightest mistake and you can be sure they will hyperbolize about a win or a loss against England. The commentary following a US win over England would be grossly out of proportion compared to what the result means and will combine with the win against Spain in 2009 to create a line of drivel from know-nothing American sports commentators claiming the US have the potential to lift the Cup this year. The attention would be sudden and full of expectation, just like during the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. If the team then fails to perform, the media will quickly turn against it (as it did in the aftermath of the Czech defeat in 2006) and US Soccer will again miss out on the opportunity to advance the game on its home soil.

The World Cup is about consistency, something the team has struggled to find. The build up to the England game is worrying because it’s no different than the hype in 2006. This lack of consistency coupled with our continued poor play in matches where we are not the underdogs should be worrying to US supporters. New fans need to recognize that it’s a recipe for disaster to ignore the fact that good results against lower ranked sides are what will get the US team into the knockout stage. The last thing the United States needs is an upset against England that leads to a characteristic fizzle against Slovenia and Algeria. Don’t take this the wrong way: I’ll be screaming my head off for the red, white, and blue this Saturday. The US has the potential to show the gains the program has made in the last four years by beating the sides it’s favored to beat and not by upsetting England. American fans would do well to remember that a win on Saturday doesn’t make us world-beaters, just as a loss doesn’t mean we’re back to square one.

200+ Channels With Sports & News
  • Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
  • Watch Premier League, World Cup, Euro 2024 & more
  • Includes NBC, USA, FOX, ESPN, CBSSN & more
Live & On Demand TV Streaming
  • Price: $69.99/mo. for Entertainment package
  • Watch World Cup, Euro 2024 & MLS
  • Includes ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 + local channels
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
  • Price: $6.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
  • Features Bundesliga, LaLiga, Championship, & more
  • Also includes daily ESPN FC news & highlights show
2,000+ soccer games per year
  • Price: $4.99/mo
  • Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & NWSL
  • Includes CBS, Star Trek & CBS Sports HQ
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
  • Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
  • Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
  • Includes Premier League TV channel plus movies, TV shows & more
Click to comment


  1. Fro

    June 10, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Terrible article. Enough said.

  2. doug

    June 10, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    Agreed. Regardless of what happens against England, we will likely lose or tie one of our other games, and so will the English — the other two teams are filled with players who’ve trained hard, were good enough to qualify, and will do everything they can to win. And the better team doesn’t always win soccer matches. The overall statistics show that teams that win their first game are overwhelmingly likely to move on, and those who lose are overwhelmingly likely to go home. In the WC, there seems to be a “confidence boost” rather than an “overconfidence problem”…

    I think America needs a confidence boost and three points.

  3. soundersfcfanboy

    June 10, 2010 at 11:34 am

    ” If the team does beat England on Saturday, it’ll still need at least two draws, if not one win, to have a reasonable expectation of moving on to the Round of 16.”

    5 points will always advance a team out of a 4 team pool. 4 points is where there is a tie breaker involved.

  4. Jason Gatties

    June 10, 2010 at 12:08 am

    Terrible article.

  5. RSLFaninKC

    June 9, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    This is one of the most pointless articles I have ever read. What a waste of time.

  6. Luis

    June 9, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Beating England might not be good for US Soccer????
    That’s like saying beating Hitler might not be good for Western Civilization. If we hand the brits their asses, I think we can easily handle Algeria and Slovenia, which like six years ago wasn’t a real country. Overhyped??? Why don’t you go back to England you tea sipping, red coat wearing america basher#!

  7. Donn Risolo

    June 9, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Despite the tremendous progress made by American soccer, many in England continue to have a condescending view of the game here. A U.S. victory–even an ugly one–Saturday is the only thing that will start to change things.

    Or perhaps not. Look at our friends to the south: The U.S. National Team beats El Tri on a semi-regular basis for two decades and the Mexican public is only just now beginning to give us our due.

  8. Paul

    June 9, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    We make it out of the group stage every other world cup since 1990. That’s consistent enough for me. Go get ’em boys.

  9. Jcr

    June 9, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Excellent. As I started to read your piece I was somewhat skepticle because 4 pts will usually get a team through, but your commentary on recalling some of the past history and how our team performed did provide some excellent context to how our team has performed. I do disagree with the game against the Czech Rep in that I recall us being the underdogs although we didn’t play well.

    Regarding Harkes and Lalas I couldn’t agree more

  10. suckerpunch

    June 9, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    This is a serious case of “over thinking” you have there.

    In 2002 we have an example of upsetting our opening game opponent. in 2006 we have an example of losing as expected to our opening game opponent.

    Which Cup run was better?

    Now besides the fact that neither of those cups has anything to do with this one, wins are wins, and no wins are bad. None of the games will be easy, for a number of reasons, and beating England would only help.
    I couldn’t really give a rats ass to what newbie fans hope for or expect. Frankly I don’t care if a good/bad showing in the WC helps/hurt “soccer in America”. I follow the team because I love doing so. If the ill informed johnny-come-lately needs us to win the Cup to continue paying attention after 2010, I don’t need him.

    • james

      June 9, 2010 at 12:58 pm

      More American fans equal more MLS dollars equals better domestic program equals better national squad. So, while you might not care about new fans, they’re the ones who are going to provide the money to grow our game.

      • suckerpunch

        June 9, 2010 at 1:02 pm

        Of course, I know that… but for the next month, I am not going to care about the know nothing “fans/media” that are only paying attention because ESPN tells them they need to, nor will I care about any of those who abandon ship if we happen to lose to England.

        I will commence hand-wringing again in August, okay?

  11. Giovanni

    June 9, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    This is a stupid article.

    The U.S. is a pretty good team with mostly good quality players and a few outstanding players, but it clearly is not an ultra-talented world class team with a lot of depth. If absolutely everything went their way, they could win the World Cup like Greece did in Euro 2004. But then, if Greece can win Euro 2004, anything is possible in soccer.

    Luck, referee decisions, the flight of a ball that could have gone just a few inches lower or higher or to the left or right, all that plays into the results. Few people remember the shots that bang off the crossbar, or the bad referee’s decisions, but they all play a part in the results in soccer.

    Because everything is so unpredictable, most teams in soccer have their ups and downs. Underdogs ALWAYS have the edge in sports, the favorites ALWAYS are under more pressure to perform. The home team usually have the advantage. Those are the only constants.

    Just look at the Premier League this past season. Fulham beat Juventus and tied and beat Manchester United, but also tied Wigan Athletic once and lost to Hull City once.

    Only the truly great teams, and the truly lucky and cohesive teams (e.g. the Greeks of 2004) get consistent results. And at the end of any campaign, only the final winner could be said to have gotten consistent results all the way through.

    When totally unexpected underdog team like the Greeks of Euro 2004, or the U.S. Olympic hocky team of 1980 actually win it all, it can be truly magical.

    Barring any such magic, I’m guessing that the dour Dunga has tamed the wild Brazilian instinct for self destruction enought to win it all (kicking Ronaldhino off the team was the best thing he did). The Brazilians have so much talent, all they ever needed was enough discipline to put all that talent to work. This could be a repeat of World Cup 1994, in the U.S.

    But you never know what will happen with soccer.

    • SSReporters

      June 9, 2010 at 12:53 pm

      What? Fulham beat Man Utd at Craven Cottage and then lost at OT 3-0. Where did you get tie?

    • Charles

      June 9, 2010 at 2:26 pm

      Just look at the Premier league for an example of anything can happen ?
      Was that a joke ?

      You do realize that Chelsea won the league in a close contest with ManU…..who would have thought ?

      • Giovanni

        June 9, 2010 at 3:42 pm

        SSReporters, yes, you are correct about Man U. vs. Fulham this past season.

        Charles – In the Premier League, individual matches are very often unpredictable. Tournament results are often unpredictable. However, overall season records tend to be predictable. This is true of all sports leagues, amateur or professional. Season records are the result of strong finances and strong coaching and strong organizational structure. Those things tend to stay the same for one team, at least for a while, until something happens to change the organization.

        The World Cup is not a season, it is a short tournament. Hence the potential for unpredictability. However, because the teams are all-star teams with little time to build cohesion, there has also been a trend for certain countries that have either great pools of talent or great organizational structures, to do consistently well at the World Cup.

        It’s been proven time and again that youth, speed, and great physicality are advantages in the World Cup (I read somewhere that the last several Cup winners had an average team age of 25 – that would automatically rule out the Enland and Italy teams, which are packed with old veterans). My theory is that is why smallish but very talented teams like Mexico, Spain, and Portugal have never won. Your team needs some height and physical strength to win (Spanish World Cup players seem a bit taller this time around, than in the past – they used to be really short). You need to have a great goalkeeper, or at least one who is playing great during the Cup run (even if he is absolutely nuts and terrible the rest of the time, Barthez is the classic example). You need to have solid defense. Most of all, you need team cohesion and chemistry and leadership – that was the hallmark of why the French finally won with Zidane, and why the Dutch, who otherwise have every other quality needed to win at the World Cup, have never won.

        England has size and physicality. But so does the U.S. The U.S. matches up well and have more speed and youth overall in the starting lineup (youth translates into greater quickness and faster recovery from minor injuries – in a short tournament, things can turn on a single play or single injury – in a long season, experience has more of an equal value to quickness and there is time to heal from minor injuries). The U.S. defense is highly suspect, but the English defense also has weaknesses. The U.S. has a proven goalkeeper. I doubt England has very good team chemistry. The U.S. seems to have great chemistry this year. Both teams have key players that would be difficult to replace (unlike the Brazilians or Dutch, who seem to have an endless supply of talent).

        The U.S. has had more time to get used to South Africa than England, especially the altitude. The U.S. is at the same site they used for the Confederations Cup. These minor little details all have a role.

        So I rate U.S. vs. England a very close match on paper. Whoever plays up to their potential will win. I’m hoping for an upset, but am not counting on one.

  12. Robert

    June 9, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    this hype on our first match is getting me sick to my stomach. Beating England doesn’t prove anything. USA has to advance deep into this tournament and possibly win the thing in 10 years for soccer and USA to be taken seriously. What if we beat England but fail to advance and England advances and wins the World Cup? Are we better than England because we beat them in some group stage match?Upsets happen as we witness year in and year out in the NCAA march madness but those teams are forgotten and their programs fizzle out. 10 years from now no one will remember the USA v. Spain match or the USA v. England but people will remember who won the 2009 confederations cup and the 2010 World Cup. My friends, USA still has a long way to go and by supporting local clubs, MLS, FMF, EPL and any other leagues our countrymen play for we will only get better as a soccer playing country.

  13. James

    June 9, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Don’t get me wrong – I would love to see the US close out the group with 3 wins.

    But, I also think too much attention has been paid in the US to the first game. I don’t want another 2006 post-Czech game and I definitely don’t want to play hard against England and flop against the other two, a la 2002 and 2006.

    Regardless of what happens on Saturday, the other two games are crucial. Almost nothing has been said about them and it seems like the mainstream sporting press thinks they should be cakewalks. History suggests otherwise. Good teams don’t just get up for the big games, they finish off weaker opponents, too. I hope we do this, but we need to recognize that it’s our weakness. How many times have we beaten Mexico in qualifying while drawing or losing to inferior CONCACAF teams?

  14. BobbyB

    June 9, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    “Soccer in the U.S. is poised for a major breakthrough.”

    If I had a nickel for every time I’ve head that in the last 30+ years.

    • breakthru

      June 9, 2010 at 12:58 pm

      American soccer is poised for a massive breakthrough.

      • Charles

        June 9, 2010 at 2:23 pm


        Thanks for your $.05 worth.

  15. ChivaDeCorazon83

    June 9, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    indeed! how horrible it would be to start off a huge tournament on the right foot.

  16. Buddy Maelstrom

    June 9, 2010 at 11:25 am

    For someone who obviously hates America, you sure used “we” a lot. . .

    Anyone who thinks beating England isn’t a huge first step towards a deep run in the World Cup, and that that won’t accelerate soccer’s growth domestically, is clearly just an attention-seeking socialist. Go back to Canada.

  17. Kevin

    June 9, 2010 at 10:33 am

    This is one of the most absurd articles I’ve read in the lead up to WC 2010 (and I’ve read quite a few).

    It’s time to play the game. Bloggers have run out of things to say that make sense.

  18. Jared

    June 9, 2010 at 10:02 am

    I agree that beating the Brits may not be the best thing for the general American fans. Beating England will give them a false hope of winning the cup and when we go down, they will be calling it a fail that we beat the almighty England team but didn’t win the whole thing.. Thats just my say on what will happen with the dumb American non football loving population.

  19. wjb13

    June 9, 2010 at 9:30 am

    I think maybe you’re reaching.

    I don’t remember anyone expecting the USMNT to beat the Czechs in 06. Hoping yes, but not really expecting. Watching the USMNT warm-up matches preceeding the 06 WC, one could see the looming disaster on the horizon (I know, they were just warm-up matches, but their line-up was already set during those matches, unlike the this year, so I think you can take more from those than typical warm-ups).

    High expectations didn’t cause the bad loss to the Czechs or their last place finish in their group–bad defense and disorganization did (not to mention 3 horribly difficult opponents). And the same can be said for this year–if the US can stay cohesive defensively, then they will do well; if not, they will have another nightmare. Whether or not they are favored is much more for the fans than for the players on the field.

    Sure, at times, it seems the US does well as the underdog or plays down to teams, but there are plenty of times when they fall on their face as the underdog and do well as the favorite. Obviously, that’s true or they wouldn’t be in their sixth straight WC (thank God we’re in CONCACAF).

    There is absolutely no scenario where beating England isn’t extremely good for the USMNT. Point well taken that the US cannot sleep walk thru their two other under-hyped opponents–but that’s true no matter what happens against England. And I’d rather go into the last 2 group matches with 3 points in our pockets instead of 0.

  20. sergio lima

    June 9, 2010 at 9:18 am

    UAU…How getting 3 points out of 9 possibles can be a bad thing? When I tell you think the game completely different than other soccer nations is because you do. Who freaking cares about the championship? Brazilians, for example, play every game like if that game was their last, no math, no calculations. Just go there and have fun. If you win, fine, if not, fine, do your best. Americans should play against England like if the entire tournament would depend on that game only. Play to win big, to give the most traditional soccer nation in the world a run for their money, a real lesson…Remember me? And make your mark on the first game. If and this is a big if you loose the other games and come home earlier, it is fine. Everybody in the world will be talking about the mighty England being beated again by the Yankee team. Let’s have fun and forget about the championship. Let the boys play.

  21. Ian

    June 9, 2010 at 8:23 am

    How right you are, but 48 hours away from kick-off all I want to talk about is kicking England’s ass!
    USA! USA! USA!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More in Leagues: MLS

Translate »