A Seething Rivalry Lurks Beneath Coaches’ Respect

Ever since the draw for the 2022 World Cup placed England and the United States in the same group, the respective head coaches, Gareth Southgate and Gregg Berhalter, have revealed a mutual respect and working relationship.

Though this won’t end when the two teams meet on the Friday after thanksgiving, on the pitch, between the players, it is likely to be a much less amiable affair than it might be on the touchline between the coaches.

There are players on both sides who won’t have time for niceties and the importance of the game in both countries, and the hype around it, especially among American fans, will have rubbed off on the players.

It is a big game in the group. The United States will feel they need something from it to preserve their hopes, and indeed expectations, of progressing to the knockout stages, while a win for England will all but secure their path to the next round.

Berhalter joked that there has been a hiatus in terms of communication between himself and Southgate ahead of the game.

“I’ve been WhatsApping him but I haven’t seen the blue tick mark so I don’t know what’s going on,” Berhalter quipped in his pre-match press conference. “No, we kind of took a little hiatus but we’ll pick up our relationship after tomorrow.”

After the draw in April, Berhalter revealed Southgate has been something of a mentor to him.

“We go way back,” said the U.S. coach. “He’s a guy I look up to and has always been there for me and gave me advice when I first took the job as a national team coach.

“I looked to him somewhat as a mentor and have a lot of respect for what he’s doing.

“I reached out to him when I got the job and said: ‘would you be interested in telling me more about international football?’

“Being the guy Gareth is he was more than happy to have those conversations, and we’ve stayed in touch.”

Eight members of the United States roster play their club football in England. Seven of those—Matt Turner of Arsenal, Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson of Fulham, Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson from Leeds United, Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, and Norwich City striker Josh Sargent—will be hoping to start the game.

This will not lead to a friendly familiarity once the game kicks off, though, far from it. The rivalry is more likely to manifest itself in one of points to be proven.

Pulisic, rather than being grateful to English football, will instead feel he has something to prove to it.

He won a Champions League with Chelsea in 2021, scoring his side’s only goal in the away leg of the semifinal against Real Madrid.

It wasn’t enough to earn him a start in the final and successive managers—Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter—have never appeared to consider him part of their best starting lineup.

Pulisic often plays a bench role at Chelsea that couldn’t be further from his starring role with the United States.

Though he is not the current captain—that particular role has been assigned to Adams for this World Cup—Pulisic takes a lot of weight on his shoulders regardless. For some time has been one of few United States players guaranteed to start when fit.

Zimmerman is an American centerback chiselled by Major League Soccer, which itself brings the sense of a point needing to be proven. Defenders of his ilk can be the reason star attackers don’t always thrive in MLS as they travel to the league from Europe looking for a final payday. There are plenty of wily, league-experienced players looking to stop them however they can.

Zimmerman will hope to bring this to the game against England should he start.

Zimmerman was named MLS Defender of the Year in 2020 and 2021, and though his form dipped somewhat in 2022, he has still maintained a high enough standard to be considered Berhalter’s go-to guy in the middle of defence.

Adams is becoming an increasingly aggressive midfielder as he approaches his mid twenties. This does not only apply to his own involvement in a game, but extends to keeping an eye out for others, too, which likely influenced the decision to name him captain.

Turner is the understudy to England’s reserve goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale at Arsenal.

Robinson was born in England but had to work his way up from the Championship after failing to make the grade at Everton.

AC Milan right-back Sergño Dest has been questioned ever since his big move to Barcelona before moving to Italy, and, like Robinson, talented young midfielder Yunus Musah was eligible for England but chose to represent the United States.

There are storylines all over this game, many of which could lead to aggressive exchanges and passionate incidents.

The England players, meanwhile, will be determined to show they deserve their favorites tag, and Southgate is not taking anything lightly.

“Have we ever beaten the States in a major tournament? No, I didn’t think so,” he said this week.

“So what we’ve got to do is perform on the field, and we know we’ll play against a highly motivated team. We’ve got huge respect for our opponent.”

For 90 minutes the respect will run dry. The players, some of whom are linked by club, some even by country of birth, others not at all, will be involved in one international football’s seething rivalries. It is an important one which will determine the different roads they will take at this World Cup.

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