Weston McKennie of USA and Declan Rice of England Friday’s Group B match at the World Cup in Al Khor, Qatar.
Photo: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

On Tuesday at the World Cup, the U.S. Men’s National Team ended up with an extremely frustrating draw with Wales, a team they were clearly better than for most of the match. On Friday, the USMNT drew once again. But this result, while a little frustrating, was more revelatory, because it means this U.S. team may be so much better than anyone — least of all England — thought.

The final score of the Group B match with England on Friday was 0-0, but it was the furthest thing from boring. England, a team whose coach kept praising the USMNT ahead of the match as his country mostly mocked them, was shaken from about the 20th minute on. This England team, widely thought to be one of the best teams in the world amid one of the best-ever generations of England players, didn’t just fail to score against the United States — it barely hung on for a draw at all. The U.S. team was younger, faster, and more attacking the whole match, putting England on its heels for most of the first half and the entire second half.

England may have the talent to win the World Cup this year, but on Friday, there was no question the United States had the better team. And that is absolutely nuts. 

Sure, a U.S. win would have been better, and for most of the game, the run of play sure seemed to be pointing in that direction. But even though the United States was unable to break through, it was evident to everyone watching that this is a team that will be reckoned with — in this tournament, and in the next tournament to come. The USMNT doesn’t have any many stars as England, but three of the ones it does have — Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and goalkeeper Matt Turner, who all have prominent roles in Europe — didn’t look the least bit out of place at the World Cup on Friday, as so many U.S. players have in the past. Turner, in particular, seemed like he was ready to jump out of the stadium. He may be the keeper for the USMNT and Arsenal for many years to come.

The irony of Friday’s dramatic draw is that, all told, it was sort of meaningless, at least in the course of this group stage of the tournament. Iran’s stunning and stirring 2-0 victory over Wales earlier Friday put the USMNT in the strange, and not unwelcome, position of having nothing but upside against the Three Lions. A loss would have basically meant the same as a draw. And if the U.S. wins against Iran on Tuesday— a 2 p.m. EST game Americans should now call in sick to watch — they advance to the next round.

If they do not beat Iran — a team, for all the fun it had on Friday morning, that will not be favored in the match — the USMNT’s tournament will be over. So Tuesday is now everything. If the U.S. loses or draws, their terrific, eye-opening performance against England will be forgotten. But if they play Tuesday like they did Friday, they’ll smoke Iran and the match against England will stand out as a seminal moment in U.S. soccer history: The day America’s team stood toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the world … and were clearly better. Get excited.

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