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The all-out English challenger and the boyhood USA team looking to join the giant killer clan in this unpredictable tournament will face off on Friday.

The USA men’s national team will face England on Friday in Qatar. Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford

RAYYAN, Qatar – Their land masses are separated by high seas, and their statures in football – uh, football – are separated by a similar great distance. It’s England’s national pastime – apart from royal viewing, of course – and a casual pastime for most Americans.

Some Premier League clubs have a history dating back to the 19th century; The history of MLS dates back to 1996. The modern game was invented by the English; The Americans tinkered with the rules before adopting them.

Yet football ties between the two countries grew stronger, inextricably linked to exposure to the English game in the United States, the desire of many American players to plan their careers in England, and England’s greater respect for the development of American soccer.

With such dynamics at work, Friday’s World Cup clash arrives in Bayt, Qatar, between an all-cylinder English challenger and the USA boys’ team looking to join the giant killer clan in this unpredictable tournament.

Full of talent, the Three Lions are eyeing their first World Championship since 1966. Learning and evolving, the United States has the modest goal of reaching the knockout stage after failing to qualify for the tournament four years ago.

Before that, they had only clashed twice at the World Cup, and the Americans had yet to lose (defeat in Brazil in 1950 and a draw in South Africa in 2010). A win or draw would not only fuel the direct cause of the United States, but would increase the ambition of becoming a powerful football nation in the men’s game. (The program for women appeared a long time ago.)

“This is obviously a huge opportunity to accelerate the impact we can make,” said Captain Tyler Adams. “These are matches where there is a lot of pressure, a privileged moment to go on the pitch against some of these guys. . . . It means a lot to the team because we’ve been trying to develop this thing for the past three years and we’ve been moving in the right direction.

The links between the programs start with coaches Gregg Berhalter and Englishman Gareth Southgate, who have become good friends over the years. Both took over teams in need of guidance, Berhalter after the 2018 qualifying fiasco and Southgate after poor performances at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship.

After their teams were grouped together for the World Cup draw, they didn’t have much contact.

“I sent it on WhatsApp but didn’t see a blue checkmark” showing Southgate had read the message, Berhalter joked on Thursday. “We kind of took a break. We will rebuild our relationship after tomorrow.

Southgate said, “I’ve enjoyed my interactions with Greg over the past few years. I learned a lot from him and it was really interesting to watch the team progress under his leadership.

Nearly half of the 26-man American squad has ties to the English. The sons of American fathers, defenders Antonee Robinson and Cameron Carter-Vickers, were born and raised in England. The New York-born midfielder Yunus Musah lived there from the age of 9 to 16, went through Arsenal’s academy and played for England’s youth teams.

The loss of Musah hurt England. “Of course he took one of ours, which we weren’t very happy about,” Southgate said. “Fair game.”

Musah, 19, said: “I’m not quite sure how I’m going to feel [Friday]. It’s a special game for sure because I played for both sides.

Carter-Vickers, 24, said: “My family half wants us to win and half wants England to win.”

Striker Gio Reyna, 20, was born in Sunderland, England, while his father, Claudio, a former US captain, was in the midst of his European career.

Adams, goalkeeper Matt Turner, striker Brenden Aaronson, defender Tim Ream and strikers Josh Sargent and Christian Pulisic are all employed by English clubs. Striker Jordan Morris was on loan to Welsh side Swansea City in the English Second Division Championship, while midfielder Luca de la Torre started his career at London’s Fulham.

Berhalter, a former defender, played for London’s Crystal Palace for one season.

The Premier League is “a game I watched growing up and experienced firsthand” while playing for Arsenal, Turner said. “It was a learning experience to see it from both sides.”

Three of Turner’s Arsenal teammates were named in England’s World Cup squad: goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, defender Ben White and striker Bukayo Saka. “Friends off the pitch,” Turner said, “and then when you come on the pitch, there’s full focus for 90 minutes.”

As a young player, Adams idolized Arsenal star Thierry Henry – he became Henry’s teammate at the New York Red Bulls – and was drawn to the Premier League. This summer, Adams joined Leeds United from German RB Leipzig. His coach, Jesse Marsch, is American, as is teammate Aaronson.

“I remember telling my mum at a young age that I wanted to play for England,” said 23-year-old Adams. “There’s something special about the Premier League – it always has been and I think it always will be.”

Berhalter, Turner and Adams cited the Premier League’s popularity in the United States with extensive NBC Sports coverage.

“Waking up to watch the Premier League, it seems like everyone in America has a team they’re rooting for,” Berhalter said. “It’s an amazing league. We are really proud that our players play in this league.”

Southgate said: “We know a lot about [U.S.] players in our league and we know the quality and athleticism they have.

With so many Americans playing in England, the fear of meeting the Three Lions is perhaps allayed. Every member of the England squad, with the exception of German-born midfielder Jude Billingham, is employed by a Premier League club.

“I wouldn’t say there are many things that scare me other than spiders,” Adams said with a laugh during a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center, one floor below a giant spider sculpture.

“So it’s good to be able to play against all these big players, but we also want to show what we’re capable of and that American football is growing and developing in the right way.”

The English also came to the States. Wayne Rooney played for DC United in 2018 and 2019 and is now the club’s head coach.

Asked at the end of this season if he shared loyalties, England’s all-time top scorer said: “No. I’m English. Of course I want England to win.

But he joked that if the Three Lions stumble, “I have to call it football for the whole next [MLS] season.”

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