OIt’s a funny World Cup. It happens inside a bubble and under a cloud that everyone is pretending isn’t there. Talking to our players in Qatar, no one can escape the fact that so many people died building these stadiums. It’s the cloud no one can breathe under, and these guys are always trying to get out there and get a result on the pitch.
And yet, 45 minutes after the start of the first men’s competition in the United States world Cup game in eight years, after so much anxiety from everyone around American football about how we were going to do, the Wales game was the best I’ve seen the team play in years years.
What the United States did very well in the first half was an ambush staged on Wales’ back line, dictating their passing lanes. Basically fooling guys who aren’t qualified to make 30-40 yard passes into thinking that pass was on. Wales were spitting the ball where we wanted it and USA had a lot of transitional moments. If we had played more straight we could have really put them under – but we played it safe.
Then we crumbled in the second half and finished with a 1–1 draw. Everything people feared about going to this World Cup came through in that second half: I really find it hard to believe that Wales could make a change, bring in Kieffer Moore, and make us completely derailed. We haven’t had a response.
Everyone who plays against the United States knows that we don’t change what we do. When Wales decided to go in and play with three defenders, why weren’t we prepared to put another player up front to scare them off? Why allow them to pin us? Our guys were so busy defending that by the time they got the ball they were too tired to run. Christian Pulisic was not explosive because he was asked to play too much in defense.
The youth of our team has become an excuse for the fans, the media – even the players – to say that we should treat this as a learning experience for 2026. I don’t understand that. Tomorrow is promised to no one. Several years ago, I met quarterback Dan Marino. I congratulated him on his incredible career and he said, “Yeah, but I only went to one Super Bowl.” The look on his face was so deflating, and his whole demeanor changed. Likewise, I feel like our boys are missing out on what a World Cup is.
Here’s the other thing about a World Cup: Walker Zimmerman made a huge mistake on Monday leading to Wales’ equaliser. I was told in this World Cup that the American players didn’t have roommates – they all had their own rooms. In fact, I had a worse day than Walker in my first World Cup match: I received a red card and we lost 5-1, and the only thing that saved me that day was my roommate. Walker is going to be bombarded in the media. He questions himself. He needs to apologize to everyone. He feels horribly ill. And then he has to go back to his room alone and try to sleep? That’s the only thing I can’t stop thinking about right now: this guy is facing the weight of the world, alone. You can’t be expected to be so strong that you can handle this. It will take a look, a hug, a handshake, a pat on the back, a word of encouragement from all his teammates throughout the next three days that will see him through.
The next step is England. They have three world-class players in each position. Harry Kane was the Golden Boot winner last time out, and this time he’s an assist machine. If there’s anyone in the world who’s good at tricking you into a penalty, it’s him. England have so many weapons: Foden, Grealish, Saka, Bellingham, Sterling, Rice and others. They have speed, and the American fullbacks aren’t the best defenders, plus we have a nervous Zimmerman, and Tim Ream is sitting on a yellow. It’s not ideal. Iran tried to get behind the ball and force England to break them down – and they did just that. It was amazing. England sensed the fear and ripped their hearts out.
Here’s my advice to any team in a World Cup facing a bigger team, like USA are about to do: it doesn’t matter how nervous or scared you are. You have to believe in yourself, and no matter how you feel, you can never let the opponent see the fear. This game rewards bravery – and it will always punish a coward. Bravery is the ability to trust yourself in a moment of high pressure. He tries something again after failing the first two times. With all the pageantry and pressure, now is not the time to reinvent yourself. You must be who you are.
For any American player, this game is unique. While playing Brazil and Argentina is how you measure up as a country, playing England is always personal. These days there was an element of jealousy: English players were rich, they had a big league and big fan support. They were arrogant as hell. We wanted to be them, but in our own way. I think it still exists.
After we beat England at Foxboro in 1993, I approached David Batty to change jerseys. He said, “Well, I don’t want yours!” I replied, “I still want yours because I want something to wipe my ass.” This made him laugh. “I’m crazy like that!” he said taking off his jersey. That’s how this game works. For Americans, this is still more than just a game. Our own league, MLS, is battling to rival the Premier League for attention and fans. We go to pubs – not a bar – to watch games. As an American footballer, you always pay homage to a small island. So when you have the chance to beat England and you succeed, believe me, there is nothing nicer than that.