My generation of US players was jealous of cocky England. Beating them was a joy
I was part of the team that beat England in 1993. My advice for the Americans on Friday? The game rewards bravery and punishes cowards
What a strange World Cup this is. It’s happening inside a bubble and underneath a cloud that everyone’s pretending isn’t there. Talking to our players in Qatar, nobody can escape the fact that so many people died building these stadiums. This is the cloud under which nobody can breathe, and these guys are still trying to go out and get a result on the field.
And yet, 45 minutes into the US’s first men’s World Cup game in eight years, after so much anxiety from everyone around American soccer about how we were going to do, the Wales game was the best I’d seen the team play in years.
What the US did really well in the first-half was an organized ambush on Wales’ back line, dictating their passing lanes. Basically tricking guys who are unqualified to make 30- to 40-yard passes into thinking that pass was on. Wales were coughing up the ball where we wanted them to and the US had a lot of transitional moments. If we’d played more direct, we could have really put them under – but we played safe.
Then we collapsed in the second half and ended with a 1–1 draw. Everything people were worried about coming into this World Cup manifested in that second-half: I find it really hard to believe that Wales could make one change, bringing on Kieffer Moore, and completely derail us. We didn’t have an answer to it.
Everybody that plays against the US knows that we don’t change what we do. When Wales decided to go for it and played with three at the back, why weren’t we willing to put another man forward to scare them? Why allow them to pin us back? Our guys were so busy defending that by the time they had the ball they were too tired to run. Christian Pulisic wasn’t explosive because he was being asked to play too much defense.
Our team’s youth has become an excuse for fans, media – even players – to say we should be treating this as a learning experience for 2026. I don’t understand that. Tomorrow is promised to no one. Many years ago I met quarterback Dan Marino. I congratulated him on an amazing career, and he said, “Yeah, but I only went to one Super Bowl.” The look on his face was so deflating, and his entire demeanor changed. Similarly, I feel our boys are missing the point of what a World Cup is.
Here’s the other thing about a World Cup: Walker Zimmerman made a massive mistake on Monday leading to Wales’ equalizer. I was told in this World Cup the American players don’t have roommate – they all have their own rooms. I actually had a worse day than Walker in my first World Cup game: I got red carded and we lost 5–1, and the only thing that saved me that day was my roommate. Walker is going to get bombarded in the media. He’s second-guessing himself. He has to apologize to everyone. He’s feeling horrible. And then he has to go back to his room by himself and try to sleep? That’s the one thing I keep thinking about right now: That guy is dealing with the weight of the world, alone. You can’t be expected to be so strong that you can handle that. 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 get him through.
Next up is England. They’ve got three world-class players in every position. Harry Kane was the Golden Boot winner last time, and this time he’s an assist machine. If there’s anybody in the world who’s great at baiting you into a penalty kick it’s him. England have so many weapons: Foden, Grealish, Saka, Bellingham, Sterling, Rice, and others. They have speed, and the US fullbacks aren’t the greatest defenders, plus we’ve got a nervous Zimmerman, and Tim Ream is sitting on a yellow. It’s not ideal. Iran tried getting behind the ball and forcing England to break them down – and they did just that. It was astonishing. England smelled fear, and ripped their hearts out.
Here’s my advice to any team in a World Cup taking on a bigger team, as the US is about to: It doesn’t matter how nervous or scared you are. You have to believe in yourself, and no matter what you’re feeling you can never let the opponent see fear. This game rewards bravery – and it will always punish a coward. Bravery is the ability to trust yourself in a high-pressure moment. It’s trying something again after failing the first two times. With all of the pageantry and pressure, this is not the time to reinvent yourself. You have to be who you are.
For any American player, this matchup is unique. While playing Brazil and Argentina is how you measure yourself as a country, playing England always feels personal. In our day there was an element of jealousy: The England players were rich, they had a big league and great fan support. They were cocky as hell. We wanted to be them, but in our own way. I think that still exists.
After we beat England in Foxboro in 1993, I approached David Batty to switch jerseys. He said, “Well, I don’t want yours!” I responded, “I still want yours because I want something to wipe my ass with.” That made him laugh. “I fookin’ like that!” he said, and took his jersey off. That’s the way this matchup works. For Americans, this one’s always more than just a game. Our own league, MLS, fights to compete with the Premier League for attention and fans. We go to pubs – not a bar – to watch games. As a soccer player in America, you’re always paying homage to a little island. So when you get the chance to beat England and you actually pull it off, trust me – there’s nothing more enjoyable than that.
Eric Wynalda scored 34 goals in 106 appearances for USA and played at three World Cups. He is now a broadcaster.