After comfortably dispensing with Iran by scoring six in their opening game, England’s slow and uninspired display against the USA was something of a surprise for a team seen as one of the tournament favourites. Key to the Americans securing a hard-fought point in the goalless draw was their domination of the midfield, positionally rather than via possession.
The USA front three sat off England centre-backs Harry Maguire and John Stones, holding a flat, narrow and disciplined line just inside their own half, while US coach Gregg Berhalter had his three midfielders do the same, although that second trio took up a relatively high position close behind their attackers.
This dissuaded Stone and Maguire, clearly adverse to taking risky passing options, from firing balls into their midfielders, especially Jude Bellingham and Mason Mount who had their movements tracked by the USA midfield in a congested area of the pitch. This resulted in slow yet constant sideways passing across England’s backline with move construction effectively non-existent for long periods.
A potential weakness of America’s high midfield line was the unusually large gap left between their midfield and defence. However, this was a risk Berhalter was willing to take given that England want to play out from the back, meaning they’re not interested in playing long balls into that space, and, if they were to do so, neither Raheem Sterling nor Bukayo Saka offer an aerial threat worth worrying about. Berhalter also surmised his physical centre-backs, Tim Ream and Walker Zimmerman, would likely beat Harry Kane, not known for his physical number nine hold-up play, in the air too.
With England seemingly unwilling to move the ball as quickly as they did against Iran while also being hesitant to pass to marked players in midfield, they created very little, leading to the dull game that unfolded with the USA’s pragmatic system leaving little room for any expansive play of their own for fear of a rigid front six being unbalanced.