For Yunus Musah, one of several precocious talents enhancing the reputation of teenagers at this World Cup, the sight of a rampant England on the first full day of the tournament aroused mixed emotions.
As Musah, the United States midfielder, watched replays of Jude Bellingham set the Group B favourites on their way to a statement win, 6-2 against Iran, he instantly recognised the style.
Not so long ago, Musah and Bellingham, both 19, were sharing duties and friendship in the same England youth team.
Musah has also seen plenty of an exuberant Bukayo Saka taking apart defences in the way Saka did Iran’s. Musah was at the same Arsenal academy from where Saka, scorer of two England goals on Monday, is the outstanding graduate of a gifted cohort.
Musah might have followed Saka, two years older, into the first team of the current Premier League leaders had he not made the bold decision, at 16, to move to Valencia, where he is now well established.
He might likewise have focused on a senior England career, and progressed from his caps from under-15 to under-18 level for the country where he spent most of his early years, had not the USA coach Gregg Berhalter persuaded him to switch to the country of his birth.
Musah, born in New York, raised in Italy and England, the son of Ghanaian parents, had a wealth of options for his international career, which is no rarity in a US team that on Friday meets the England of Bellingham and Saka.
It’s a fixture of familiars, a collision of intertwined football cultures. Eight players in the US squad are employed by English clubs, most of them in the Premier League, and in the case of Christian Pulisic, a Champions League-winning club, Chelsea.
But if England’s competitive club environment has sharpened the likes of Pulisic, Leeds United’s Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson and kept Fulham’s long-serving central defender Tim Ream alert and poised at 35 years old, the debt goes both ways. Twelve of England’s squad draw their high salaries from Premier League clubs where the majority ownership is in American hands.
Musah recognises that “England did a lot for me, and I have a lot of respect for England”. If the 19-year-old midfielder still speaks with an accent more London than East Coast America, he’s not alone. Antonee Robinson, the Fulham left-back, and Cameron Carter-Vickers, the Celtic centre-back, are native Englishmen with American parents.
Winger Gio Reyna, a close friend of Bellingham’s from their two and two half years as teammates at Borussia Dortmund, was born in England because his father, Claudio, was a Premier League player at the time.
Timothy Weah, whose goal deservedly put the US ahead in their 1-1 draw with Wales to open their World Cup campaign, might have been too had his father, the Liberian former Ballon D’Or winner George Weah, moved the family to London during Weah senior’s brief spell at Chelsea in 1999-2000 during which time his second son was born in New York.
Timothy's deft finish, and the through-ball from Pulisic that set up the goal against Wales, showed off the speed and confidence of the US at their best and reminded that, besides all the threads that link England and today’s opponents, what they have in common is a trust in youth.
At 24, Pulisic was the oldest player in the US’s front six for their World Cup opener. Behind the worldly Harry Kane, 29, and Raheem Sterling, 27, England manager Gareth Southgate on Monday lined up Bellingham, Saka, and two 23-year-olds, Declan Rice and Mason Mount.
The bad news for the one conspicuous US veteran, Ream, is that Kane, who suffered enough discomfort to his ankle to withdraw with 15 minutes left of the Iran game, was reported fit enough to start against the Americans. Kane is eager, after not registering on the scoresheet against Iran, to add to his 51 international goals.
Southgate urged his players to “reset, back to the psychological place we were at the start [of the match against Iran],” concerned at small signs of focus dropping once the outcome had been settled at 4-0 up. Iran scored twice in the last half hour.
“The next game will not be anything like Monday,” Southgate told the BBC. “The States have a quite a few players we know from the Premier League. They will be athletic, press really well and be organised and well coached.”