Monday’s 6-2 thumping of Iran represented their best start to a major tournament, but last night’s loose and lacklustre performance brought Gareth Southgate’s side back down to earth.
The US maintained their unbeaten record against England on the world stage and went close to winning the Group B clash in Al Khor, when Christian Pulisic rattled the crossbar in an ultimately scoreless encounter.
Southgate admitted his side had struggled to reproduce the sort of performance which saw them beat Iran 6-2 on Monday, but declared himself satisfied with their resilience.
“I knew it would be difficult for us after such a high to replicate that type of performance so I’m really pleased with how the players have applied themselves,” he said.
“We’ve shown great resilience to defend against an opponent that kept asking questions and we’ve just not been able to open them up with that really clear-cut chance.
“We didn’t quite have that same zip but this is going to happen with tournament football. We’re not going to roll through a tournament and sweep through everybody without having nights like that where you’ve got to show different qualities to get the result.
“The objective is to get out of the group, you get three games to do it. We’ve done it in two games the last two tournaments but it’s very unrealistic to expect that every time.”
Progress to the last 16 remains in England’s hands, but this match is a wake-up call that increases the pressure heading into Tuesday’s eagerly-anticipated clash with neighbours Wales.
Southgate publicly warned his side to up their game in the immediate afterglow of the Iran thrashing but did not get the desired response from his unchanged team.
The US should have punished a passive first-half performance at the imposing Al Bayt Stadium, where Pulisic hit the bar with a wicked strike as Gregg Berhalter’s Americans played at full throttle.
Flat, uninspired England created little across the 90 minutes.
Harry Kane saw an early shot blocked and sent a stoppage-time header wide as Southgate’s men floundered under the Friday night lights.
There was none of the swagger seen when England swatted aside Iran, but things could have been different had Walker Zimmerman not been alert in the 10th minute.
Jude Bellingham played on to overlapping Bukayo Saka, who cut the ball back for Kane to hit a strike that the US defender met with an important block.
England were all too easily played around when Haji Wright headed Weston McKennie’s cross wide, and bigger chances followed as McKennie fired over.
It was a warning shot that England failed to heed and Southgate’s side were breathing a sigh of relief seven minutes later when Pulisic’s rasping drive smashed the crossbar.
The second half continued in a similar pattern.
Southgate’s lack of changes was surprising given Plan A was not working against increasingly confident opponents.
Jack Grealish and Jordan Henderson replaced Sterling and Bellingham as the England boss eventually looked to change the dynamics.
There was a slight improvement, but things were still not really clicking. Marcus Rashford replaced Saka as the US made changes of their own and jeers met England’s patient play around the back.
Still, play remained ponderous. Grealish won a stoppage-time free-kick that Shaw crossed in only for Kane to header wide.
Loud boos echoed around the ground at full-time as attention turns to Wales.