Fairly or unfairly, the United States has had to face a top-eight FIFA  ranked World Cup  team in the first game of the group stage in each of the past three World Cups – Germany in 1998 (2-0 loss), Portugal in 2002 (3-2 win), and the Czech Republic in 2006 (3-0 loss).
Each of those games essentially decided the fate of the red white and blue. In 1998, the U.S. finished 0-3 and in last place in the tournament. In 2002, the shocking upset of World Cup  favorite Portugal propelled the Men’s National Team (MNT) into their second greatest run in team history – a berth in the quarterfinals. The disappointing loss in 2006 led to another early exit as the MNT only drew one point from the group stage, albeit an impressive one against eventual champion Italy.
Saturday at 2:30 p.m. the MNT face another one of those super squads in England  – a team so many pundits have picked to go onto World Cup  glory for the first time since its only victory in 1966.
The Three Lions , as England  are called for the glorious crest that adorns the left breast of each players’ jersey , are littered with superstar players: Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Glen Johnson, Gareth Barry, Jermain Defoe, and many more.
However, England  is not without flaw. The Brits have never been known for their goalkeeping and likely No. 1 keeper David James is coming off a back injury. But there is not much difference between him and backup Robert Green. Neither is of the world-class ability of the U.S.’s Tim Howard, perhaps the best keeper in the English Premier League at Everton.
Another real area of concern for England  should be in the center of defense, where captain Rio Ferdinand was ruled out of the World Cup  after suffering a knee injury in training just over a week ago. It has really been an injury-filled season for Rio, as he missed many games at Manchester United. Ferdinand’s replacement is likely Ledley King, another player with a debilitating knee problem that does not allow him to train on back-to-back days even though he is a very good player for Tottenham in the EPL.
Additionally, King will partner with in the middle is Terry, the Chelsea man who recently was caught in an affair with former teammate and friend Wayne Bridge’s ex-girlfriend. Bridge abruptly quit the national team after the scandal broke and Terry was stripped of the England  captaincy, and although Chelsea went on to win the EPL, Terry was never the same player. He will likely be one of the most scrutinized players in this tournament, as the English tabloids make the New York  media seem soft.
This should be an area that Jozy Altidore – who himself caught the injury bug with a slight ankle sprain, but was recently named a starter by U.S. coach Bob Bradley – and recent goal-scoring phenom Edson Buddle should be able to exploit at some point Saturday afternoon.
Another big injury concern for England is Barry, coach Fabio Capello’s favorite holding midfielder. He likely will have to miss this match after suffering a bad ankle sprain back in early May, and probably won’t return until later in the group stages. This is key for England because Lampard and Gerrard have never played well together paired in central midfield. The two players are too similar both wishing to attack often leaving behind their defensive responsibilities.
Where the U.S. will be quite vulnerable, however, is in the heart of its own defense, where Oguchi Onyewu likely is not fully recovered from his knee tendon tear last October, and both Jay DeMerit and Clarence Goodsen have looked shaky at best in recent friendlies. Wayne Rooney unquestionably has become the best forward in the world this year, and with Lampard and Gerrard running behind him, all three are capable of scoring goals from anywhere within 40 yards.
Ricardo Clark, who appears to Bradley’s favorite ahead of Jose Torres in the defensive midfield role, will have to be very wary of his offensive role and stick to hanging back to help out with this struggling defense. He will play a key role in breaking up and disrupting anything England wants to do through middle of the pitch.
Above all, the key to this game will be who wins the wide flanks -- the area where the best players in the world are playing today. These players include Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Argentina’s Lionel Messi, France’s Franck Ribery, and the Netherlands’ Arjen Robben.
Another area where the U.S. certainly have an advantage is in the midfield. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey very much have become big stars thanks to their exploits in the EPL in recent seasons, and will not be unknown to the English defense. Both players have been given the freedom by Bradley to freelance, roam around and not necessarily stick strictly to outside roles. These two will likely be the players the U.S. looks to create and perhaps even score goals.
However, England has two of the absolute best attacking outside defensive backs in Cole and Johnson. Both players have incredible space and ability to send in dangerous crosses from the flanks, and both have the ability to score as well. Should they neglect their defensive responsibilities, however, they could leave England very vulnerable to the MNT’s best offensive weapon – the counter attack.
I like a positive result for the U.S. and a draw would definitely be just that. I see a 2-2 score-line in a very entertaining match.
Potential starting lineups…
USA: in a 4-4-2
Forwards: Altidore and Buddle
Midfield: Donovan (left), Michael Bradley (center), Clark (defensive mid), Dempsey (right)
Defense: Carlos Bocanegra (left), DeMerit (center), Onyewu (center), Steve Cherundolo (right)
England: in a 4-5-1
Midfield: Gerrard (just behind Rooney, in a very attacking role)
Joe Cole/Shaun Wright-Phillips (left), Lampard (attacking mid), Michael Carrick (holding mid), Aaron Lennon (right)
Defense: Ashley Cole (left), Terry (center), King (middle), Ben Johnson (right)