Former Charleston Battery defender Mark Watson played in more than 20 World Cup qualifying games during his 12-year international soccer career. The former Canadian team captain and current assistant coach for the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer previews today's U.S. vs. England match (2:30 p.m., WCIV-ABC) in the World Cup.
Strikers: The United States can't match the English with its pedigree, but the U.S. has big, strong, fast guys up front, and when you throw those variables into the equation, it'll make them very hard to defend. Not sure who is going to start up front for the U.S.
Edson Buddle, who wasn't even in the mix for a spot in the top-11 six months ago, should start. He's been so good for the L.A. Galaxy this season. Jozy Altidore will get the start despite spraining his ankle in training.
The U.S. has a lot of speed up front and will use that to their advantage in the counter attack.
Midfield: This is the strength of the U.S. team. They've got two world-class outside midfielders in Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. It's almost a disservice to talk about Donovan and Dempsey as midfielders because they are so dynamic. They are attacking players and will push forward all the time and can produce a goal from almost nothing. It's almost like they are the third and fourth strikers for the U.S. Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark will most likely play in the central midfield. Both are very defensive-minded. Bradley will push forward a little bit. They are tough guys and ball winners, but basically Bradley and Clark will sit back and let those four guys attack up front.
Defenders/Keeper: This is the biggest question mark for the U.S. Tim Howard is an outstanding keeper, but no one really knows who's going to start in front of Howard. The U.S. defense has been very average in the qualifying rounds and in the friendly matches leading up to the World Cup. The U.S. has given up way too many goals. The two guys that should start are Steve Cherundolo at right back and Carlos Bocanegra. Bocanegra could start at left back or left center back. The biggest X-factor for the U.S. is Oguchi Onyewu. Onyewu would be a starter at center back but is coming off a serious knee injury and probably isn't match fit yet. If he's healthy and playing well, the U.S. will be a tough team to beat.
The United States will win if: They don't give up a goal and have a clean sheet. I think the U.S. will be able to score; the question is can they stop the English attack.
Strikers: The English attack begins and ends with Wayne Rooney. He's arguably the best striker in the world right now. He's been fantastic in qualifying matches and is coming off maybe his best season for Manchester United (26 goals in 32 games). If Rooney is at the top of his game, England will go a long way in the tournament.
The question for England is who will start next to Rooney. Most signs appear to be leading toward Jermain Defoe (5-7, 145 pounds), a smaller guy, but with tremendous pace. Peter Crouch will also see some time up top, but I think it's going to be Rooney and Defoe, depending on who the English are playing.
Midfield: England has two excellent central midfielders in Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. The outside guys will likely be Joe Cole on the left and Aaron Lennon on the right. Besides Rooney, I think that the biggest key will be the play of Lampard and Gerrard. Gerrard is coming off a subpar season with Liverpool in the Premier League. Lampard and Gerrard are two world-class players. If they can get going in the attack and score a couple of goals, England will have a great chance to get deep into the knockout round.
Defenders/Keeper: English captain Rio Ferdinand injured his knee during training and is out for the World Cup. That's a big blow. John Terry will start at left center back and Ledley King will start at the outside left back. That's a good partnership, but they haven't played much together. Ashley Cole will start at right center back and probably Glen Johnson at right outside back. Johnson has not been very sharp in the lead-up to the World Cup. A key for England will be how quickly those guys in the back will jell together.
David James, who will probably start in net for England, is a big question mark. He's capable of being a dominant keeper, but he's just as capable of giving up at least one soft goal every tournament.
England will win if: Rooney can score and Gerrard and Lampard play up to their reputations.
I don't see the U.S. shutting out England. England wins, 2-1.