The Spirit of '50
You may have read somewhere in your history books that the US has faced off against England a number of times throughout history. In most of those encounters, the Yanks have been prohibitive underdogs.
The Revolutionary War (1776) - granted we had home field advantage in this one but if there were bookmakers in international conflicts at this point in history we would have looked a lot like North Korea going up against Brazil in the opening round of this World Cup. No chance. As it turns out, we did slightly better than expected.
The War of 1812 (well, 1812) - Washington, DC was burned to the ground and my soon-to-be hometown of Leesburg, VA (a bucolic town about 30 miles up the Potomac River) was briefly the center of government for the United States. That said, home field advantage still held and we actually built a winning steak against the highly favored Brits. Let's just say that we became their "bogey team" well before they started losing grip of their empire.
1950 World Cup - Could the magic hold when we didn't hold a decided home field advantage? Well, in 1950 we produced an incredible upset that, until we hosted the Cup in 1994 and started what I like to think of as the modern era of US involvement in the world's game, was without question the high water mark for US Soccer. It may still be the single greatest accomplishment in the US game but since 1994, we've certainly had our share of moments that at least approach it (draw vs. Italy in 2006, beating Spain in Confederations Cup, etc.).
Since 1950, there have been friendlies between the two countries but there haven't been many moments that mattered. The friendly matches have, as you might expect, been dominated by the more talented English squads. So, where does all of this leave us? Well, I'm not a huge fan of sequels but let's see how this one is likely to play out...
The assumption is that there is a massive gap in talent between the two squads. In my opinion that is a myth. There is A talent gap but it is not nearly as massive as the ethnocentric and Eurocentric soccer press would have you believe. Rooney is in a class by himself in this match but beyond him and perhaps Frank Lampard, there are more reputations taking the field than real superstars for England. Let's do a quick review position-by-position and see where we come out...
Keepers - this has been a sore spot for England for years and while Green and Hart hold promise, Howard is definitely the better, more proven man in this match. Advantage US.
Central Defense - For years, England has considered this to be a dominating strength and when Terry and Rio were in their primes, maybe it was (albeit with little speed on offer). That said, Rio is out, Terry's second half of the season was mediocre-at-best (and not mediocre-for-him but mediocre, full stop). Who will fill the available spot? Dawson? Upson? King? Regardless, England's defense will be slow while the US attack will be fast. Looking the other direction, the US central defense isn't in much better shape with Onweyu coming back from injury and will likely partner with scrappy but also slow Jay DeMerit (Watford). Rooney and Lennon will cause problems here but the fact that England's attack isn't that fast outside of those two closes the gap somewhat. Advantage England (but not nearly as big as you might think).
Full Backs - Without question, the biggest advantage for England even though they are only likely to start one full back who actually plays any defense (Ashley Cole). Glen Johnson will pose problems on the US's weak left side. Did I mention the US's weak left side? Carlos Bocanegra is a nice player and tries hard but he's hardly the answer at left back when the opposition is speedy and coming in waves (see Lennon and Johnson). The right side isn't much better with uncertainty between Spector and Cherundolo. The danger on England's left side isn't as great as on the right so this won't be quite as tragic for the Yanks but still, not great. The only saving grace here is that Glen Johnson isn't terribly familiar with actually coming back and playing defense so Clint Dempsey has a chance to exploit the space that will inevitably be left behind him. Cole is likely to essentially negate Donovan with his speed and two-way play. Advantage England.
Midfield - There are certainly bigger names here for England but the three best players in England's midfield all play the same position (attacking midfield) and only one of Lampard, Gerrard, and Milner will actually line up there. As it turns out, none of them play on the left naturally and the holding midfielders are either crocked (Barry), not very good (Carrick), or playing out of position and potentially crocked at any moment (King). The right side for England (Lennon, SWP, Milner, and Cole) is pretty solid but Lennon is streaky when it comes to actually making something of his runs. On the US side, Dempsey and Donovan are both in their primes and have proven that they can score on anyone. Bradley is a nice box-to-box midfielder with an eye for an opportunistic goal and the US has lots of options as his central partner (I hope they pick Torres who is a very nice holding midfielder with a great eye for distribution). I give the Slight Advantage to England here on the talent and reputations of their attacking group and the possibility that Gerrard and Lampard figure out working together but I'm not convinced that as a group, England's midfielders are any better than the Americans.
Strikers - again, this is where Rooney stands out alone. He tends to be a streaky player and if he is "on" then I'm not sure there are many teams that can deal with him and certainly the US defense isn't equipped to do so. If he's not on, then Burnley can beat ManYoo (look it up) and the US can beat England. This is even more true because the US strikers - Altidore, Buddle, Findley, and Gomez - are all in excellent form right now with Altidore particularly used to the pace of the English game and English defenders. Outside of Rooney, the striker I'm most scared of is Defoe. He's the type of technically excellent player that gives the US a lot of trouble. That said, he probably won't get off the bench with England typically partnering Rooney with a "big" striker. Advantage England IF Rooney is on.
Overall, I see this as a 3-2 match with the likely win going to England. The attacks are more talented than the defenses and there will be goals. Throw in the crazy ball that everyone is talking about and there are just that many more reasons to expect a high score. If things break right for Howard and the US can frustrate Rooney early then I can definitely see the score going the other direction. Call it 65% chance that England wins 3-2 and a 35% chance that the US wins by the same scoreline.
Regardless, it should be a fun match. I hope everyone enjoys it.