The U.S. national team practiced last night at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, site of today's big game against England. (Elise Amendola/AP)
At last, the time has come for one of the most anticipated games in American soccer history. Rare is the occasion when the hype for a sporting event is justified, but I think this time it is.
Sure, the United States has played big games in the World Cup before: Portugal and Mexico in 2002 come to mind, as does Italy in 2006. But whether we like it or not, ENgland has long been and will long continue to be the nation by which American soccer is judged.
We might as well admit it. we see the English Premier League on TV each weekend and are thrilled by its superpowers, with their speed and agility and skills. We see English fans singing and chanting for all 90 minutes, and we try to bring that atmosphere to our shores as best we can.
And most of all, we see legions of condescending English journalists - and some Scottish and Irish ones who like joining their party - who look down their noses and declare with all the authority they can vest in themselves that American soccer is inherently inferior and should go away for the good of the world.
(The world, of course, exists entirely to the east of the Atlantic Ocean and north of the English Channel. Unless it's vacation season, in which case going to New York is acceptable.)
Of course, not everyone in England or the rest of the UK thinks this way. I've met plenty of British journalists who are quite open-minded about the growth of soccer in America and this country's ability to sit at the sport's global table. Consider Kevin Garside of the Telegraph, whose analysis of the U.S.-Turkey game in Philadelphia neatly captured what the day meant to a lot of people.
But those of you who follow soccer both here and abroad know exactly who I'm talking about. And you know, as a result, that today represents a chance for the U.S. national team to prove itself in a way that it has never been able to before on this kind of stage.
I'll be honest with you: I have no idea what's going to happen today. There are games I look at and have a reasonable guess as to what the result will be. But this one has me stumped. It could end 1-0 to either team, or 1-1, or 2-1. There's also a chance that England could storm out of the gate like the Czech Republic did four years ago and blow the U.S. away.
But I do know this. A lot of the English voices I've read and listened to think their team could be in real trouble today. England's back line is shaky and key midfielder Gareth Barry is out injured. If Wayne Rooney draws the referee's ire for running his mouth, the consequences for his team could be catastrophic.
It sounds, in a lot of ways, like a classic duel between a big brother and a little brother. England believes it can win the World Cup, but knows that it has to win today. They know that this is a game they can't afford to lose, and it's a team that the fans really don't want to lose to.
Which means, of course, that another quintessentially English trait comes into play: fear of losing. When the Three Lions look across the field today, they will see an American squad full of confidence and desire. There's no team in this tournament that Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and the rest want to beat more. The games against Algeria and Slovenia are just as important, but they don't inspire the same kinds of emotions that this one does.
Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. I'll be watching on the big screen at PPL Park during the Union's open house for its new stadium. I haven't been to the place yet, so I'm really looking forward to it.
And of course, I'll be chatting live during the game. I hope you'll join me for what should be quite an occasion.