USA braced for impact of England clash

IRENE, South Africa - The United States will not win or lose the World Cup on Saturday, but striker Landon Donovan knows their Group C opener against England will have massive consequences for soccer back home.

A win against England would not only smooth their path into the second round, it could also boost the country's bid to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and prove that the huge resources invested in growing the game back home were bearing fruit.

The fanfare surrounding the group opener suggests it is the most important game the United States have ever played.

"For the last six months all we've seen is U.S.-England, so if you're a causal sports fan at home you might think this is the World Cup final," Donovan told reporters at the team's training base near Pretoria.

"We're not like Brazil where if they don't win the World Cup soccer is still the biggest thing in anyone's mind.

"For us, every time we have an opportunity to play we have an opportunity to grow the sport and we realise that every four years that is magnified and multiplied."

The 1994 World Cup delivered a shot in the arm to soccer in the United States and while Donovan has been an ardent supporter of the bid to host another finals, the 28-year-old admits it would come too late for him to play.

"I think of how far soccer has come since I started and I have some very vivid memories," he said.

"I know first-hand how much we love this sport in our country and how much all of is have put into this. Our country is very proud and I think we're all excited at the opportunity to host another World Cup.

"My only regret would not be being able to play in a World Cup in my own country."

SOMETHING SPECIAL

Donovan, who played for English Premier League side Everton on loan for part of last season, was under no illusions about the task his side face in Rustenburg.

"England are one of the top teams in the world, and with the top teams you don't have a lot of weaknesses," said Donovan, who was a central figure in the Americans' run to the final of last year's Confederations Cup, where they lost to Brazil.

"Last year was helpful in that it gives us the belief that we can do something special here," he said. "We know that is the past and our job is to focus on the now. But we know that we have the ability to be special."

Sunil Gulati, head of the U.S. soccer federation, agreed that the game against England represented a milestone in the rise of U.S. soccer.

"It is an unprecedented moment," he told a media conference.

"Partly because of who we are playing, partly because of where the game is in the United States and frankly because of the promotion on television in Spanish and English."

Interest in the U.S. team and the hype surrounding the game with England had reached unparalleled levels, he added.

"This game is about where the sport is in the U.S. …- it is water cooler talk, people are clearly talking about the U.S.-England game, people who aren't normally involved in the game.

"It's an opportunity to get a whole bunch of people who might be casual obser