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May 26, 2008

Quartet of U.S. stars stack up against England's best

For American soccer fans, the chance to see their national team face England isn't just about bragging rights or measuring the progress the U.S. team has made through the years. It is also about seeing how the United States' best players stack up against their English counterparts.

While Wednesday's friendly will give us a chance to see how Landon Donovan does against England's vaunted central defense of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, how Steve Cherundolo holds up against David Beckham and how Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra deal with John Terry, it will also give us a chance to see if there are, in fact, any Americans who could play for either team.

There was once a time, arguably as recently as a decade ago, when it would have been tough to even find a place on the England roster for an American player. Progress by the U.S. team in the past eight years, and the increase in American players going to Europe to play, has helped increase the number of Americans you could at least consider for a roster place, U.S. players whom England manager Fabio Capello would have to look long and hard at if given the chance to select them.

Here are the Americans with the talent and experience to merit a place on England's roster, and in England's lineup:

Tim Howard, goalkeeper. The American with the strongest claim to being able to start for England is Howard, who is coming off another strong season for Everton. The 28-year-old goalkeeper combines steadiness with the ability to make the acrobatic save and would certainly push current England No. 1 David James if they were on the same team.

Yes, James is coming off a strong season that saw him earn EPL goalkeeper of the year honors as well as win an FA Cup, but England fans will also remind you of James' countless errors with the national team.

U.S. men's schedule
U.S. vs. England
May 28
Wembley Stadium, London, England
3 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic

It should also be noted that, while he has retired from the U.S. national team, Brad Friedel could also start for England. He has been one of the best goalkeepers in the EPL over the past five seasons and this past campaign was one of his strongest.

DaMarcus Beasley, midfielder. When Beasley had his international coming-out party for the United States as a precocious 20-year-old left winger, the English media in South Korea couldn't help but gush about the exciting player and how he could step in and start for England immediately. Some six years later, Beasley would have a bit more competition for such a role, but he certainly merits being in the conversation.

Before his knee injury last fall, Beasley was enjoying a strong start at Rangers after transferring from PSV Eindhoven. He showed off all his skills in Rangers' Scottish Cup final victory last Saturday, drawing a foul to set up a goal, scoring his own goal and setting up the game winner with a corner kick. Throw in Beasley's considerable international experience (two World Cups and a number of Champions League campaigns with PSV Eindhoven) and you can make the argument that a fully healthy Beasley would be considered for a start by Capello.

England's long-standing trouble with the left wing position might be resolved though by its own precocious youngster in Ashley Young, whose speed and pinpoint crossing should make him a fixture for England for years to come. With Stuart Downing as England's other left winger, I believe there still is a good argument that Beasley could make England's roster.

Landon Donovan, forward. While there is little disputing that Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen would start and star for both national teams, you can make the case for Donovan being worthy of a spot on the bench for England.

Gabriel Agbonlahor and Jermaine Defoe are speedy strikers who can trouble defenses with their quickness and finishing. So is Donovan, who is a better passer than both. Considering how he has flourished playing alongside David Beckham, we can only imagine what Donovan would be able to do if given a chance to play with the talent-laden England squad.

Steve Cherundolo, right fullback. Remember the days when Gary Neville had a hammer lock on England's right back position? Right, neither can we. Neville's lengthy injury troubles have left right back to Wes Brown and Glen Johnson and while Brown is an accomplished defender, Johnson might still need some seasoning on the international level.

Enter Cherundolo, captain of German club Hannover 96 and one of the U.S. team's most reliable defenders. Though not as physically strong as Brown or Johnson, Cherundolo is a smart player who also brings more to the table on the attacking end from right back than either of England's right back options. While Brown gets the nod as a starter, a very good argument can be made for Cherundolo being good enough to make an England roster. Of course, a healthy Micah Richards would be a superior option, but the Man City defender is absent from this game due to injury.

While it might seem like a short list, this quartet of American players signifies progress for a U.S. national team talent pool that is much stronger than it was a decade or two ago. With MLS evolving, the emphasis on player development in the United States growing, and more young Americans stepping up to the challenge of playing in Europe, the list of Americans who can play, and start, for England should only get longer in the coming years.

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.

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