Gone are the days when the elite teams of world soccer saw a game against the United States as an almost certain victory.
Yet the day has not yet come when the US can consistently stand with the game's best soccer nations as equals.
For the US, one year removed from its sensational run to the final of the Confederations Cup, it is an opportunity to prove that that success was not a fluke. For perhaps the first time in American history, the nation and the team expects significant success. What better way to confirm that than a win over the No. 3 team in the world, according to the ESPN Soccer Power Index.
For England, it is an opportunity to declare its intentions from the first moment of this World Cup. Long one of soccer's underachievers, England enters this tournament with a legitimate chance to win, perhaps the first time that has been true since 1990. A comprehensive win over a tricky US side would be a strong statement.
The script suggests England will be too much for the US. The hallmark of England since Italian coach Fabio Capello took control two years ago has been consistency. The team simply no longer loses games it should win. And the US game is one it should win.
On talent alone, there is no comparison. The Americans have no one remotely as accomplished as English defender John Terry or midfielders Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. And under Capello's direction, forward Wayne Rooney has fulfilled his promise as one of best players in the world.
A bulldog in shinguards, Rooney is at once indefatigable, ornery, and sublime, combining a boxer's jaw with an artist's mind. While Lampard and Gerrard paint the field with straight lines, bearing down on goal as though on railroad tracks, Rooney probes and prods, as much a creator as a thunderous finisher.
In the past, The US's best answer to England's weapons might have been England's own inconsistency. Always brimming with passion, England was too often reckless or naive, playing with heart when cooler heads needed to prevail. Capello has remedied that.
Instead, it is the US that is now one of the mystery outfits of the tournament. Though unlikely, it is no longer inconceivable that the team could go as far as the semifinals. But it could also easily fail to advance out of the first round.
In this way, the team is a reflection of its top player, midfield playmaker Landon Donovan: brilliant one game, anonymous the next. This is less true of the Donovan of today than the Donovan of four or eight years ago. Yet he remains the engine of the team, and US success depends to a large degree on his ability not to be manhandled by physical, disciplined European defenses as he has in the past.
With Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, the US possesses weapons to trouble England, but the US defense could be its undoing. It will rely heavily on Oguchi Onyewu, a talented but inconsistent player who missed much of the past year though injury. It is a defensive unit that will need help from the midfielders - and even the forwards - if it is not to be snowed under by top teams.
As in the Confederations Cup last year, the US will look to defend in depth at times frantically throwing bodies in front of shots - and then use its speed to break quickly on the counterattck.
To have any chance of winning or drawing against England, the US must play soccer that is both desperate and disciplined. England merely needs to keep doing what it has been doing since Capello took charge.
Even with a loss, either team would still have a decent chance of advancing to the second round. The other two teams in the group - Slovenia and Algeria - are not imposing.
Yet each team enters Saturday intent on using this tournament to make a statement. This will be the game to start.
World Cup 101: