IRENE, South Africa (AP) — If the United States beats England at the World Cup on Saturday, England will be a big reason.
Nine of 23 players on the American roster spent all or part of last season with English clubs, including eight in the Premier League. Just as U.S. government descended from the British monarchy, much of the U.S. soccer team has been tutored in England.
"It's just different than Spain and Italy and Germany in the sense that it's 100 miles an hour, and that's what makes it so appealing," goalkeeper Tim Howard said Thursday. "There's challenges flying in everywhere. It's nonstop action. You know, no teams in the Premier League really sit back and just play defense. It's end to end, and that's what makes it different than other leagues."
Having seen Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and John Terry on a regular basis, there's little chance the American will be intimidated.
Howard left Major League Soccer's MetroStars to sign with Manchester United in 2003, then moved to Everton four years later. He was joined by Landon Donovan on the Toffees during a three-month loan this year.
After struggling with Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich and establishing himself in MLS with San Jose and Los Angeles, Donovan immediately became a fan favorite with the Liverpool-based club. The fast-paced action suited Donovan's style, and the decision by Everton manager David Moyes to play him on the right instead of the left made the midfielder far more versatile as he rejoined the national team.
"When I went to Everton, there was immediate respect, and that was eye-opening for me, because I had never experienced that in Europe," Donovan said.
All three U.S. World Cup goalkeepers play in the Premier League, with Howard joined by Wolverhampton's Marcus Hahnemann and Brad Guzan, the backup to former American national team goalkeeper Brad Friedel at Aston Villa.
"Premier League is as good as it gets," Hahnemann said.
In other games Saturday, Argentina plays Nigeria in Johannesburg, and South Korea faces Greece in Port Elizabeth.
Defender Jonathan Spector has spent seven years in England with Manchester United, Charlton and, since 2006, West Ham. Midfielder Clint Dempsey has become a major part of Fulham's success since he left MLS's New England Revolution to join the Cottagers in 2006. There, he was teammates with defender Carlos Bocanegra; the U.S. captain played for Fulham from 2004-08.
"It's faced-paced," said Dempsey, who thrives in the physical play. "I think it's because of the pace of the game that sometimes you see people taking risks that sometimes they normally wouldn't take because they just get caught up in the game."
Midfielder Stuart Holden left Houston this year to sign with Bolton, and forward Jozy Altidore spent the season on loan from Spain's Villarreal to Hull.
In addition, defender Jay DeMerit joined Watford and eventually became the club's captain. Following the season, the League Championship club let him go in a cost-cutting move,
Altidore played for a terrible Hull team that struggled all season and was relegated. His season was cut short April 24 by a season-ending suspension for a head butt after Sunderland's Alan Hutton threw a ball at him, and he won't be brought back, either, as the club cuts payroll.
"I think I adjusted to the league," Altidore said. "In the beginning, I was a big topsy-turndown. I don't think I came to grips with the league, with the physicality of it and all that."
There's no doubt the Americans who earn spots on the field in the cool, wet, rough-and-tumble of the English game become far sharper, more skillful.
Since the big 1-0 victory over England at the 1950 World Cup, the Americans have lost seven of eight games to the English, winning only a 1993 exhibition 2-0 at Foxborough, Mass., against a team that would fail to qualify for the next year's World Cup.
But given all they've learned in England the last few years, the American players have belief they can replicate the 1950 victory.
"I've definitely become hardened and more resolute, and for me it's been an amazing journey. And I think a lot of our players are experiencing that. I think that resilience is paying off for us," Howard said. "I think it's important that we're playing at that level."
The World Cup debut as a coach for Diego Maradona, who led the Albiceleste to the 1986 championship. Maradona looked at more than 100 players before settling on his squad, which should be dynamic offensively. Striker Lionel Messi, the 2009 world player of the year, has been sensational for Barcelona, not so special for his national team. He will have plenty of talented help from Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain, Diego Milito and Sergio Aguero.
The Nigerian Olympic team, a more youthful collection of players, lost 1-0 in the 2008 Olympic final to Argentina. The Super Eagles, coached by Sweden's Lars Lagerback, are fast and more defense-minded than in past years.
This is Greece's second appearance at the sport's marquee event, and the first was forgettable. After finishing first and undefeated in its qualifying group, Greece went to the United States in 1994 with high expectations, but lost 4-0 to Argentina, 4-0 to Bulgaria and 2-0 to Nigeria. Ten years later, Greek soccer was at an all-time high with its European championship.
If the Greeks are to prosper in this World Cup, it will be in low-scoring games.
South Korea makes its seventh straight tournament appearance, and went to the semifinals when they co-hosted the 2002 tournament, It has a star in Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung and is dangerous on counterattacks.