Breakdown: Key matchups of US-Canada

The last time these teams met (four years ago), Canada pushed the United States to the brink in the 2007 Gold Cup Final. Tonight, the Canadian squad taking the field is a much better team, but the Americans are also better and more mature.

Here’s a look at the key matchups in tonight’s USA-Canada match:

Canada centerbacks vs. USA forwards

Kevin McKenna and Andre Hainault are the likely centerback pairing for Canada. They’ll face a stiff test from the likely US forward combo of Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo. Altidore has been struggling on the international level recently, but those struggles have also been against some top defenders.

Altidore’s combination of size and strength will be a handful, and he should have success holding up the ball and drawing fouls while also creating space for Agudelo to make runs off him.

Canada’s defenders aren’t slouches. McKenna didn’t play much on the club level but has been solid for Canada, while Hainault is enjoying a career year with the Houston Dynamo as one of the best defenders in MLS.

Josh Simpson vs. Steve Cherundolo

Simpson is coming off an impressive season with Turkish side Manisaspor, where he scored 12 goals, and is one of Canada’s best attacking threats. He’ll man the left flank, which means a match-up against arguably the best defender on the US team right now in Cherundolo.

With the speed and intelligence to keep up with Simpson, Cherundolo will severely hamper Canada’s attack if he can lock down Simpson. That said, if Simpson can get the best of Cherundolo, the US defense could be in real trouble.

The Battle in Central Midfield

The game could be win or lost in the middle, where both teams boast considerable talent. Michael Bradley is likely to be partnered with Jermaine Jones, a tandem well-equipped to contend with a potential Canada tandem of Atiba Hutchinson and Julian de Guzman (though there is a chance Stephen Hart goes with Terry Dunfield in place of de Guzman).

If de Guzman does get the start, then it will be a battle to see which of the four midfielders can do the best job of contributing to the attack by getting forward and pressing the opponents. Bradley is more well-suited to get forward and could find room to operate, though Dunfield would present more of an attacking threat if he is preferred to de Guzman.

The US back-line vs. Simeon Jackson

If Josh Simpson isn’t Canada’s best attacking threat, then the honor goes to Jackson, who is coming off a great season helping Norwich City earn promotion to the English Premier League.

The speedy striker should cause problems for the likely US centerback pairing of Oguchi Onyewu and Clarence Goodson, who aren’t exactly known for being quick on their feet. Jackson will need Canada’s playmakers to provide him with service, and if they do, and US defenders give him space, Jackson can definitely burn the Americans.

Jackson has also been tried on the right wing by Canada, but playing on the flank would match him up against US captain Carlos Bocanegra, which wouldn’t necessarily be a better place for him. Canada is also capable of playing Real Salt Lake’s Will Johnson on the right, so look for Jackson to either be partnered with Dwayne DeRosario up top or potentially with Rob Friend (thought former is much more likely).

We should find out pretty quickly whether Oguchi Onyewu is ready to shake off some shaky recent performances and be the centerback who looked so dominant in the 2005 and 2007 Gold Cups. If he struggles, Canada will be in good position for an upset.

Canada’s fullbacks vs. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey

If there’s a mismatch on the field the Americans will be hungry to exploit, it’s on the flanks, where Donovan and Dempsey are capable of doing some real damage.

Whether it’s Marcel de Jong or Michael Klukowski at left back, Canada is going to have a hard time containing Dempsey, who is playing some of the best soccer of his career. Donovan is also enjoying a strong run of form and has the speed to abuse Canadian right back Nik Ledgerwood.

If Dempsey and Donovan get off to a fast start, Canada could find itself in trouble early and often, so it will need to win some of the other match-ups listed here to have a real chance at an upset.

The United States-Canada will be live on FOX Soccer Channel, with pregame starting at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.