Orange you glad to see the Yanks?

BY foxsports • March 2, 2010

The U.S. national team has faced nearly every possible test during the three years since Bob Bradley took over as head coach.

The Americans have faced the likes of Brazil, Spain, Argentina, England and Italy, with each match telling a different story about where the U.S. team stands.

On Wednesday, the latest tough test will tell us just where the United States stands 100 days before it opens the 2010 World Cup against England. The Netherlands is one of the best teams in the world, fresh of a dominating World Cup qualifying campaign, and eager to answer its own team’s remaining question marks on defense.

“For us, it’s a game we don’t get very often and we want to take advantage of it,” Donovan said. “It’s a difficult test away in Europe. We’ve had quite a few of those over the last couple of years, which we think have helped us, but this is as good as it gets.

“The idea is we’re playing a top five, top ten national team, and we don’t get many chances for that, especially ahead of the World Cup. For us, in a general way, it’s a massive opportunity.”

While several top Americans are still out injured, the match will still provide a good barometer of just how strong the U.S. team can be despite missing the likes of Clint Dempsey, Oguchi Onyewu and Charlie Davies.

For players such as Stuart Holden, Maurice Edu and Jonathan Bornstein, the match should help show head coach Bob Bradley whether they are ready for starting roles in South Africa. For others, such as DaMarcus Beasley and Eddie Johnson, the match could boost their chances of actually making the World Cup team, chances that looked bleak for both just six months ago.

The Americans will be the underdogs, but the result won’t matter as much as how the team competes against a full-strength Dutch team. In previous friendlies against the likes of Spain and Argentina in 2008, and Brazil in 2007, the Americans have battled and shown signs of being able to compete against the world’s best.

In friendlies against England (in 2008) and Denmark last November, the Americans have looked overmatched and incapable of competing.

A successful night against the Dutch will mean a strong showing by a defense that is close to full-strength (though Onyewu is a tough player to replace). It will also mean creating (and finishing) chances against a Dutch defense that has been known to surrender them.

“We’re going to need to show a lot of patience and discipline,” said U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra. “We know the Dutch can move the ball, and they’ll probably have a bit more possession than us, so we need to be patient in defending, but also be able to get after them in a smart way.”

The defensive efforts will be bolstered by the return to the team of Jay DeMerit, who impressed so much at the Confederations Cup. DeMerit was sidelined by an eye injury that has kept him out since the team’s August loss to Mexico, but his return is made even more important by the absence of Onyewu, who is working his way back from knee surgery.

How the American defense holds up against the dynamic Dutch attack will depend greatly on the success American fullbacks Jonathan Bornstein and Jonathan Spector have dealing with the Netherland’s deadly wingers. Arjen Robben ran circles around the U.S. defense the last time these teams met in 2004 and the Bayern Munich winger will be just as important for the Oranje this time around.

Bradley could also choose to give some second-half playing time to reserve fullbacks Frank Simek and Heath Pearce, who have both worked their way back onto the World Cup radar.

Robben isn’t the only threat the Americans will have to contend with. From Inter Milan midfield maestro Wesley Sneijder to AC Milan striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt, the Dutch will have more than enough weapons to see just how sturdy the American back-line is.

The match can’t be just about defending for the Americans, because simply absorbing pressure would be tactical suicide against the Dutch team‘s attack. Donovan, Holden and Jozy Altidore will be key to putting pressure on a Dutch defense that relies as much on its midfield’s ability to keep pressure off and control possession as it does on its own defensive capabilities.

As the Americans learned against Spain last summer, beating a top team like the Netherlands will take a stellar defensive performance, but unlike the Spain game, a trophy isn’t on the line and the result isn’t as important as the chance the match will give the Americans to test some unproven starters and some players who still need to prove they deserve a place on the World Cup roster.

Unlike that Spain game, Wednesday's friendly doesn't have a trophy on the line. That doesn't mean the result doesn't matter, but beating the Dutch isn't as important as putting forth a performance the team can build on, and having players step up and prove that they are ready for important roles on the U.S. World Cup team.

Ives Galarcep is FoxSoccer.com's newest senior writer who will be covering U.S. Soccer and MLS.


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