US vs Australia quite a friendly for 4 players
After 3 1/2 years of getting ready, it's time for the final dress rehearsal.
In a refurbished stadium in a western suburb of Johannesburg, the United States plays Australia on Saturday in the Americans' last warmup match before their World Cup opener against England on June 12. And within the game, there are some intriguing potential matchups that make it quite a ``friendly.''
Australian midfielder Tim Cahill will be trying to beat U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, his Everton teammate for the past four seasons.
And American midfielder Clint Dempsey will be trying to get the ball past the Socceroos' Mark Schwarzer, his keeper at Fulham the past two years.
There's a lot of mutual admiration.
``Tim is the ultimate competitor,'' Howard said Friday. ``He's miserable to play against, you know, and that makes him a fantastic teammate. And he's a guy who is very, very fun-loving off the field. But every single game I played with him at Everton, he's been the first one to take the fight to the other team, to get stuck in, to push and shove, to really push the tempo.''
Schwarzer has been so good there have been reports Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger wants to acquire the 37-year-old to replace Manuel Almunia.
``Any game you play in, you always want to score, but it would be nice to score against Mark because he's always running his mouth in training,'' Dempsey said before cracking a smile.
``He helped us out a lot at Fulham. I think a lot of the success of the team goes to having that experience of him in between the sticks,'' Dempsey said. ``It's great having him on the team. He's someone who has a lot of confidence, has a lot of experience.''
It will be the last chance for U.S. coach Bob Bradley to test a thus-far shaky defense. It will be Oguchi Onyewu's third game back following October knee surgery and the second for Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit after abdominal strains. Bradley must still sort out whether Steve Cherundolo or Jonathan Spector will start at right back against England.
In the central midfield, it's unclear whether Michael Bradley will be joined by Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu or Jose Torres.
``We're still determining how to balance it out,'' Bradley said. ``Certainly a week before the match we want to continue to move our team forward. That sometimes involves, you know, a different plan for different guys.''
Forward Jozy Altidore could miss the Australia match after spraining his right ankle during training Wednesday. Altidore was held out of practice Friday, instead watching from the bench as his teammates worked out.
Dempsey could be pushed up to forward, which would leave Stuart Holden, DaMarcus Beasley or Benny Feilhaber to start in midfield with Landon Donovan - who spent three months at Everton last season with Howard and Cahill. The other forward candidates are Robbie Findley, Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez.
Bradley is expecting a fast-paced game, partly because the field at Ruimsig Stadium in Roodepoort is a bit narrow.
Howard has one primary goal.
``No injuries, first,'' he said. ``I don't think the result is too much of an issue. Obviously, we'd want to win, that would be great, But no injuries and everyone feeling like they're getting up to speed would be very, very good.''
Cherundolo expects players to go hard - only to a degree.
``I certainly don't expect anybody to be playing in a reckless manner,'' he said. ``But the best way to get injured is to go out and try not to get injured.''
Last month, the U.S. lost to the Czech Republic 4-2 using mostly second-stringers and rallied for a 2-1 win over Turkey in the Americans' U.S. farewell.
Australia coach Pim Verbeek planned to rest Blackburn midfielder Brett Emerton, who has been banged up, and give limited action to Galatasaray forward Harry Kewell, been bothered by a groin injury.
This will be the seventh game for the U.S. in South Africa.
``I think it's, if anything, a very small advantage that you've kind of seen what's coming our way,'' Cherundolo said.
A November 2007 exhibition win over South Africa and five matches at the Confederations Cup last June made the Americans more comfortable, but comfort only goes so far in getting ready to play England.
``Certainly,'' Cherundolo said, ``there weren't millions behind their TVs watching the game and following every single result and play.''