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Sweden a good fit for first European date under Bradley
by Ridge Mahoney, August 22nd, 2007 7AM

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Fourteen games into the tenure of Coach Bob Bradley the U.S. takes its first trip to Europe, and much like the Copa America proved to be a valuable if somewhat humbling venture, the importance of this match extends beyond the result. There are no finished products on the 19-man roster named by Bradley named to face Sweden (Fox Soccer Channel & Galavision 2:30 p.m. ET) at Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg. Getting Americans abroad, whether that be to play for a foreign club or on a national-team road trip, is a vital component of restocking the player pool.

Sweden isn't Germany or Italy or France or England or Spain - although it beat the Spaniards, 2-0, in a Euro 2008 qualifier last October and holds a three-point lead atop Group F - yet its soccer tradition is a strong one, and this current crop of players is a tough test for a squad that features 16 Americans based in Europe.

Veteran Swedish keeper Andreas Isaksson is injured, yet backup Rami Shaaban has played capably in several qualifiers. The most notable absence is winger Freddie Ljungberg, named to the initial roster but withdrawn because of injury.

Among the USA defenders, Oguchi Onyewu is trying to revive his career with Standard Liege, Jay DeMerit has helped Watford win the first two games of its push to return to the English Premier League, and Jonathan Bornstein gets another boost above MLS competition.

All of them will be sharply tested if they face Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Marcus Allback, who scored the second goal and set up the first one for Johan Elmander in that victory against Spain.

Ibrahimovic - tall, nimble, deceptive, tough -- is simply one of the best strikers in Europe and has scored 18 goals for Sweden in 43 appearances.

Dynamic, powerful Kim Kallstrom heads a good, balanced midfield that plays smart, organized soccer to shut off the opposition and probe for openings.

Bradley can choose amongst Benny Feilhaber, Pablo Mastroeni and his son Michael Bradley for the central slots, and should be able to count on DaMarcus Beasley causing Sweden some problems on the left flank.

As usual, the right side is a question mark, with Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey the obvious options and uncapped Sal Zizzo among the darkhorses.

Olaf Mellberg and Erik Edman lead an experienced corps of defenders against which the Americans may struggle despite the pace and guile of Donovan. He could be paired with his former San Jose teammate Brian Ching, or one of the youngsters - Kamani Hill,
Charlie Davies, or Zizzo - or Dempsey, who despite spending most of his career in midfield and missing a sitter playing in the EPL for Fulham last weekend offers abilities up front that Bradley likes.

Eddie Johnson and Taylor Twellman weren't selected, and Ching replaced Josh Wolff, who was scratched from the original squad for personal reasons.

"We're fortunate that he can play both spots," says Bradley of Dempsey, "but I thought at the Gold Cup he played well as a forward. For me, Clint has an aggressiveness in the box to find chances and finish chances that's a little bit unique.

"He's capable of sometimes creating a chance out of nothing, and he's willing to take those chances, so certainly those qualities fit well with playing up front."

Donovan's last four goals - at the Gold Cup - came on penalty kicks, and he's tied Eric Wynalda for the all-time U.S. record with 34. Word on the grapevine is Waldo isn't terribly happy with Donovan spot-kicking his way to the record.

If Donovan doesn't score in Gothenburg, his next chance will be in Chicago, the home of U.S. Soccer, against Brazil, on a match televised on ESPN2 with Wynalda in the broadcast booth.

Oh, yeah.

 



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