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German tint to Poland-USA friendly
by Ridge Mahoney, March 26th, 2008 6:30AM

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[PREVIEW] When the USA and Poland national teams renew their biennial international series Wednesday in Krakow (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel), the match will be shaded by the influences of a third country. Players of both nations play in Germany or have done so in the past, the teams last met two years ago in Kaiserslautern, and Poland is using the friendly to prepare for its opening game in the 2008 European Championship: a June 8 date with, you guessed it, Germany.

 

"We aren't focusing on the U.S. team," said coach Leo Beenhakker, a Dutchman who as coach of Trinidad & Tobago has faced the USA in qualifying play. "For us, this is a tuneup for the Euro and in our minds we're playing Germany. "I told the players the same in Cyprus before the match with the Czech Republic and I'll tell them the same again. We have to play our game and our style of play, and concentrate on our mindset on the field."

Poland beat Estonia and the Czech Republic by 2-0 scores last month following the conclusion of Euro 2008 qualifying play in November. Poland topped Group A and conceded just 12 goals in 14 matches. After thumping the U.S., 3-1, at the 2002 World Cup, Poland has lost two of the last three meetings by 1-0 scores: a 2004 match in Plock and the game two years ago decided by a Clint Dempsey goal scored in a steady snowfall. The teams tied, 1-1, in Chicago in June 2004.

Flurries and gusts buffeted the American players as they trained Monday and Tuesday; Coach Bob Bradley is aware the opposition as well as the conditions will be formidable.

"We come to Europe to play against tough opponents and to test ourselves," said Bradley, who filled 15 of the 18 slots on his roster with European-based players. "For many of our guys, this is the first national team game in 2008 ... so we're very excited for the opportunity. The games in Europe are very important for us."

They are especially important for the likes of Benny Feilhaber, who since scoring a spectacular goal against Mexico in the Gold Cup final last summer has ridden the bench at Premier League cellar-dweller Derby County. He played two U.S. matches in the Copa America and of the six friendlies that followed has played in all but the January match against Sweden. Yet he wasn't named to the U.S. U-23 squad for the Concacaf Olympic qualifiers and against Poland could be playing with over-age options - Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Josh Wolff, Carlos Bocanegra - who could be chosen for Beijing at his expense, though not necessarily in preference to the positions he plays.

For the national team Feilhaber has played on the right side of midfield as well as in the middle. The availability of Dempsey, Donovan, Ricardo Clark, Eddie Lewis and Michael Bradley gives Coach Bradley myriad options in midfield as well as up top, where Brian Ching, Eddie Johnson and Wolff offer a variety of size, skill, and speed. Johnson has looked a bit sharper at Fulham lately after slogging through his first few outings, but Dempsey is mired in a slump of poor form.

Dempsey leads the team with six goals yet hasn't scored since Boxing Day, a span of three months. Wolff left MLS in January of last year to sign with German second division club 1860 Munich; he scored two goals in 10 matches in the second half of the 2006-07 season but has yet to net in 21 appearances this campaign. Bocanegra hasn't started a game in more than two months; might Bradley prefer a central tandem of Oguchi Onyewu and Jonathan Spector?

The return to health of defender Cory Gibbs, who hasn't played for the U.S. since a knee injury knocked him off the 2006 World Cup squad, gives Bradley another option in the back line. But Gibbs hasn't played for Charlton's first team, either, so he's a risk as anything but a substitute.

On the right side of midfield the Poles won't be as strong as they were during qualifying play for Euro 2008, since Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski is injured. On the left, however, Poland has another German Bundesliga veteran, Jacek Krzynowek of Wolfsburg.

In a decade of play for the national team, Krzynowek has more than 60 caps. He's quick and crafty, and can serve dangerous balls during the run of play and set pieces.

Speaking of quick and crafty, the top scorer for Poland during Euro 2008 qualifying was Ebi Smolarek, the son of a former Polish international who also played some of his club ball in Germany. Smolarek the younger scored nine goals in the qualifiers, including both goals - one on the stroke of halftime and another just minutes into the second period - last November in a 2-0 defeat of Belgium.

Smolarek plays in Spain with Racing Santander, which he joined last August after scoring 25 goals in 2 ½ seasons for Dortmund.

Another Bundesliga player, the USA's Heath Pearce, has endured some rough times at Hansa Rostock, which is in 14th place in the 18-team league, four points above the relegation zone. He's played 13 matches, starting five, with only one start since September, but unless Bocanegra slides out wide or Bradley plays a three-man system, is the obvious choice for the USA at left back.

"They have very good players, the majority of which play in Europe," says Beenhakker. "I think they are a good opponent for us."

 



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