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Will USA end 2009 with a bang or a whimper?
by Mike Woitalla, November 17th, 2009 7AM

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[DENMARK-USA] It's been a long and mostly successful year for the U.S. national team, which plays its 24th and final game of 2009 on Wednesday, a friendly at fellow World Cup qualifier Denmark -- four days after a disappointing 1-0 U.S. loss at Slovakia. Coach Bob Bradley will be testing candidates for next summer's World Cup while hoping to end the year on a high note. The Danes finished above Portugal and Sweden in their World Cup qualifying group, giving hope to the red-and-white's fans that a revival is underway.

Denmark's greatest success was winning the 1992 European Championship, which it entered as a late replacement after Yugoslavia was banned from the tournament because of UN sanctions for its civil war.

The Danes also impressed in the 1980s, with a semifinal run at the 1984 European Championship and playing some of the more thrilling soccer at the 1986 World Cup before falling in the round of 16.

But Denmark has failed to reach a major tournament since Euro 04, yet Coach Morten Olsen -- who played 102 games on Denmark's backline from 1970 to 1989 -- has clung to his job for nearly a decade. He rewarded his bosses at the Danish federation for their faith with a remarkable qualifying campaign in which Olsen's young backline proved outstanding.

The Danish defense features three starters who are 24 years old or younger: Liverpool's Daniel Agger (24), AaB's Michael Jacobsen (23) and Palermo's Simon Kjaer (20). Kjaer is considered one of the top young defenders in Europe after only one full season in Serie A. Of the three, only Agger is not in the squad for Wednesday's game.

Also absent from the squad is 21-year-old forward Nicklas Bendtner of Arsenal. But midfielder Christian Poulsen of Juventus, forward Martin Jorgensen and defender Per Kroldrup, who both play for Fiorentina, are set to line up against USA.

No matter what happens in Aarhus' NRGi Park, 2009 goes down as one of the most eventful years in U.S. national team history. Besides its successful World Cup qualifying campaign, the USA finished runner-up at the Confederations Cup, where it beat Spain, the world's top ranked team and defending European champion, and led Brazil 2-0 in the final before falling 3-2.

But there was also the 5-0 Gold Cup final loss to Mexico - a reminder of the USA's depth problem, particularly how much it depends on Landon Donovan, who was not part of the Gold Cup squad.

Donovan is not in Denmark. He's with his Los Angeles Galaxy getting ready for MLS Cup 2009 on Sunday. Also missing from the frontline is Charlie Davies, whose car-accident injuries will more than likely keep him out of the World Cup.

In the scoreless effort against Slovakia, Bob Bradley started Jozy Altidore and Conor Casey upfront, then gave Eddie Johnson 45 minutes of second-half action to try and revive his national team career. Jeff Cunningham, who returned to the squad for the first time since 2005, played the final eight minutes after replacing Altidore. Cunningham, who earned his recall after scoring 17 goals to lead MLS in scoring, will be looking for his first goal in 11 appearances for the USA.

Another U.S. player who didn't play a role in World Cup qualifying will be the left-sided Edgar Castillo, the New Mexico product who was ignored by the U.S. national team program until he embarked on a successful pro career in Mexico. Castillo played for Mexico's U-23 team in Olympic qualifying and for Mexico's full national team in friendlies before changing his allegiance thanks to FIFA's new eligibility regulations.

Castillo is the only uncapped player on the USA's roster. FC Dallas Dax McCarthy, the 22-year-old FC Dallas midfielder, made his debut against Slovakia as a 72nd minute sub for Clint Dempsey.

On Saturday, Denmark played a scoreless tie with South Korea in Esbjerg.

DENMARK ROSTER

(*Started in Saturday's 0-0 tie with South Korea.)
GOALKEEPERS: Stephan Andersen (Broendby IF), *Thomas Sorensen (Stoke City)
DEFENDERS: Anders M"ller Christensen (Odense), *Lars Jacobsen (Blackburn Rovers), Leon Jessen (FC Midtjylland), William Kvist Jorgensen (FC Copenhagen), *Simon Kjaer (Palermo), *Per Kroldrup (Fiorentina), Michael Lumb (AGF Aarhus)
MIDFIELDERS: Thomas Enevoldsen (FC Groningen), *Daniel Jensen (Werder Bremen), *Thomas Kahlenberg (Wolfsburg), Christian Poulsen (Juventus FC), *Jakob Poulsen (AGF Aarhus), *Soren Rieks (Esbjerg)
FORWARDS: Johan Absalonsen (OB), Jesper Bech (Silkeborg IF), Martin Bernburg (Broendby IF), Jesper Groenkjær (FC Copenhagen), Martin Jorgensen (Fiorentina), *Morten Rasmussen (Broendby IF), Jon Dahl Tomasson (Feyenoord).

U.S. ROSTER

GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolves), Troy Perkins (Valerenga)
DEFENDERS: Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Edgar Castillo (Tigres), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Frankie Hejduk (Columbus Crew), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Jonathan Spector (West Ham)
MIDFIELDERS: Michael Bradley (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo), Benny Feilhaber (AGF Aarhus), Stuart Holden (Houston Dynamo), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Dax McCarty (FC Dallas), Robbie Rogers (Columbus Crew), Jose Francisco Torres (Pachuca)
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (Hull City), Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids), Jeff Cunningham (FC Dallas), Eddie Johnson (Fulham).


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