[NETHERLANDS-USA] Playing the Netherlands is much more than a “good test for the American players,” and it’s not really “the last chance for some players to impress Coach Bob Bradley” as he sets about picking his World Cup team.
Bradley evaluates all his players in training, every day, and monitors intensely their club performances. He hasn’t seen Frankie Simek since the 2007 Gold Cup but is keenly aware of how often and how well he’s played for Sheffield Wednesday. If weight: bold;">Stuart Holden struggles against the Netherlands but keeps playing regularly and well for Bolton, he’ll make the trip to South Africa, most likely, based on what he’s done for the U.S. in his 11 appearances to date. It’s doubtful Tim Howard can lose the No. 1 goalkeeping shirt even if he and the Americans are routed.
Taking on the Dutch at the Amsterdam ArenA Wednesday (TV: ESPN2 and Galavision, live, 2:30 p.m. ET) is about as deep as the pool gets in Europe, a prime opportunity to get run off the park, to be flayed by some of the continent’s best players. Bradley has summoned all of his best available talent, yet with many of six players missing because of injury projected to be starters, he can’t expect much from the guys on the bubble except to look the part, fight hard and not freeze up.
So the onus will be on Landon Donovan to spark the attack, for Howard to keep the back line intact and in sync, for Carlos Bocanegra to win his duels and play smart, for Jozy Altidore to play tough but show touch, etc. No matter where Jonathan Spector plays, proving that his recent good form for West Ham can be maintained against a formidable opponent in a forbidding setting is job one.
With only two days of training prior to kickoff, Bradley can’t re-invent what this team is. He’ll rely on the doctrines and philosophies he’s been preaching since he took the job more than three years ago. Seeing situations develop as early as possible and reacting accordingly, and making the smart, safe pass when nothing else is on, are just as important as lung-busting runs and torpedo headers.
Though the forward corps includes Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel, and a defense led by Giovanni van Bronckhorst conceded only two goals in eight World Cup qualifying matches, the Dutch are especially loaded in midfield.
Wesley Sneijder has been a driving force for Inter Milan’s climb atop Serie A, and Mark van Bommel and Bayern Munich are at the top of the Bundesliga. Nigel de Jong (Manchester City), Rafael van der Vaart (Real Madrid), and the PSV Eindhoven duo of Ibrahim Afellay and Orlando Engelaar give the Dutch plenty of bite, speed, and guile.
To have a good performance, the Americans can’t be overrun in midfield, which is where they’ve been disquietingly inconsistent too often against moderate opposition. Their back line will be missing Oguchi Onyewu, so the more protection afforded by the midfielders the more solid the defense should be. Still, the quickness and movement of the Dutch attackers will require close marking and cohesive defending by the U.S., so the leadership and experience of veterans like Bocanegra must be prominent.
The Dutch are more skilled, more experienced and more tactically astute than the Americans. They force mistakes and exploit them. Widely regarded as the best soccer nation to never win a World Cup, the Netherlands is ranked No. 3 in the world but as of yet not being considered as a serious contender.
The Dutch, too, have issues and questions and media criticism to address on this final FIFA date prior to the tournament, and a rousing win over the upstart country that knocked off Spain in the Confederations Cup last summer would buttress their case.
For their part, the Americans are still more suited to the underdog role, as they were last June, and will certainly be Wednesday.
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolves), Tim Howard (Everton)
DEFENDERS: Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Heath Pearce (FC Dallas), Frank Simek (Sheffield Wednesday), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)
MIDFIELDERS: DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers), Alejandro Bedoya (Orebro), Michael Bradley (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Landon Donovan (Everton), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Stuart Holden (Bolton Wanderers), José Torres (Pachuca)
FORWARDS : Jozy Altidore (Hull City), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Eddie Johnson (Aris)
GOALKEEPERS: Maarten Stekelenburg (Ajax), Piet Velthuizen (Vitesse), Michel Vorm (FC Utrecht)
DEFENDERS: Edson Braafheid (Celtic), Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord), John Heitinga (Everton), Joris Mathijsen (Hamburg), Andre Ooijer (PSV), Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord), Gregory van der Wiel (Ajax)
MIDFIELDERS: Ibrahim Afellay (PSV), Mark van Bommel (Bayern Munich), Orlando Engelaar (PSV), Nigel de Jong (Manchester City), Stijn Schaars (AZ), Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan), Rafael van der Vaart (Real Madrid), Demy de Zeeuw (Ajax)
FORWARDS : Ryan Babel (Liverpool), Eljero Elia (Hamburg), Klaas Jan Huntelaar (AC Milan), Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich)