Send-Off Series Opponents Are Perfect Choices For the US Men's National Team

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Send-Off Series Opponents Are Perfect Choices For the US Men's National Team
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

We have the technology to freeze ice in an indoor arena in South Florida. We are aware of the differing temperatures of the surface and what is comfortable for fans five hundred feet away, and we change it accordingly.

For baseball, we can alternate dirt, clay, grass, and artificial turf depending on the stadium, field, location, and temperament of the owners...and then we carve designs in the outfield.

So, for American soccer, is there anyway we can adjust an indoor facility to simulate the winter conditions the team will experience this summer in South Africa? Then, let's import a crowd of hostile fans and leave a mass of vuvuzelas in their designated sections.

Because those are the only details the USSF have left to address before the U.S. team heads off to South Africa. 

The U.S. team couldn't ask for a better range of opponents as it finishes preparations for the World Cup. Recently scheduled games against the Czech Republic and Turkey May 25 and May 29 respectively, complete a 2010 friendly schedule appropriate for the team's goals.

While to some the first friendlies of the New Year may have been disappointing, they were exactly what the program needed. Many of the core team were unavailable, but the supporting cast, or possible supporting cast , would be available for duty. The opponents reflect the situation.

Both Honduras and El Salvador are great challenges for a supporting cast. The teams are relatively competitive, and the first test for a men's national team player is to handle regional opponents. If the athlete can't, then he is not ready for players of a higher calibre.

Once they play El Salvador, the team's performance will tell fans whether or not there are any more diamonds in the rough hiding in the player pool. If the team doesn't fair well, then we may see an entirely different supporting cast during the 2014 qualifying cycle.

Understand, this situation only works if a majority of the first team isn't available. If a good chunk of the core group plays, then the supporting cast can hide behind the better players and look like they belong. But because most of the first team is unavailable, after El Salvador, Bradley should have an idea of which fringe players can offer something to his team.

Not only is the friendly against Netherlands a great choice as they're an elite soccer entity but playing a team of their quality in March is excellent timing. Since the majority of the first team will be available, the Netherlands match should give a clear assessment of where they stand, how they compare to the best they will see in South Africa, and exactly what they need to figure out before they leave for the tournament.

The Netherlands are a great litmus test, and if the game came at a different time in the order, it wouldn't help the team as much.

If the game were played in the middle of the warmup, then only a little is gleaned as the next match may erase some observations, and if it's the last match, either the U.S. wins, and the team runs the risk of becoming over confident, or conversely, the team loses, and its hopes are dashed right before flying out. A March contest reminds the team of where they need to be.

That is why the Czech Republic and Turkey are great games for last minute adjustments. The Czech Republic is a smart, savvy team with enough experience and talent to challenge the U.S. They're an aging squad with key players on their last legs or recently retired, so that hurt their qualification chances. 

However, it's a perfect team for the U.S. They're not going to be the quality of the Dutch, but they're the type of team that is capable of punishing an opponent that makes mistakes. The U.S. has a penchant for mental errors and a lack of discipline, and the Czech Republic will remind them how costly such mistakes can be.

Turkey is a bit of an enigma (much like Algeria). On some days they can compete with the elite, and then the next they under-perform (much like the United States). Their inconsistency along with some aging key players ended their qualifying chances. Like the Czech Republic, they're rebuilding, but their domestic league, large population and passion make them strong opponents for a final warm-up. The team have some young, unfamiliar players that could surprise the U.S., and their older, more established players can take advantage of sub-par performances.

It's the same sort of setup that the U.S. could see from Algeria.

The 2010 scheduling is the one aspect of the World Cup campaign the U.S. has done well. The timing and opponents are the right challenges for the United States. Much could be gleaned from how the team plays.

There's a good chance that the team's performances against their last three opponents can predict how they will do in South Africa. Like the final friendlies before 2006, where the U.S. lost to Morocco, and then underperformed against sub-par teams in Venezuela and Latvia (winning 2-0 and 1-0 respectively), the end results can be excellent predictors of how the team will play.

Now, if there was some way to simulate the South African environment, then the team would be as prepared as any team for the World Cup. Maybe we should play the friendlies in Mexico City.

 

 

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