USA must send out an important message
It's a game where the result does not matter; except, of course, it does. It matters a lot.
When the USA meets Holland on Wednesday it is important the Americans show themselves and the world the Confederations Cup was no fluke and they can be regarded as worthy opponents from June 12th onwards.
Bob Bradley is reaching the culmination of four years hard labour. The USA Head Coach, who was swiftly installed following the Americans' disappointing performances at Germany 2006, is close to naming his World Cup roster and the game in Amsterdam will be the last before he announces a provisional squad in early May.
There is little debate the US is the strongest nation in CONCACAF but its global image is still regarded with skepticism. It has qualified for every World Cup since 1990 but only once, in 2002, has it made a significant impression. The quarter-final appearance in South Korea should have ushered a in a golden era, but four years later the Americans were sent packing without winning a game.
If Bradley was looking to see how far his team has come and how ready it is for South Africa, he couldn't have picked a more difficult opponent. The Dutch, like the Americans' first opponents England, are one of the eight seeded teams for the World Cup and are currently ranked third in the world.
In three previous meetings (the most recent was six years ago) the US has lost on each occasion while the Netherlands, who posted a perfect 8-0-0 record in qualifying, has not conceded a single goal in its last five internationals. Jozy Altidore, Landon Donovan and others take note.
Bradley's roster contains few surprises although a recall for defender Frank Simek nearly three years after his last international appearance will, no doubt, delight the Sheffield Wednesday full back. Only three of the 20-man squad are MLS-based including FC Dallas left back Heath Pearce who had a solid outing against El Salvador.
Injuries continue to hamper Bradley's planning with the World Cup kick off barely 100 days away. Charlie Davies, Clint Dempsey, Oguchi Onyewu, Ricardo Clark and Benny Feilhaber are all at various stages of recovery but, for the time being, are merely interested spectators as the countdown continues.
Their collective absence is a mixed blessing. The team for Amsterdam would clearly be stronger if they were fit but, with the window of opportunity rapidly closing, there are chances for fringe players like Eddie Johnson and Robbie Findley to press their claims. If nothing else, it will reveal the depth of Bradley's current assembly.
The Americans have amply demonstrated their attributes in recent months. Their combined work rate is first class and their athleticism is to be admired. As a team they are well organised and their ability to break quickly has surprised even the world's best. But for all the positives Team USA has yet to make that leap to the next level.
A positive result against the Dutch could begin to change that. In all good faith, I cannot see the USA winning in Amsterdam, but a draw would lend credibility to the cause from cynical European fans and media alike. Such a result would also allow belief to grow within the American camp in the build up to the World Cup itself.
A defeat, on the other hand, would merely perpetuate the conviction that the USA only qualifies for the World Cup on a regular basis because it competes in one of FIFA's weakest regions. Frankly, it is tough to argue against that notion and unless the Americans can carry on where they left off against Spain and Brazil last year, few outside its borders will be persuaded otherwise.
Gone are the days when the USA was regarded as a soft touch. Bob Bradley's team has proved, on its day, it is a match for anyone. It just needs a few more of those days - starting against Holland.
About the Author
Nigel Reed brings his extensive experience, passion and knowledge of the game of soccer to his role as play-by-play announcer for Major League Soccer ON CBC.
Reed has more than 20 years experience covering soccer, most notably a five-year stint from 1999 to 2004 where he was a host and producer for the English Premier League for BBC. He also covered English Premier League giants Liverpool and Everton for BBC Radio and provided analysis for both BBC TV and the BBC website.
Reed, who will also call matches for CBC's FIFA broadcast package, covered weightlifting, taekwondo, soccer and equestrian for CBC's coverage of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games.