Wednesday, March 3, 2010


AMSTERDAM, the Netherlands -- Officially, it is listed as a friendly international.
But Landon Donovan and his teammates realize the United States' encounter with the Netherlands Wednesday is much more than that.

It's an opportunity for many of the European-based players to make a case to coach Bob Bradley and his staff on why they should be on the 23-man roster for the South Africa and a challenge for the team as a whole against one of the best soccer teams on the planet. The Dutch were ranked No. 3 in the last FIFA rankings, the U.S. 14th.

"You don't get many chances at that," Donovan said at a press conference at Amsterdam ArenA Tuesday afternoon for Wednesday's encounter (ESPN2, Galavision 2:30 p.m. ET).

"For for us, in a more general way, it's a massive opportunity," Donovan added. "This is Bob's last chance to see guys before he makes his selection with his team. For us it's a game we don't get very often. We want to take advantage of it. It's a difficult test away in Europe. We've had quite a few of those the last couple of years. This is as good as it gets."

As of Tuesday, there are exactly 100 days until the kick off the World Cup, just over three months before host South Africa and Mexico begin the 31-day marathon of soccer for 32 teams and billions of fans worldwide.

Despite the USA's success and first-place finish in the CONCACAF standings, they still have a long way to go before they can play against or defeat the best teams on a consistent basis. So any experience against a tough side such as the Dutch is welcome.

"You don't want to go into a World Cup not having had experience against top teams in a meaningful way," Donovan said. "Although tomorrow's a friendly, I think everyone understands what all the games mean to all the teams, to all the individual players. Tomorrow's games in Europe and around the world are going to look like real soccer games."

Except for forward Robin Van Persie (ankle injury), the Dutch are expected to deploy close to their full team, the same side rolled through qualifying with a perfect 8-0-0 record and outscored its foes by an impressive 17-2 margin. They were seeded atop Group E against Denmark, Japan and Cameroon.

"We're going to need to show a lot of patience and discipline," U.S. captain and central defender Carlos Bocanegra said. "We know the Dutch are good on the ball and they'll probably have a bit more possession than us. We need to be patient."

Added Bradley: "They play at a high speed. ... When they get the ball they play quickly. It means that you're challenged to think and execute at a top speed, a real top speed."
Many teams like to schedule opponents who have similar styles to their World Cup opponents in warmup matches.

Asked if he thought the Netherlands played like England, whom the U.S. meets in Rustenburg, South Africa on June 12, Donovan replied, "In theory, no. The teams play differently. With the Czech Republic and Turkey, I think those teams are [closer] to the teams we'll play in the World Cup."

There is a little question that Donovan is focused these days. Since January he has been a revelation at Everton FC in the English Premier League. When his loan expires March 15, Donovan, who celebrates his 28th birthday Thursday, returns to the Los Angeles Galaxy. When a reporter asked him about whether he wanted to stay in Liverpool, Donovan responded, "Let's talk about tomorrow or the World Cup."

While not a player anymore, Bradley showed his nimbleness adroitly, sidestepping a question from an English reporter about the chaos surrounding the English national team in general and the sex scandal involving defender and former captain John Terry.

"As a coach, I don't read the papers, so I can tell you England's doing really well. They are a great team," he said. "One player who has been in tremendous as of late is Wayne Rooney. So we certainly respect what they're about.

"We look forward to that match. It's a great way to start the World Cup. It will bring tremendous attention to soccer in the United States."

Bradley obviously is smart enough to know he doesn't want to leave any thing for a player to put up on the proverbial locker room wall for the June 12 confrontation. Heck, the Brits probably have enough reading material to last them through the summer, thanks to Terry and company.

Michael Lewis covers soccer for the New York Daily News and is editor of

He can be reached at Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or,

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