Since Bob Bradley was named coach of the US National Soccer team shortly after the US crashed out of the 2006 World Cup, he has made it a mission to put his players up against the best the world has to offer. Since 2006, the US team has travelled to Asia, Europe, Africa and South America looking for games, experience and quality opponents.
That quest has paid off. Outside of friendlies, the US has played in more international tournaments than at any point in its history and in those tournaments has played an astounding 16 games against opponents that are going to South Africa next month. Those 16 games represent all the various FIFA regional groups except for Oceania. They also represent five of the top 10 teams in FIFA’s rankings.
Mexico – 4 (2007 Gold Cup, 2009 Gold Cup, 2009 WC Qualifier (twice))
Honduras – 4 (2009 Gold Cup (twice), 2009 WC Qualifier (twice))
Brazil – 2 (2009 Confederations Cup (twice))
Argentina – 1 (2007 Copa America)
Netherlands – 1 (2008 Olympics)
Nigeria – 1 (2008 Olympics)
Japan – 1 (2008 Olympics)
Italy – 1 (2009 Confederations Cup)
Spain – 1 (2009 Confederations Cup)
Not all of these games were played by the US’s first team, or at least not the first team at the time. However, many players who were at the fringe of the National team after World Cup 2006 – players like Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Benny Feilhaber, Maurice Edu, Stuart Holden and Robbie Findley – have played themselves onto the team that is headed to South Africa through their performances in these tournaments.
By comparison, since England went down to Portugal at World Cup 2006, they have played slightly fewer teams in competitive tournaments that are headed to South Africa. This is a list of the teams that England has played in non-friendlies that are in World Cup 2010:
(cue the sound of crickets chirping)
That’s right. Not one. None of the teams that England squared up against in either their failed Euro 2008 qualifying campaign or their 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign are going to South Africa.
By the time the US takes the field next month against England, this will be an experienced, hardened group that has been through a serious campaign together. Whether that advantage is telling is something we will learn over the course of the next six weeks. However, whatever your opinion of Bob Bradley, you cannot fault him for segregating his team away from the soccer powers. He has taken every opportunity available to prepare this team for the job in South Africa, and having played some of the best teams in the world over the past three years, his team will not look at England as anything more than what they have already seen.
(hat tip to Kartik for pointing this stat out in the comments of a recent article)